We sat down with William Tsui, co-owner, bar director and tender bar boi of Viridian in Oakland, California, to talk about his new cocktail A/S/L which features Åhus Akvavit. He shared his approach to cocktails and hospitality, his experience as a business owner and more.
At Viridian, we’re recreating the feeling of growing up Asian in the Bay Area. The cocktails, food and desserts reflect the flavors of our youth that we experienced – we use guava, taro and five spice on the menu. Our White Rabbit cocktail is made with white rabbit candy, and our Tomato Beef cocktail pays homage to the classic Chinese dish of the same name. With the Bay Area as our backyard, we love to showcase foraged items as well as items from our local farmers. We lean heavily on the aspect of nostalgia and wild foraged botanicals to enhance the flavors of the things we create. Creating something delicious is so much easier when the produce and botanicals already tell a story.
Representation is the number one thing that helps us connect to our community. A lot of our guests come from an Asian American background. When guests see ingredients they enjoyed as a kid or enjoy now, it makes them feel seen. The atmosphere we create comes from our background as Asian Americans. We throw culturally significant events as well, such as our month long Chinese New Year celebration last February. We partner with Oakland Chinatown to do charity work – that comes from growing up in Oakland, and now that we’re in a position to give back we gladly do so.
For Viridian’s bar program, we have a kitchen-focused and culinary-driven style. Most of our prep work and R&D is behind the scene so we can focus on hospitality during service. All the cocktails you drink here are already done. We streamline it so it’s the fastest service we can provide. That way, our staff can spend more time with the guests to connect via nerdy spirits, sharing stories, hearing about your day. Hospitality is one the most important things we do – it's about being able to create an environment where you are able to share that sense of hospitality and make someone’s day better from just service. I find that really fulfilling.
On Owning a Business
Opening a business was definitely a challenge in the beginning. One of the things that I wasn’t fully able to comprehend is the amount of care that you have for your staff. You say to yourself, “Yeah, we’re gonna open a business, these are the numbers, this is how we’re making money.” But having that sense of responsibility of 20 people who count on you for a livelihood – it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of fulfillment, too. It makes me happy that I can take care of the staff and provide them with a good standard of living. That aspect was something I hadn’t thought about until I was in the position to do it, and I love it.
As a business owner, every day is new, every day is a challenge. You’re usually the only one who knows how to fix it and overcome it. There’s a lot of nitty gritty on the backend – it’s not as glamorous as people think I it is. But if you have the right people and right systems in place, things get a little bit easier.
The transition into a QR code ordering system is something that we never would have considered before, but in the post-pandemic world, it is better for us and better for the guest. The mundane aspects of service and the most frustrating aspects of service come from ordering and the miscommunication between the person taking the order and the guest. Getting rid of that and having the guest interface with a picture, a description and the option to customize as they want helps us focus on hospitality. It frees up our bartenders and front of house staff to connect with guests on a level higher than just ordering. Some guests have pushed back on the QR code system, but in the long run it helps with hospitality.
About William Tsui
I used to build medical devices before I was a bartender. I started bartending for the social aspect of it – I enjoyed having weekends where I was both working and going out. I hated my job before that, so I decided to quit and bartend, figuring I would go back to medical devices and IT eventually.
I really like hiking and playing with my dog. I’ve been into auto racing lately, and I’m starting tennis again. On my days off, I like going out to eat, trying new things and embracing nature.
A/S/L featuring Åhus Akvavit
.75 oz Capurro Moscatel
.75 oz Åhus Midvinter Akvavit
1oz Salted Plum Syrup
.5oz Sake Bermutto Sweet
Top with soda water
Garnish with salted plum and shiso leaf
Salted Plum Syrup
900g Koon Chun salted plum with brine
4L 1:1.5 simple syrup
Sous vide at 70c for one hour or let sit at room temp for 2days and strain
The cocktail is based on a Vietnamese salted plum soda called soda xi muoi.
Åhus works as a wonderful base because it’s between gin and aquavit. It’s not too alcoholic – it has a great mouthfeel and great structure with the botanicals. We can play with Åhus, lean on it as a base and enhance its natural properties with wild forged botanicals and Asian spirits that people haven’t had a chance to try yet. I love stone fruit flavors, and Åhus plays really well with stone fruit and orchard fruit flavors. There’s not too much caraway or fennel on the palate, but there’s just enough spice to play well with stone fruit. Being able to add that layer of stone fruit flavor via an Asian spirit or local produce makes it an easy pairing for us.