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Barley + Rye: At LEON’s, new leadership, same swag
Longtime bartenders Shanna Mayo and Kathryn DiMenichi step up to run the show
A major change of guard took place at LEON’s Full Service earlier this fall, but if all goes as planned, the only difference guests will note is new leadership. Longtime LEON’s barkeeps Shanna Mayo and Kathryn DiMenichi now co-manage the heralded program after restaurant-opener Miles Macquarrie headed down the road to oversee drink happenings at Kimball House. Mayo and DiMenichi share around 20 years of bar experience between them, and spearhead a stellar team that make, pour, and expertly recommend their way around craft cocktails and beer, and an inviting wine list.
Fans of the popular gastropub are familiar with seasonally updated cocktail menus that draw from a majority of local and/or house-made ingredients. From classic pre-Prohibition offerings like an Old Fashioned or Bee’s Knees to inspired daily specials like the recent rum, lime, and orgeat treat Zombie Verde, Mayo and DiMenichi intend to keep the party going at the same level of intensity their predecessor left behind.
What goals did you set once you two held the reigns?
Mayo: My main focus was to maintain this amazing program that I watched Miles create from the ground up and try to build on that.
DiMenichi: Those are big shoes to fill and I felt like the whole city was watching.
Mayo: We have a lot of strengths behind the bar. I was interested in having a more collaborative menu.
Why was the decision made to have the bar leadership collaborate this go-round?
Mayo: LEON’s Full Service is extremely high volume. The prep alone, for such a large restaurant, is time consuming. It just made more sense to have both of us doing it.
What are the benefits of working together this way?
Mayo: So many! Although it is nice to divvy up day-to-day tasks, it’s especially great for development. We both bring different ideas to the table. It is helpful when you have writer’s block. It’s also nice to have someone who will be brutally honest with you.
Winter is encroaching upon us. What can LEON's guests expect by way of themes or flavor profiles in the new year?
Mayo: Our fall menu goes straight into our holiday list, which features plenty of drinks to get you in the spirit. One is the Pilgrims & Indians cocktail, which is a spiced pumpkin toddy.
DiMenichi: For the winter, I’m pretty stoked about a rum-based cocktail that has charred coconut and mezcal. And an old favorite the Gutter Pop (gin, Aperol, and blood orange soda) will make a reappearance.
What influences your drink-making beyond food and beverage?
Mayo: Nerding out with fellow bartenders, reading an exciting book, listening to a rad record. At the end of the day, however, it’s all about the guest. I try to make the best drink and experience for the guest as I can.
DiMenichi: I never know where it will come from, day-to-day life gives me plenty of inspiration. I always look to what is growing and to the mood of the drinker, but often great drinks are born from leftovers and an afternoon in a friend’s kitchen.
What spirits or liqueurs are you in love with right now?
DiMenichi: Pretty much anything agave based.
Mayo: Once it gets cold I want scotch. American whiskeys are an anytime drink for me. One of my all-time favorite spirits to work with is cognac. There is something very elegant about it.
I've heard patrons remark on the makeup of your team—how cool is it to look around you behind the bar and see so many women killing it?
DiMenichi: Very cool, but I'm not surprised.
Mayo: It has been amazing! Working behind that bar is intensely physical. Those ladies manage to do it with style and grace. There is a lot of mutual respect behind our bar. We are a family working toward the same goal. If you look around Atlanta, exceptional women [bartenders] are everywhere. Besides being professionally supportive of one another, a lot of us have built lifetime friendships. I am always stoked and proud to see the camaraderie, gender aside.