Attention to detail, motivation and ambition make Ryan Cleveland ideal for the position of bar manager at the Ore House restaurant.
Ryan grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, the older of two boys. He started bike racing at age 10, and in 2009, he was recruited for the cycling team at Fort Lewis College. “I fell in love with it,” Ryan shared about Durango. “It was pretty easy to settle here for school.”
Looking to work his way through school, Ryan pursued a job at a local brewing company, working as a busser to start. With his love of beer leading the way, he ended up behind the bar. After a few years, he heard about openings at the Ore House from the current Ore House dining room manager, Chrissy Murrah. He started as server support at the steakhouse, beginning at the bottom of the ladder again as a busser. It did not take him long this time either to work his way up. He expanded his interest in beer, discovering cocktails, spirits and wine. “My intention was to end up at the bar,” said Ryan, who earned his cicerone certification. “Since then, it’s been an obsession to learn every little thing about everything.”
After Ryan graduated from the Fort in 2014 with a degree in marketing and finance, he took on the bar manager position. “I was definitely hired on with the idea of moving up. No one gets to jump right into anything. You have to show your stuff,” explained Ryan, who has taken over additional responsibilities that pertain to his degree. “With it being such a small restaurant, it’s the fairest way to do things. There’s not a lot of turnover. Positions don’t open up all the time. You don’t get to leapfrog.”
It’s been an educational experience for Ryan to learn and create cocktails, who wants to give customers what they ask for without having to look up a recipe. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but I’m just scratching the surface,” confided Ryan.
Being behind the bar and managing the bar staff are only part of Ryan’s responsibilities. He also creates new cocktails using local, fresh and sustainable ingredients, designs educational seminars for his staff, maintains inventory, and helps with whatever else is needed for the restaurant. “I get to use some of my background from school and apply it, but it’s still customer service and I still get to talk to people,” said Ryan. “It’s such a small place that you can’t just have one title. You’ve got to do more.”
The creativity, freedom and educational opportunities are more than worth it. Ryan enjoys his job, and has watched, with interest, the restaurant grow and evolve, even during the year he’s been on staff. “It’s a good spot,” Ryan enthused. “Ryan (Lowe) is a great person and he gives us so much freedom to give people what they want.”
The other members of the restaurant staff enjoy the family and team atmosphere as well, as evidenced by the lack of turnover. “Everyone helps everyone,” explained Ryan, who uses the small size of the staff to his advantage. “I can change the drink menu because it’s only 10 people who need to learn it. At other restaurants, it would take 60 people up to two weeks to learn menu changes.”
With the restaurant constantly adapting for seasonal and availability changes in produce and other menu items, there is a lot of room for new, interesting and creative items made from the highest quality, freshest and local ingredients. “It’s really fun,” shared Ryan. “I get to experiment with a lot of things. There’s always a special drink on the menu using something we can get our hands on.”
Ryan hasn’t had to leave his beer roots behind completely. The restaurant still carries a lot of specialty beers, including locally brewed Ska beers. Ryan has also found that one of the most recently intriguing parts of his job is getting to pass along knowledge to his staff. He designs spirits seminars to help give the service staff the knowledge needed to provide Ore House customers with the best possible experience, which includes using high quality cocktail ingredients. One of Ryan’s favorite cocktails is the Boulevardier, which contains rye whiskey, Campari, and sweet vermouth. “I love it because it is the perfect balance of flavor between three rather strong ingredients,” shared Ryan. “It also would not be a great drink unless you use quality ingredients.”
When not in the restaurant, Ryan is busy exploring all that Durango has to offer. He still bikes, plays hockey, and has been exploring rock climbing, golfing and mountain biking. “These past few years I’ve been able to enjoy Durango for what it is,” said Ryan.
Originally posted on the Ore House’s website during May 2015.