The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2018

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122  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2018 Will Lee has spent his entire life in the food and beverage industry: His parents owned restaurants throughout his childhood and he knew how to work a cash register by the time he was 7 years old. An artist at heart, he obtained a degree in advertising design, but when he found himself unhappy at an office job, he jumped back into bartending full-time. After a manager entered him in a competition, Lee was exposed to the creative side of the industry and felt motivated to marry his career with his education. "I use my degree every day by taking an idea and molding it into something that's viable," he explains, adding that he does all of the designs for his ventures, Grey Ghost Detroit (where he also serves as Beverage Director) and the new Second Best. He utilizes these skills throughout his day-to- day responsibilities, from testing out new cocktail entries to preparing artwork for a taco pop-up. Lee met one of his now-business partners at Four Man Ladder Management during his first pop-up production. At the time he was working at a sports bar where there wasn't much room for creative expression, and when the pair teamed up in a space Lee's chef friend had available, Lee discovered a cost-effective way to reach a different demographic while testing out new ideas. Lee's approach to creating cocktails at Grey Ghost and Second Best varies greatly: He might stumble upon an exciting ingredient while strolling through a market, or he might simply be filling a need for a refreshing gin drink on the menu. "I always consider if it's going to fit with the concept of the menu and the concept of the space, if the price point's right, and what the prep is going to be on it," he says. What he values above all else, however, is hospitality. Lee says he prioritizes maintaining good relationships with his staff, and a typical day can include multiple meetings with various managers. "I've always worked with the philosophy that the food and drink don't matter if there's not the hospitality connecting it," he says. "That's what brings people back." I'm a sucker for nice people: I'll buy them a dessert or a round of drinks. Daiquiris. A nicely organized back bar. Thoughtful details. With my art background, that's just how my eye sees things. Hanging out with my family and work friends. Rude people. Arrogance and egos. Crooked driveways and potholes. Sticky stuff. Cilantro—I'm among the 10 percent who think it tastes like soap. THE "5" LIST WILL LEE'S TOP FIVE FAVES: WILL LEE'S TOP FIVE PET PEEVES: TAKING INVENTORY WITH . . . PHOTO: MICHELLE AND CHRIS GERARD WILL LEE BEVERAGE DIRECTOR AT GREY GHOST IN DETROIT, MI by Becca Bleznak

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