This year, for the first time, FOCUS Magazine’s Plant City Edition included a Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Bartender” in Plant City.
While Reader’s Choice Awards have existed for “Best Server,” “Best Soup” and “Best BBQ,” as well as many others, this year there was a new addition to the competition and Chris Stovall, 37, became the first recipient of the “Best Bartender” award.
Stovall was born in California, but has lived in Plant City, Florida since he was seven months old, graduating from Plant City High School in 1999. He began serving at Ruby Tuesdays at the age of 18 and soon after was promoted to bartender.
“We had a horrible bartender and I kept making jokes that I could do it better than him,” Stovall said. “One day I came to work and he said ‘Remember how you said [you could do a better job]? Well you’re bartending.’ So, I was kind of thrown to wolves. I didn’t go to school for it.”
Stovall always wanted to work for the people, initially planning a career in radio. As a bartender, however, he found that he was able to connect with people “face-to-face” on a regular basis and thrived on the feelings that came with making other people smile.
“I can pretty much connect with anybody,” Stovall said. “When people go out to any kind of bar they go for the atmosphere. They go for someone to talk to. Sometimes it’s a good talk. Sometimes it’s a bad talk. Sometimes it’s very hitting people on a personal level and helping them out with something you didn’t know you were going to and sometimes it’s football and taking a knee.”
Stovall has worked in many bars across the state of Florida and he currently works as a bartender and manager at 1916 Irish Pub in Plant City and at Duke’s Brewhouse in Lakeland. His coworkers describe him as hardworking and funny.
“I think he was chosen [best bartender] because he is not only well-known, but also well liked,” said Stovall’s longtime friend and current coworker, Chelsea Noriega. “He’s good at what he does, whatever he does.”
Stovall’s coworkers also say that it’s easy to get into a good rhythm when working with him.
“Normally we have a good flow,” coworker Devon Blackburn said. “Once customers start coming in we get in a good rhythm working together. He is attentive to your needs and always remembers, even if it takes a minute.”
Noriega discussed how she can see that Stovall cares for people and how she hoped people realize how much Stovall cares about his customers as individuals.
“He has the biggest heart,” Noriega said. “He’s definitely nosy, but he is really caring. He is kind of an open book.”
On top of his work, Stovall is also a father of two. He says that his kids are one of his biggest hobbies. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his children, Jaxon, 5, and Sophia, 5.
“As much as work is work, work is also my hobby,” Stovall said. “I work so that I can do cool things with my kids. It used to be so I could have a cool pair of shoes. Now I want my kids to have the cool pair of shoes, so it’s a little different.”
Stovall’s coworkers see the dedication he gives his children as well.
“I think people should know how good of a dad he is,” Blackburn said. “Dad’s don’t tend to get a lot of credit, and especially in his crazy situation, I think he gets written off a lot. From everything I see and hear, he is a great father and people should know that.”
Stovall’s caring and desire to make people happy are major factors that led to him becoming the reader’s choice for “Best Bartender” in Plant City. Stovall says that his favorite thing about his job is the people.
“I mean it’s the only reason that it’s fun,” Stovall said. “Sometimes it’s making fun, sometimes it’s having fun. There’s always something to talk about. I like making conversation. I have a magnetic personality and I can make people who don’t normally talk talk and feel comfortable.”
Stovall said when he found out he won he felt surprised and that it threw him off. He said it made him feel like the time he spent in his town meant something.
“Everything I’ve done was not lost,” Stovall said. “I haven’t sat here and sewed my roots and got to know everybody in this town and, you know how some people feel like they did something for nothing? I feel like there was a cause. There was a purpose. Nothing like recognition to make you want to do something better.”