A people-person behind The Bistro’s bar

JACKSON, WY — Leon Burton Johnson, commonly known just as Burton, has been at The Bistro as long as he’s been in Jackson and almost as long as the restaurant has been around. He started as a server 17 years ago, graduated to bartender, and became The Bistro’s bar manager 10 years ago. But as a bartender, he’s a bit of an anomaly.

Burton doesn’t really drink liquor. He’s more of a beer and wine guy.

But that doesn’t stop him from making a mean drink. His spicy margs are some of the most popular in town, and he always has an inventive seasonal cocktail on the menu.

What he lacks in a liquor palette he makes up for in people skills. He loves interacting with the diverse cast of characters that sit at his bar. And in his business, good rapport and a little empathy are at least as important as mixology.

“You take on a role of listening, for sure,” Burton said. “Some people just want to talk to you.”

Sometimes people need someone to talk to. And sometimes Burton is that someone. (Sage Jackson/Fine Dining Restaurant Group)

Burton’s disposition also probably makes him uniquely qualified to do what he does. Not all servers or bartenders can handle being “in the weeds” — restaurant speak for totally swamped — but Burton isn’t easily phased.

“I’m pretty even-keeled about it all,” he said.

Has he been in the weeds before? Of course. It happens to everyone. “You’ve just gotta get through it,” he said. “The more stressed out you get, the worse it’s gonna be.”

Foodservice is a “team sport,” Burton stressed. If you’re doing it alone, you’re doing it wrong. It’s one of his biggest lessons as a server and bartender: ask for help if you need it.

It’s his team that keeps Burton motivated every day. Fine Dining is more than a network of restaurants. It’s an empire, and a family.

“This is like my second home,” Burton said.

He’s learned more from owner Gavin Fine than he can put into words — about people, about wine, about food, about time management and responsibility.

His favorite beer? Probably Guinness, but he’ll drink it all. He loves a good Mexican lager to cool off. He’s more into white wine these days, like sauvignon blanc or a good rosé. His favorite menu item at The Bistro is probably the scallops, or the pork chop in the summer.

When he’s not behind the bar, Burton might be traveling in pursuit of live music. He’s seen it all, from the Rolling Stones to some of the world’s best jazz musicians. Otherwise, he’s hiking or cross-country skiing with his dog, Sugar (she’s as sweet as her name suggests) right in his back yard.

“We live in an awesome place,” Burton said. “We’re lucky we get to live here.”

Sponsored by:

Fine Dining Restaurant Group

Fine Dining Restaurant Group was born in Jackson Hole, Wyoming by leading culinary minds Gavin Fine and Roger Freedman Now encompassing six restaurants, a catering company, specialty grocer/bottle shop, craft sausage company and artisan

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