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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 5 years ago

New life: Passing the 'bar' exam

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After eight years in banking, Bobbie Shreve took a risk on a new career. Becoming a bartender, she says, was the best move she ever made.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Bobbie Shreve was working in banking, and liking it less and less each day.

After her divorce, she needed to find a job, and quick. But with nothing but parenting and volunteer work on her resume, she felt stuck. And then she was hired as a teller.

It wasn’t long, though, before her bank began tightening its belt. She had to start selling services and meeting quotas, which didn’t fit her personality. She started getting bored.

And then she got held up.

“So that was kind of a wake-up call,” she said. “I don’t need this. … (Getting robbed) is a very scary thing, even if there’s not a gun in your face. … So I did some soul-searching.”

Shreve, now 46, decided life is too short to hold a job she hates. “I kept thinking, ‘What do I want to do? What do I enjoy?’” she remembers. And then one day she drove by Hank Belden’s Hospitality Bartending School, at 1132 W. Granada Blvd. And a few weeks later, she was a student there.

About a month after that, she was tending bar at Ruby Tuesday, 2695 N. Atlantic Ave., in Daytona Beach, where she has worked since August.

Even though this is her first restaurant job, she says she’s logging fewer hours and making more money than she ever made in banking. She’s “treated like gold” there, she says. After leaving the only industry she has ever known to take a risk on a fresh career path, she feels like her ship has finally come in.

“I wish I did it years ago,” she said of the transition. “And I would’ve never done it at all if not for Hank (Belden).”

Mondays through Thursdays, Belden’s bartending school is open to students. It’s a place they go not only to learn about mixology, he says, but also to learn that bartending is about a lot more than drinks; it’s about relationships.

“Anybody can mix a drink,” he said, flipping through pages of a recipe book, as students pour drinks behind him, dump them out then try again. “But that’s not a bartender. … This is a whole different form of training.”

Turning 29 this year, Belden’s school was first opened in 1984, in Daytona, as a place for him to train workers for his own restaurants — and he has owned a lot of restaurants.

Let’s see, locally there was Billy Bones Tavern, The Key West Crater, Marker 32 and H.B.’s in The Trails. He also owned a place in California, 11 places in Hawaii, one in Missouri, four in Australia and one in the Great Barrier Reef. That’s on top of spending time working in Mexico, Europe and Asia.

“I’ve seen it all,” Belden said of bartending, “and you can do it totally different in one place than across the street.”

At Billy Bones Tavern, Belden says he had the busiest happy hour in all of Central Florida, so he needed bartenders “above and beyond excellent.” But he had trouble finding them.

“It’s easier to hire someone with a good attitude and teach them (everything),” he said. “So I started training my own.”

Eventually, he sold the restaurants. But he kept the school, where he now leads classes as if he were a drill sergeant — and that’s his word.

“It’s like boot camp,” he said of his program, “because sometimes people come in and they have bad habits. And sometimes, it’s hard to change people”

But don’t be fooled. Even when he yells at his students — and he does yell — he does it, he says, because he cares. If he stops yelling, it means he’s given up on you.

“He takes it very seriously, and his students take it seriously,” Shreve said of Belden. “From the moment you walk in that door, you’re a bartender.”

After going through Belden’s program, you’ll know it all, he says. You’ll be licensed and be able to multitask. But most importantly, you’ll know what customers, and what employers, want.

“Do unto other as they want to be treated,” he says. That’s his Golden Rule.

Job placement is key for Belden — the whole point of his program. After you have the technical stuff down, he helps you figure what bars are your best match (“Every bar’s got a personality, and it should match you,” he says).

And the icing: He calls the employers and puts in a good word. Only about 20% of those who sign up , he says, don’t graduate his program.

“You work with me for one week,” he said, “you’ll probably have two job offers — and that’s a good problem to have.”

The secret for Belden is the idea that bartending jobs are created, not filled. Prove that you’re the best bartender around, that you “get” clients and will form a following, and restaurants will hire you, even if they have to start you part-time or in the kitchen.

They won’t want to lose you.

“You’ve got to find what works for you,” Shreve said of job-hunting. “You want to enjoy what you do and enjoy going to work — and I do. I love going to work.”

And that’s a part of her life she credits to Belden.

“He’s not only an instructor,” she said. “He turns into a very dear friend and a strong supporter. … If it weren’t for him and that school, I’d probably still be miserable, working somewhere I didn’t want to be. He gave me a new lease, and I’ll always be thankful for that.”

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