‘Bloody Mary Guy’ Turned Hobby into Business
In 1989, Demitri Pallis was tending bar in Seattle. Customers at the New Orleans Restaurant, a jazz club settled comfortably in Pioneer Square near the Seahawks football stadium, loved Bloody Marys as much as Pallis loved to make them.
“I really loved making scratch Bloody Marys, it was one of our house specialty drinks... The problem was that, even though I felt this way, the rest of my bartenders didn’t," Pallis laughs. "So I became the Bloody Mary guy.”
He says that, of all the alcoholic brews, the Bloody Mary required a made-from-scratch approach for ultimate flavor. He began concocting large batches of the spiced tomato juice/vodka blend for fellow bartenders to have on hand.
As the weather cooled and football season warmed up, the New Orleans Restaurant transformed into a Sunday hotspot, forcing the bartenders into overdrive. “I had no idea what team was coming to play, but sure enough, we ran out of Bloody Mary mix within the first 10 minutes of being open,” Pallis recalls.
He innovated and threw all his scratch ingredients – Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, garlic, lemon juice, celery, black pepper, and a handful of others – into a ready-made bottle so bartenders would not have to measure all the spices in advance. It became known as his Secret Sauce.
“The guys from local restaurants found out I was using this scratch mix to throw in my tomato juice, and they were like, ‘Hey man, I hate making Bloody Marys, mix me some of that stuff,” Pallis says. “So I started selling it to them.”
Pallis used personal connections – “Being Greek, there’s no shortage of people I know in the restaurant business” – to send his Bloody Mary seasoning around.
Twenty-two years later, his clients include P.F. Chang’s, Landry’s, Yard House, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, regional chains, and a number of independent restaurants.
He enumerates a number of advantages to bars and restaurants using Demitri’s Bloody Mary Seasoning.
Freshness and quality are the number one benefit, he says. “There’s a lot of premixes out there, pre-spiced tomato juice that you open and poor… but [with Demitri’s] you really get to transition to a handmade, fresh from scratch, bartender’s Bloody Mary.”
Second, Demitri’s users cut their core Bloody Mary costs up to 50 percent. “The shipping cost of a ready-to-use product is pretty high, because it’s heavy and you’re shipping tomato juice everywhere,” he explains. “You can pay a lot less for just plain tomato juice locally, and all you have to do is add my spices to make it into a Bloody Mary.”
Finally, Pallis lists consistency as a reason to switch to the Bloody Mary seasoning. “I can’t help but agree with people who make their scratch Bloody Marys by hand,” he says. “You want your customers to get the best quality. But you’re not doing it because it’s consistent or fun to make them. There are several ingredients, they’re cumbersome, and it’s difficult to maintain consistency.”
He says the seasoning guarantees a consistent drink, whether a customer returns to the restaurant after a week, a month, or a year. It also creates a dependable beverage among separate locations of the same chain.
“Ultimately, it’s super fast,” Pallis says, harkening back to the fated Seahawks game day in 1989. “If you run out in the middle of a rush and you have customers screaming at the bar, it’s got a plastic squirt bottle and a flip top. You flip open the lid, squirt some into tomato juice, and you’re done.”
By Sonya Chudgar