Banana Nut Old Fashioned? Beet-a-Rita Sour? Welcome to the world of Lubbock mixologist ‘Cousin’ Morin

JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond

JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin, photo by Olivia Raymond

Cousin pulls liquor, tinctures and a bright purple concoction onto the bar top after saying, “I’m going to make you a drink.”

It’s like watching a chemist follow an exact formula or an artist stroke color onto canvas. It’s calculated and whimsical at the same time.

This drink is one he’s been working on for three years – the Beet-a-Rita Sour – which sounds more adventurous than it tastes.

It’s a nod to Cousin’s grandmother and the green thumb she passed to him.

His grandparents were migrant workers with ample knowledge of the fruits and vegetables growing in South Texas. Cousin’s grandmother grew beets, among other crops. And while Cousin disliked beets as a child, the color and complexity of the root vegetable now fascinates him.

“There are some profiles you go back to over and over until you beat them,” he says, with no pun intended. “This drink has been my Sisyphus; I’ve been trying to get that rock over the hill for a while.”

Deconstruction and reconstruction are ongoing themes in Cousin’s life, seen in his childhood, spirituality and career.

The man behind the bar

JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin has been fine tuning the drink menu and training staff at Neighborhood F+B. It’s the new restaurant in South Lubbock owned by West Family Hospitality, which also operates The West Table, The Brewery LBK and Dirk’s Chicken.

It’s what he’s done at each West Family Hospitality venture for nearly a decade as part of its management team and the mixologist behind their cocktails.

“I’m a storyteller,” he says. “I just tell stories with cocktails.”

Resurrected from a sports bar that closed during COVID-19, Neighborhood F+B sits just off the corner of 98th and Quaker. Even though it’s been open less than a year, it’s busy.

“When people come in, I want them to feel like they’re coming to a neighbor’s house,” Cousin says. “My drinks are inspired by memory, family and culture. But they’re not simply an ode to any of those things. They take those concepts, break them down and reimagine them.”

Cousin’s drinks fuse the familiar with flavors that surprise.

Spending time with Cousin transports you. Cares or concerns dissipate as you listen to him talk about his next invention. He creates with the wonder of someone who’s never failed at anything, even though he has.

An obsessive tinkerer

Growing up on a farm outside of Brownfield, Cousin had lots of free time as a kid to discover what he liked. He enjoyed working with his hands. He got a certain satisfaction taking things apart, finding out what they were made of and then reinventing them.

He could read a measuring tape before he could read a book.

“We didn’t have internet or cable, so it was real country living,” Cousin says, as he recalled learning to drive a truck at age 11.

He was constantly tinkering with things.

If there was a car on the farm, he’d take it apart. If his mother had an appliance that wasn’t working, he would open it up. To be clear, none of this was to necessarily fix things, he was just curious to see inside.

“I liked tearing things down and repurposing them,” he says. “It’s the deconstruction that leads to new creation. It’s taking someone else’s work, admiring it and then stripping it down to its core. I love that.”

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin in the F+B Bar, photo by Olivia Raymond

Cousin grew up between two worlds: the mystic connection of his grandparents with their Native American and Mexican roots and that of his parents, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Cousin’s grandmother believed in holistic living and incorporating ingredients found in nature. She saw this as spiritual, even sacred.

His parents’ tradition was one of study and intellectualism.

Much of his grandparents’ native background and its practices were seen as “hocus pocus” though.

“I really never gave attention to the things my grandmother tried to show me growing up,” Cousin says, remorsefully.

Rather, he gave himself to the religion he was raised in. Because of Cousin’s deep love for research and understanding the way things work, he recalls being an exemplary member of the Jehovah’s Witness community. And while there were things about the faith practice that rang true for Cousin, there were components that puzzled him as he got older.

A heavy emphasis of the religion, like others, is to keep the company of those who believe as you do. But Cousin found himself enamored with a girl who did not meet his faith community’s standards. He grappled with concepts like what made a person “good” and who got to decide that.

“Falling in love caused me to fall out of religion,” Cousin says.

While the relationship would not last, the questions it stirred up lingered.

Finding ‘dry land’

After graduating high school, Cousin studied acting at San Angelo State for a short time.

“I loved building set designs,” Cousin says, reminiscing.

He had gotten involved in theater during high school and considered he might enjoy teaching. Each production and its set were a new challenge. He brought each performance to life, off the page and into three-dimensional existence.

There are nods to Cousin’s theater years at Neighborhood F+B. One is the bar’s design and placement. It’s almost as if the bar is a stage and the tables are the audience.

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin serving a drink, photo by Olivia Raymond

While Cousin enjoyed theater, the rest of his life in college was quickly unraveling. The people around him were not people he wanted to emulate, and he lacked purpose.

In his words, he needed to find dry land.

Leaving San Angelo, Cousin moved to Lubbock in 2004 and found what he was looking for.

“My brother had a flooring company at the time,” he says. “I worked with him and got into the restoration of wood floors.”

Cousin spent hours getting the wood to its raw state and building it back into something beautiful. Once he mastered that, he got into details like crown molding and smaller intricacies making a space unique.

Cousin worked with his hands, avoiding the saw.

“My mind is always wandering,” he says. “That can be a dangerous mix with blades.”

On these projects Cousin mastered ratios, angles and formulas resulting in a quality product. He was at the height of his carpentry career when he broke the trade’s number-one rule: never reach under a wall with your hands.

As he pulled trash out from under a wall, the force of it fell onto Cousin’s right hand, crushing it and permanently damaging nerves. He recounts the incident with a certain level of detachment, almost as if it happened to someone else. But his warped grasp of a shot glass reminds you it happened to him.

Finding his calling

The evening of the accident, Cousin decided to go to dinner at Manna Bread & Wine – a popular restaurant in Lubbock at the time. The signature drinks and reimagined Southwestern comfort food was the closest he got to urgent care that day. He determined the one thing that would make him feel better, was a good steak.

“I felt I deserved a steak,” he recalled.

He sat down his wife and told her his career in carpentry was likely over. His wife Erica cut his steak while listening to the sudden change in plans; Cousin unable to grasp the steak knife himself.

He wasn’t going to do administrative work. They both knew that. As they discussed what might be next, Cousin kept noticing things about the restaurant.

“Something changed in me as I watched those servers,” he recalled. “They were a small crew, maybe six or seven. I watched them make drinks, interact with guests and suggest pairings.”

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
Banana Nut Old Fashioned, photo by Olivia Raymond

Perhaps it was the pain in his hand or the warmth from his drink, but something clicked at that moment. In a career crisis, he had come to Manna for comfort but left with a calling.

Over the following weeks, Cousin went to the small restaurant inside Cactus Alley every day asking for a job. It was a small operation, and they didn’t need help. Still, every afternoon, there was Cousin, dressed up and waiting patiently in case they changed their minds.

“Nothing was going to stop me from getting that job,” he says. “I was just a pain in the — until it happened.”

One evening after about three weeks of sitting, a server quit on the spot.

“You have one chance,” the manager told Cousin.

“That’s all I need,” Cousin replied.

He’d been studying the job for weeks. He was ready. He replicated what he’d observed and walked away with a new job that night.

“The rest has been a Cinderella story,” Cousin says. “This industry has consumed me.”

West Family Hospitality

After a few years, Manna Bread & Wine went out of business. Cousin started a few ventures of his own, joined others, but eventually landed at West Family Hospitality.

“Cousin’s passion for spirits and his flair for creativity is evident in the craftsmanship of every cocktail he creates,” says Cameron West, owner of West Family Hospitality.

“Above all, what truly elevates our bar programs is the level of hospitality he provides. Our mantra has always been to provide a genuinely warm experience to every guest and treat them as if they were guests in our own homes. Cousin manifests that day in and day out,” West added.

West Family Hospitality started The West Table. A group of Lubbock guys in their thirties at the time, wanted a nice place to take their wives out on date night. Then they started having families, their lives revolving around chicken tenders, so they started Dirk’s Chicken, once again putting their spin on a new season of life.

Most recently, their kids were getting older and they realized the importance of having good neighbors and sharing meals, so Neighborhood F+B was born.

More than a decade in, the team is seeing success and often get asked what’s next. Go beyond Lubbock?

“We’re not looking to find our place in the world, we already have it,” Cousin says. “It’s here.”

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
Beet a Rita Sour, photo by Olivia Raymond

Reimagined memories

Neighborhood F+B is a tall gray building with black trim and a patio out front.

The outside is simple, but when you walk in, you’re met with 30-foot-high ceilings, black-and-white portraits of Lubbock icon Buddy Holly, and a three-sided bar at the back of the room. The wall behind is stacked with shelves of spirits, plants and the famous rose gold flamingo decanters serving the mixologist’s campfire margarita. El Jimador

Reposado tequila befriends lime and agave inside the flamingo’s delicate body, delivered to tables by its long neck.

Guests are seated at tables throughout one large room, easily seating 200 people.

There are no sections partitioned off or private rooms. It’s one large space. The restaurant’s decor is minimalistic. The focus is on the people and Cousin stands out from the crowd.

He sports a utility apron, a handlebar moustache gently curled upward and black Converse lace-ups.

He lets out a howl behind the bar and his bartenders howl back.

“We’re just checking in,” he explains. “If someone doesn’t howl, I know something’s up.”

He’s the alpha and he doesn’t leave his pack behind.

“Cousin is so charismatic and kind,” says Andrea Foster, one of the team members. “Coming to work here isn’t something you dread. It’s like being with family.”

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin, photo by Olivia Raymond

Cousin won’t send someone home on an off night. If a team member isn’t up for being around people, they can work in the back.

“If something’s wrong, it’ll only be worse getting sent home,” Cousin says. “Sometimes people need to have a place to put their head down and make some money. Life is hard, but everyone feels better crying into a pile of money.”

In the bar sits roughly 300 bottles of bourbon, tequila, vodka, gin and brandy. Center stage is an island with two thick wooden butcher blocks. Between them sit Cousin’s special tinctures. Multiple glass bottles no more than four ounces in volume cover the surface. As he pours them you can smell rosemary, sage, coconut, cinnamon, peppercorn, rye, banana, grapefruit, tobacco, orange blossom and some scents you can’t quite name.

There are drinks that are familiar and comforting, and drinks taking some curiosity to order. Cousin caters to both audiences.

The Banana Nut Old Fashioned is a bruléed take on a favorite. Further down the menu is “Mr. Cold Fashioned.”

Ingredients: smoked Martell blue swift brandy, lemon oil, Mr. Black coffee liquor, wolf syrup tobacco, and chocolate bitters.

“It’s an ode to my grandfather,” Cousin says. “My grandma didn’t let him smoke in the house so every morning he stood on the front stoop and smoked his cigarette with a coffee in the other hand.”

Cousin brought his grandfather back to life through this drink. He brings his grandmother to life in the Beet-a-Rita Sour, but also others such as the Ixtiltion.

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin pouring the Beet a Rita Sour, photo by Olivia Raymond

The name is a nod to a Mayan goddess, associated with medicine and healing. The drink itself is a variation on the Lubbock classic, the Chilton.

“I don’t believe in messing with the Chilton too much,” Cousin says, adamantly. “I get a lot of people in here asking what ‘my take’ is on the drink, expecting off-the-wall flavors like blueberry or cucumber.”

And while Cousin loves reimagining the classics, he doesn’t stray too far from the original profile. In this drink, he keeps it simple: vodka, citrus, salt. But in reference to his Mexican heritage, Cousin uses Golden Nance Berry along with the prescribed lemon.

The fruit, native to Latin America, is a small yellow-orange berry ranging in flavor from something close to banana, all the way to lychee or pear. The berry grows in southwest Texas, in what used to be northern Mexico.

It’s a fruit his grandparents could have picked.

The Ixtiltion is an homage to his cultural heritage, something he’s reclaiming.

“I misunderstood my family’s cultural use of herbs when I was younger,” he explains. “Now as I’m getting older, I have a chance to explore that.”

The exploration has opened a dialogue with his own kids, Gracie and Rivers. Cousin and Gracie often make Moon Water together, a mystical full moon practice observed by his ancestors.

“My dad is my best friend,” Gracie says, beaming. “He’s incredibly smart and very talented. The ideas that come into his head are amazing and his ability to connect with people is second nature.”

Gracie started working as a waitress at Neighborhood F+B recently. At 19, an age when some children want space from their parents, Gracie happily works with her dad.

“I know he’s my dad, but he’s a really cool person,” Gracie says.

There also are a few select bar team members with black aprons on.

“Those are my samurai,” Cousin says.

The elite group are professionals who’ve been trained by Cousin and have leveled up to a point where they run the show when Cousin is elsewhere. The promotion is not from the company, but rather a level of self-regulation within the team.

The black aprons can be found at all West Family Hospitality locations.

The letter

As Cousin pulls out a butane torch for the Banana Nut Old Fashioned, a nod to his grandmother’s bread, a customer walks through the door and approaches the bar. He leans in with his elbows on the bar top and places an envelope in front of him.

He’s looking for Cousin, who just ran the old fashions to a table.

He catches the attention of a team member, places a finger on the envelope, and asks, “Can you make sure Cousin gets this?”

Then he’s gone.

After a few minutes, Cousin picks up the envelope, opens it, and reads a handwritten letter. His eyes move back and forth across the page, engrossed in the words.

He sets it down.

“Wow, that’s the best,” he says.

A few weeks prior, a regular and his wife had come to dinner at Neighborhood F+B. The husband, usually outgoing and cheerful, was clearly bothered. Cousin himself was having a hard night, having just attended a friend’s funeral.

The F+B regular looked at Cousin and Cousin looked at him. They recognized pain in one another’s eyes.

The guest started crying. Cousin started crying.

Cousin didn’t ask the regular what was wrong; he didn’t need to know. They hugged and Cousin covered their meal.

Juan Samuel “Cousin” Morin in Lubbock, Texas, photo by Olivia Raymond
JuanSamuel “Cousin” Morin, photo by Olivia Raymond

“The compliment is he didn’t get embarrassed,” Cousin says. “He didn’t feel out of place. He came here for dinner because he felt safe. That meant more to me than anything else.”

The understanding and comfort of a neighbor’s house, or even a grandmother’s kitchen table, is felt within the environment Cousin has built. He is a mixologist, but he’s also everyone’s ‘cousin,’ the nickname he got years ago.

Cousin sets down the thank you letter, gears almost visibly turning in his head. He goes to his butcher’s block and starts pulling out produce, oils, liquor and spices.

He may have just found his next pour.

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Author: Lucy GreenbergLucy Greenberg earned a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Strategic Communication & Innovation from Texas Tech and is currently earning an M.A. in Nonfiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a stringer for the Washington Post.