Allergy Avoidance: The Other Responsible Service

Dallas bar customizes everything to make most drinks accessible to those with allergies or intolerances

Josh Hicok has an easy way of dealing with the food allergies and intolerances that his customers come in suffering from: He makes everything from scratch.

“We offer a customized experience so we can switch out one of the ingredients, if it doesn’t work for a customer, and replace it with something else,” says the operating partner of Pepper Smash located in Dallas, Texas.

This includes:

  • No batching of any cocktails. If they’re batch-made, customers have to take them as they are, he explains, but his are made to-order. This is certainly slower, he says, “but my philosophy is that people don’t care about speed as much as the show. So we do everything by hand and it makes it very easy to modify things. Bar staff are trained to know good substitutions, he says. For example, if a customer is allergic to blackberries in one drink, raspberries are a good alternative.
  • Just about everything’s made in-house. From its purees, to its lemon and lime juices, Pepper Smash makes it all in house. “The bartenders are familiar with all the ingredients,” Hicok says, “so they know the drinks inside out.” Pepper Smash employees also make ginger beer, in-house liquors like pear vodka, and barrel-aged dark liquors and tequila.

But it’s not just about customization; substitution also plays into the bar program here. This boutique bar offers several gluten-free versions of all the most popular spirits, including rum, tequila and vodka. “Some of them are more expensive but my philosophy is you charge accordingly,” Hicok says. “If a bottle costs me more, I charge more. Customers are conditioned to know this is going to cost them more.”

The final leg to Pepper Smash’s care of customers with allergies and intolerances is that considerations are made for drinks’ utensils, cups, glasses, and prep area. “We make sure everything’s 100% clean, rinsed, sanitized,” says Hicok.

The allergies that he sees most frequently are gluten, berries, peanuts and tomatoes. However, these allergies are much more prevalent in the restaurant side of his business, he says. “The same people who tell us all about their food allergies forget or negate what they drink. I don’t think a lot of people realize there is gluten in drinks.”

And this is despite the fact that according to Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE), up to 15 million Americans have food allergies.

However, when a customer mentions an allergy or intolerance, Hicok and his staff “do everything in our power to educate them, and I find myself educating a lot more.” Once they’ve talked to a customer they’ll offer up different ways to make a drink or suggest alternative beverages.


Just 8 foods are responsible for the majority of food allergy reactions in the U.S. They are:

  • Peanut
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Source: Food Allergy and Research Education (FARE)

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