Bar Talk

Birmingham’s Jose Medina Camacho on Thriving Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

How Automatic Seafood & Oysters’ beverage director pivoted with escapist cocktail kits, Sunday specials, and one killer mango cocktail recipe

Photo courtesy of Jose Media Camacho.

Jose Medina Camacho is beverage director at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama, a former 1940s warehouse that chef Adam Evans and his wife Suzanne, who designed the restaurant, opened in 2019 showcasing fresh Gulf seafood cuisine.

SevenFifty Daily: When COVID-19 struck, Automatic Seafood & Oysters stayed open for pick-up and delivery. What was that like?

Jose Medina Camacho: Our biggest challenge was essentially sitting down and creating a brand-new restaurant after first opening less than a year ago. We went from doing casual but elevated food to a menu that is more approachable in price point. Business started slowly; people were still unsure what was going on with the pandemic. We launched our Sunday Supper For Two special, paired with wine or punch, and it’s so popular, we’ve been selling out.

The restaurant also introduced home cocktail kits to make 10 to 14 servings of drinks. What inspired that?

You always want to incorporate drinks like that to help people escape whatever they may be going through. Right now we have the frozen All Inclusive available, with Los Altos Tequila, Sherry, Blue Curaçao, Malibu Coconut Rum, pineapple, and lime. It tastes like you’re at a beach resort. Some people don’t want to commit to the large formats, so we added single-serve cocktails like a Mojito to the picture. 

The restaurant’s outdoor patio has reopened to guests. What has it been like having customers back on the premises?

We have a first-come, first-serve area just for cocktails and oysters, but patio dining is by reservation only and we require everyone to wear masks until they are past the hostess stand and sitting down. Originally, we wanted an outdoor bar, but it is too hot, so we’re making all the drinks inside just like everything is normal, except there are no guests there. 

Is that a surreal experience for you?

If we have the time and the servers are busy, the bartenders will personally bring out the drinks, which is good for their mental health to have that interaction. I fought for most of my staff to stay on board because I know that they can adapt and multi-task. I can put them in any tough situation and they will make whatever needs to happen, happen.

Photo courtesy of Jose Medina Camacho.

 


More from Medina

  • Signature Cocktail: The A.S.O., with gin, Sherry, dry vermouth, salt tincture, bitters.  
  • Number of Old-Fashioneds Normally Served Per Week: 450
  • Restaurant Perk: “This is the first time I’ve had a kitchen where I can go and play with whatever comes in for that day.”
  • What He Misses Most About Serving Guests: “The storytelling—or therapy session—you can have with someone directly across from you.”

Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. Her work has appeared in Vogue.com, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. With the Tippling Bros. she wrote the book A Lime and a Shaker: Discovering Mexican-Inspired Cocktails. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.

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