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Behind the Scenes: Climbing, Traveling and Bartending in Between

Silliman's "living room on wheels"- in New Zealand

Silliman's "living room on wheels"- in New Zealand

Matt Silliman is living THE LIFE. Avid climber by day, bartender at Osteria Mattone by night, and adventure traveler in between.

If you were to look at the past six years of his life, it would read like the itinerary of an REI trip.

Tennessee:

  • Climbed four days a week.
  • Bartended at restaurants in between.

Nicaragua:

  • Built wells through a mission trip with Amigos for Christ.
  • Climbed and guided.
  • Learned to surf.

Roswell:

  • Served and bartended at Table & Main.
  • Camped and climbed in Chattanooga on off-days.

New Zealand:

  • Lived out of a van for one year.
  • Ski lift operator in Southern Alps.
  • Skiied on off-days.
  • Surfed.
  • Managed a coffee shop for two months.
  • Climbed.
  • Bartended at a hostel in exchange for a place to stay.

He’s back in Roswell for now as a bartender at Osteria Mattone. But he still spends three to four days per week camping and climbing in Chattanooga. On days when he serves behind the bar, he gets his practice in at the indoor climbing gym, Stone Summit.

“What I love about bartending, is you can collect a lot of skills, but it gives you the opportunity to be flexible and move around,” Silliman says. “I am interested in the wine and drink culture, but at same time I’m earning money to fund my traveling.”

As I interviewed him on one of the first warm days of Spring (sunny, low 70’s) the glint in his eyes showed his longing to be outdoors. “Being here when the weather is like that,” he said, motioning to the window, where sunlight streamed in. “is killing me.”

The perfect weekend for Silliman starts and ends with him in a tent in a remote part of the woods. “I just pack up my climbing gear and a tent, and camp out alone in the woods for days at a time. What’s nice about bartending is if the weather is nice, I can switch around my days.”

Silliman climbing in New Zealand

Silliman climbing in New Zealand

How did Silliman get hooked on climbing? By chance. After taking a year off from college, Silliman returned to his family in Roswell to think through his future. While walking his dog on the trails by Allenbrook Mansion, he saw a guy climbing and he fell in love with the sport instantly. He started climbing right then, reaching for the rocks. As he left the ground so he left behind all the uncertainty in his life. He knew that he wanted to climb.

There is no trial and error involved in climbing, because one wrong move, one slipped grip, could result in a major fall. Silliman bought a few mountaineering books, learned to tie knots and hooks and talked to people along the way. “It was a lot of self-directed learning,” he told me.

Silliman is one with a heart for adventure and holds trust in the unknown. Take New Zealand- he lived out of a 1994 Mazda Bongo for one year. “I hollowed it out and turned it into a living room on wheels.”

New Zealand had everything Silliman wanted to do in a small space: surfing, skiing and climbing. Plus it was relatively safe and they spoke English. He even hitchhiked to his interview to become a ski lift operator.

In between his adventures, a mutual friend introduced him to Ryan Pernice, who hired Silliman at Table & Main, and then later at Osteria Mattone.

“Ryan is so whole heartedly into his business and dedicated to his craft. He is very thorough with his training,” Silliman said.

Seeing how Pernice runs his business helped Silliman in New Zealand, where he turned a failing coffee shop around. “I met this lady who had bought this coffee shop but had no experience running a business. She had just fired a bunch of high school kids who were stealing money from the register. She basically gave me the keys and said, ‘If you can help at all, you’re hired.’ I ran the place for two months.”

Since October, Silliman has been back in Roswell, learning wine varietals under Dan Pernice, whom he says has taught him to be open-minded with wine. “It’s not a job for him. He’s just a big nerd about wine.

As for what’s next on Silliman’s adventure calendar? Bend, Oregon- within the next year. He tells me the climbing is incredible, the craft beer scene is thriving and he’s not far from beach or slopes.

“I like having a balance,” Silliman says when I ask him if he’s interested in climbing full time. “I don’t think I would enjoy climbing if it became a job to me. And I do enjoy learning the business side of restaurants.”

Maybe someday soon we’ll see Silliman owning a bar, on top of a cliff, accessible only by climbing.

-By Alexa Lampasona (@ActiveTastyLife) for the Food & More blog

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