Photo by Jessica Raspberry
If Shawn McDaniel wasn’t tending to libations at Keg and Barrel, the former software engineer would probably be somewhere tinkering with a computer. But his end goal is to eventually own his own restaurant or bar.
A product of Byram, just outside Jackson, McDaniel graduated from high school in 1997 and decided to play for a minute or two. As time passed and with $30 to his name, he came to the Hub City to attend college at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1999, where he graduated in 2002 with a software engineering degree.
He really wanted to work with computers and electronics, just tinker with stuff, but soon decided he needed another job.
Employment at the End Zone on Fourth Street solved his money woes and put him on track for what would eventually become his livelihood.
By nightfall on the day he applied for a job, he was flipping burgers in the kitchen of the End Zone. He cooked for about a year, at times helping the bartender when things got busy. Because the kitchen was located directly behind the bar, it gave him plenty of time to ask questions, become friends with the regulars and learn the tricks of the trade at another job.
He described it as a progression. He later would move to the bartender position and did that for a number of years.
McDaniel had been to a few parties and frequented a few bars, but bartending wasn’t anything he’d really done.
“It’s something I enjoy doing, talking with people” he said, admitting he wasn’t cut out for a sitting behind a desk all the time job. “It just sort of worked itself out. I never intended to be doing it for this long, that’s for sure.” He’s been tending bar for about 17 years.
And in those years, he’s heard two or three stories. “The funniest thing is you aren’t eavesdropping, but you hear EVERYTHING. You hear a lot of conversations between people that you kind of don’t comment on and don’t repeat. It gets pretty interesting sometimes.”
McDaniel likes creating. The Signature cocktail he created for the November issue of this magazine, a Pumpkin Pie Martini, is an example.
“I enjoy doing stuff like that,” he said. “At the End Zone, his creativity was fairly limited, since the establishment was more of a sports bar, where he said he was just blowin and goin’ as fast as he could go.
His move to the Keg and Barrel gave him the opportunity for a change. But he’ll always remember the End Zone, which was really good to him and gave him his start.
But the move to K&B opened some new doors. He’d been bartending for about 12 years when he moved to the Hardy Street business. “They really let me learn and try new things,” he said. The experience paid off.
“I've been fortunate to work alongside some awesome people,” he said. “Everyone at Keg, especially John Neal and Diana Hembree have been super supportive of me over the years, and I don't think I'd have had as much success in this business without them.”
When he first moved to the Keg, he said it was beer, beer, beer, beer.
“Now we’re selling more liquor than beer by a pretty good margin,” he said. “I’d like to say it’s because I do a good cocktail list, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. But whiskey has really become a trend the last couple of years.” McDaniel has tried to put together a classic cocktail list. “While we’ve always been a beer bar, we also want to change with the times, too,” he said. “We don’t want to try and limit ourselves to one thing, but try and branch out with old classic drinks. We like to fix them the way they are supposed to be done, but some with a spin on them.”
He said they support Mississippi-made products and use a lot of Cat Head Distillery stuff, as well as Southern Prohibition.
McDaniel gets ideas for drinks by reading a lot of recipes and trial and error. “You study, learn and try to stay on top of things, because you never know everything and I definitely don’t,” he said. “I might find five recipes and take pieces and parts of each and make it my own.”
McDaniel uses a lot of fruits and purees in his drinks and likes experimenting with a variety of ingredients. For a cocktail competition last year, he concocted a Blackberry Ginger Lemonade with bourbon, which won first place. A competition this year garnered him a second place with his Blueberry Mojito, which used bourbon, fresh blueberries and mint.
“I like to use a lot of fresh fruit and that sort of thing,” he said.
The Keg’s cocktail list changes seasonally and McDaniel said they throw in specialty drinks here or there for special events.
McDaniel has been married to Betsy Potin for 11 years and has three daughters, Dylan, 8, Bailey Kate, 5, and Cori Claire, 3 months. His family has lived in Sumrall for about five years.
He admits his work hours aren’t for everybody, but he’s made it work a long time.
“I was doing this when we met,” he said. “We just kind of rolled with it. It’s a process and takes work. I work a lot, probably 5 or 6 days a week. When I’m off I try to stay at home, play with kids, go to football games and other things.” He also enjoys cooking, golf, which he admits he’s terrible at, going to the shooting range, and spending time with the family.
His girls enjoy painting his nails (as long as I get it offer before I come to work, play with his beard and Dylan is into cheer and dance. “It’s fun to watch and see them do things they enjoy and get out of the house,” he said. “They are a handful and a mess, but we are lucky. They are good kids.”
Thursday is his office day at work where he tries and knocks everything out in one fell swoop – from ordering liquor for both the Hardy Street Keg and the newly-opened K&B West, located at 6 Marketplace Drive, on the west side of Turtle Creek Mall. He bartends and manages on Wednesday nights and Friday through Sunday you’ll find him behind the bar.
As the recipient of this year’s Best of the Pine Belt Best Bartender Award, McDaniel has been nominated for four years and has won it the last two.
“It blows me away,” he said. “Just to be nominated is a HUGE honor. It’s your peers, your coworkers and your customers, your regulars who nominate you. To win is huge and really really cool.”
In school he participated in football, soccer and track and was what he calls a decent school student. “If you asked my mom, she would say I should have done better than I did. I did really well in courses I was interested in, but not so good in others. It’s weird, I study all the time now.
McDaniel has one bar certification and is studying for another. While certifications in some jobs go away, certifications in the bar area don’t go away, he said.
McDaniel has acquired Level I of the Cicerone certification. This is a certification, kind of like a sommelier of beer, that designates hospitality professionals with proven experience in selecting, acquiring, and serving today’s wide range of beers. He’s currently working on the second level, which only a handful of people in the state have. He also has a bourbon certification from Stave and Thief. “I try and stay on top of things; you can’t ever know too much,” he said.
Beth Bunch is managing editor of Signature Magazine and PineBeltNEWS. Not of a technical mind, she would definitely need Shawn’s help when it came to computers, software and all things electronics.