The F&B veteran and founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. talks “A Small and Simple Thing” and an upcoming fashion line
Brooks Reitz has co-founded multiple local restaurants, including Leon’s Oyster Shop, Little Jack’s Tavern, and Melfi’s (pictured).
CM: Give us your culinary background.
BR: My father owned a bar in Memphis and worked in the business before I was born. I grew up hearing tales of those times, so it was always in the background. My first job was at the local country club: bussing tables, setting up and breaking down events, and sneaking bites of food in the kitchen. I went off to college and worked in F&B all four years, first at a donut shop, then at a fine-dining place. It gave me the first taste of what a restaurant could be; growing up, we only ate out if we were on vacation. After graduating, I decided to abandon my aspirations to be a writer and leaned into the restaurant business.
CM: How did you end up putting down roots in the Lowcountry?
BR: When I moved to Charleston, I applied to FIG because chef Mike Lata had just won a James Beard Award and it was the epicenter of the local food scene. I started as a server and bartender there and worked my way up over the next several years, devoting my time and energy to working and learning as much as I could. In my late 20s, I was inspired to start Jack Rudy when I noted customers’ reactions to the cocktail mixers I was producing at FIG. It was an opportunity to create a brand, tell a story, and start a small business—three passions of mine. Jack Rudy’s success allowed me the freedom to open restaurants of my own, including Leon’s Oyster Shop, Little Jack’s Tavern, and Melfi’s, with my partners.
CM: Tell us more about Jack Rudy.
BR: Our goal is to take long-forgotten staples of the American bar and reinvent them. The company is named for my great-grandfather, and while I never had the chance to meet him, I was raised with tales of his adventurous spirit and love of good food and drink. We started with tonic syrup, which remains our flagship product, and have slowly started introducing other mixers, tools, and accessories. Today, we offer everything from bloody mary mix to bourbon-soaked cocktail cherries; it’s really a one-stop shop for the bar enthusiast. During COVID, we also launched Jack Rudy Kitchen, an extension to the brand that focuses on sourcing pantry essentials like maple syrup, honey, and extra virgin olive oil.
CM: Beyond your business ventures, what’s on the plate?
BR: In 2020 while quarantined, I started a simple, low-frills cooking show on Instagram called “Brooks Cooks.” The reaction was enthusiastic; people seemed hungry for cooking ideas and product recommendations, so I launched the newsletter, “A Small and Simple Thing,” for an opportunity to dig a little deeper. I’ve gotten too busy for the videos, but the newsletter is a year in, and I’m loving the chance to write again for engaged readers. I intend to grow the audience and see where it goes.
CM: We hear there’s also a new fashion line in the works.
BR: My wife Erin’s passion project is E.M. Reitz, a line of women’s clothing produced in New York. She’s the creative force and designer, while I’m in the background helping with marketing, sales, and storytelling. It’s described as “elegance for every day” with an emphasis on drape, architecture, and function. Lots of pockets and pleats! We hope to launch this month.