Photo credit: Todd Smith

Todd Smith is “that guy” that everyone should know. Smart, funny and a student of the craft, in all of its aspects. He once defended our shores as a member of the US Coast Guard, but now has made his way to our city, where he delights guests nightly at one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, La Strega. His industry experience ranges from washing dishes, waiting tables, all the way to the bar; there he is able to draw on his culinary passions and his ability to make people smile. A former coworker said this about Todd: “He is one of the elite bartenders in this town, from his approach to the guest and his love for cocktails.” From those that already know him, you will not hear a bad thing said about him.

You have a vast array of experience in the industry. How did you make your way to bartending? 

Since I was young, I've had the passion for cooking and comedy. I just absolutely love to create and entertain whether it's on stage, in the kitchen or behind the bar. 

Tell us a bit about your background?

I'm 43 and was raised mostly in Germany and Arizona. After that, I was in the Coast Guard and stationed in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which took me to places like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad, the Bahamas, etc..... After working at TGI Fridays, I knew I found my career. Making people happy makes me happy. 

What do you do at La Strega?

I'm a bartender there. La Strega is a magically whimsical, multiple award-winning Italian restaurant by Executive Chef/Partner Gina Marinelli. This is just a place you have to experience to appreciate. The service model is elevated and unique, as well as their overall approach to excellence. I've worked in restaurants for 22 years, and this place is by far my favorite. La Strega is my career. My home. 

Prior to La Strega, where else have you tended bar? Where did you find the most growth? 

After bartending in varied spots for years, I got my first taste of craft and pre-prohibition era-style cocktails in Florida where I was a part of the opening team of The Continental. It was super rad and involved so much education. It definitely got me started. But it wasn't until Oak & Ivy in Container Park that I really grew as a bartender who loves mixology. I could talk about that place and those experiences forever. I've happily been a part of La Strega since the opening. I can't do all the crazy stuff I did at Oak, but I still try to create some “razzle dazzle shazam” as often as I can. 

Our current situation has been tough for the world and our industry in particular. How have you mitigated the crisis?

La Strega was closed for about a month before reopening for curbside only. This was certainly a challenge because only salary employees worked doing what they had never done before and they were doing everything! One great thing, it really brought the management team closer together. We've been re-opened for full service since the beginning of June. We went through rigorous training with masks, gloves and sanitation. While some other restaurants/bars on and off the Strip didn't take COVID-19 seriously, Chef Gina and (GM) Stephanie Torres continue to ensure that La Strega goes above and beyond to keep ourselves and guests safe. What we do creatively to stay open is not only offering tasting menus based on different locations in Italy (we are featuring Puglia now), but offering outstanding daily feature cocktails and cuisine. What Chef Gina comes up with is awe-inspiring and my job as a bartender is to ensure my cocktails keep pace with her dishes. I push myself to dig deep and create nothing but the best. My borrowed mantra is “Good enough isn't.”

What do you love outside of the industry?

I still love comedy, but lost the stand-up bug a long time ago, so the bar has become my stage. When I'm on, I'm on and when I'm not, oh, you'll know... 

Todd is always on as far as I’m concerned! Go see him soon at La Strega! Salute!