Welcome Diner Tucson's beverage manager Connor Mansager (Credit: Jackie Tran)
Welcome Diner bar manager Connor Mansager acquired his cocktail chops as part of the team that opened Scott & Co.
Mansager ventured to Portland for a couple of years and tended bar at establishments such as The Woodsman Tavern, The Bent Brick, and Dig A Pony. Afterwards, he spent a year in New York at The Long Island Bar, Nitecap, and Lucky Dog.
After returning to Tucson, Mansager gained additional experience at Agustin Kitchen, Penca, Tap & Bottle, and Tough Luck Club. Now’s he’s settled with a wife and new home while crafting drinks at Welcome Diner.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
My attitude of food and drink has definitely been a natural and organic evolution over my brief lifetime. But if I had to pin down a particular aha moment I have to talk about my time at The Bent Brick in Portland, Oregon. More than once the creative and beautiful food of head chef Will Preisch made me shout out loud with glee. Literally. However my experience there went beyond the food. Every single aspect of that restaurant was world class and extremely formative in my composition as a bartender and restaurant professional. Scott Dolich had compiled an amazing team of front and back of house employees. I learned so much and truly refined my skills behind the bar and in a restaurant in general. The level of hospitality, service, cleanliness, efficiency, and respect for ingredients that I learned there I certainly try to share with everyone I work with.
2) What are you eating these days?
Not enough fun stuff. We have been open for six months. I haven’t been much anywhere else in the last six months. When it’s not Welcome Diner food, it’s whatever I can get my hands on, burgers and burritos usually. Fortunately, the food here is delicious and I capitalize on that: our birote sandwich for breakfast, grilled romaine and corn salad for lunch, trout for dinner, and a fried chicken biscuit at 1 a.m.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
This is far from the first thing I remember cooking, but the most story-worthy and applicable:
One year in Portland, I took it upon myself to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner by myself. I bought a massive beautiful bird through my restaurant and broke it down — roasted the white meat, confit the dark, made a stock with the innards. Well, I left the stock going overnight at a way-too-low temperature and it was deemed unfit for consumption. The white meat came out under-seasoned and kind of dry. The dark meat, while completely falling apart, was still quite delicious. My point is I certainly love cooking, and sometimes get quite ambitious, but I have never put the practice and dedication into it. I’m the booze guy. We did have great drinks with that mediocre turkey.
Breakfast/brunch cocktails at Welcome Diner (Credit: Jackie Tran)
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
Trends are hard to define for me. Is craft beer a trend? I was drinking Stone IPA 10 years ago. Are craft cocktails a trend? That was happening 200 years ago. I will say that I am heavily inspired by “New Nordic” cuisine and their emphasis on clarity of ingredients, embracing what the land has to offer, and digging deep into history. I am far from but do aspire to encourage that attitude with drinks here in the Sonoran Desert. With Tucson’s recent UNESCO designation it gives me confidence that digging deeper into the origins of our food and drink will be well received. Again, is that a trend? Or is that just us as a society getting to a better place?
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
I haven’t been back to Portland to visit and I can’t wait to return. Probably 90 percent of that is to eat at Holdfast Dining with my buddies Will and Joel. I worked with them early on and cannot wait to see how they have grown and evolved. They were recently a part of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I think they took him foraging for barnacles or something.
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Obviously I have eaten a lot in both Portland and New York. In my travels I have been able to explore New Orleans quite a bit as well. I have to go with New York. Anything you want you can get: Michelin stars, O.G. classic spots, fresh and modern cuisine everywhere. But the kicker is that it is the most culturally diverse city in the world — amazing things from all over can be found. Oh, and you can have $1 oysters at one of the best bars in the world — Maison Premiere. Tucson’s own Maxwell Britten ran that bar. Speaking of bars, drinking in New York is unlike anything else. The hospitality, camaraderie, and history are palpable.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Queso Ruffles, chocolate, Skittles, Oreos. Ask my wife — put it in front of me I will probably eat it. I love Tostitos preparados (also known as tostilocos). Didn’t even know they were a thing until I moved back a few years ago. Certainly haven’t been eating enough of those lately.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
Finally an easy question. I can’t help myself but want an excellent beverage with my meal so I tend to frequent Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, Penca, and OBON Sushi Bar Ramen quite a bit.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
I’ve got a long list I dream of, but only know of them through literature, coworkers, and screen.
In keeping with my love of New Nordic I’m gonna steal what Pasco Kitchen & Lounge’s Sam Krajnak said. Coursed collab with Rene Redzepi and Magnus Nilsson would be like going to heaven.