Frankie Thaheld Shakes Up Fresh Cocktails

By Aaron Epstein / Photography By Chris Rov Costa | Last Updated August 31, 2017
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It wasn’t a cocktail that Frankie Thaheld ordered as we sat down for our interview, nor a cup of coffee. Rather, he requested matcha (Japanese-style green tea), thereby catching the barista off guard. She warned him of its bitterness. She even asked if he might prefer something else.

“Thank you, I love bitter flavors,” Thaheld replied with a gentle, knowing smile.

Had she been more familiar with this particular customer, the barista would not have been surprised by his order. Thaheld fronts the Snake Oil Cocktail Company, and he has a lot of experience playing with people’s palates. In fact, he’s been around the world doing so. When I caught up with him, Thaheld had just returned from a week in Cabo.

“It was work!” he insisted, laughing. “We’d go in in the morning at 9:00  to start batching (prepping cocktail mixes), then we’d leave at 1:00 and come back at 4:00. We’d be there until midnight, then go back in the morning and do it again.”  

While Thaheld’s work life may seem pretty glamorous these days, the litany of gigs that he’s had is varied. An (extremely) youthful 44, one wonders at first glance how he’s had time for it all. He’s been a soda jerk, a bank teller, a telephone wine salesman, and, for 11 years, a bartender and corporate trainer for California Pizza Kitchen. The moment that launched his career in mixology, and placed him among the who’s who of San Diego dining, took place in 2006.

“I applied at Mr. A’s and George’s [at the Cove] on the same day,” Thaheld shared. “I had an interview at Mr. A’s in the morning.  Then, when I went to George’s later, my phone was ringing with a message that Mr. A’s wanted to give me a job. But George’s hired me on the spot.”

The restaurant was about to renovate and rebrand, and Thaheld was given free rein to create a new cocktail program. Inspired by a research trip to New York City—and specifically, by a bar called Apothéke—he decided to base his list entirely on produce. Local produce. “I was getting stuff from Chino Farms every day, and I was able to produce cocktails from carrots, cocktails from beets, cocktails from—you name it!” he said. “I was experimenting, but it fit the food profile at George’s, so it worked.”

Thaheld’s work at George’s caught the attention of the nascent Snake Oil Cocktail Company, among others. After a change in ownership in 2012, Thaheld joined Snake Oil. Then, in 2014, he became a partner. And now, he’s the face of the company.

Snake Oil broke new ground a decade ago when they began introducing artisanal mixology to large-scale events, and their business is still growing. They have 700 events slated for this year, including running the concessions during performances at Copley Symphony Hall and the Lyceum Theatre. They’re responsible for the cocktail programs at restaurants such as Bottega Americano, Tidal, and Farmer’s Table. They’ve also cultivated an international clientele in Tijuana with Mamut Brewery Co. and Chef Ruffo Ibarra’s Oryx Capital and Nortico.

Meanwhile, Snake Oil is working on a project for Epiphany Tea Bar in Aliso Viejo, California, which has fueled Thaheld’s creativity and his interest in nonalcoholic cocktails.  

Snake Oil is also considering a number of expansion opportunities. Soon enough it may be possible for you to buy Snake Oil mixers in a store, or throw your own party at a Snake Oil-owned event space.  

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