2022 Tastemakers: PJ Ford of The Light of Seven Matchsticks

Armed with brainy humor and a mantra of “creativity and balance,” Ford has developed a fanbase at The Light of Seven Matchsticks in Worthington.

G.A. Benton
PJ Ford, cocktail director and general manager at The Light of Seven Matchsticks, mixes a drink.

[Editor's Note: After this story was originally published, The Light of Seven Matchsticks announced that it would be closing Sunday, Sept. 18. PJ Ford, the bar's cocktail director and general manager, will be joining Law Bird as general manager.]

When asked what advice he’d give industry newcomers, this creator of playful yet sophisticated cocktails provides a peek into the way he thinks: “Pay attention to ingredients; they all have something to say. Let them say it and in their own way.”

That deceptively simple, hard-earned wisdom was forged through extensive study and the Bexley native’s early gig as a barback at Giuseppe’s Ritrovo, a cocktail hot spot where Columbus’ dean of libations, Travis Owens, first made his name.

Armed with a post-Giuseppe’s mantra of “creativity and balance,” PJ Ford has grown his own flock of devotees at The Light of Seven Matchsticks, the literally underground (beneath Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music in Worthington) local benchmark of tiny-but-stylish speakeasies.

From left, The Rush to Frontierland, Retroactive Blackout and Three Days Off cocktails at The Light of Seven Matchsticks

Shaking Things Up

One of the secrets to Ford’s success is a frequently changing menu. “We’ve always had drinks that are more popular than others on our cocktail lists,” he says, “but we never let them roll over to a new menu [because] we try to best ourselves with new creations.”

Ford’s menus are fashioned with liberal splashes of brainy humor, too, which aligns perfectly with a nouveau-retro lounge that cites filmmaker Wes Anderson as a guiding light. For example, one of Ford’s current favorites—Three Days Off, a savory and gentle drink made with Japanese-inspired flavors, including green tea, Maggi sauce, Japanese whisky and plum liqueur—is ostensibly, as Ford’s menu describes it, “for those who like: shopping in foreign languages, elaborate schemes to evade mundane tasks, glutamates above all.”

Tropical flavors integrated with coffee notes distinguish Retroactive Blackout, another of Ford’s latest faves. Made with Watershed Distillery’s chamomile gin, guava, coffee liqueur, lime, amaretto, fortified wine and bitters, it’s apparently “for those who like: forgetting last night’s mistakes, screaming orgasms, self-care in the form of alcohol.”

Get the Picture

Many-hatted Ford, whose full name is Paul Joseph Joss Ford, doesn’t just create terrific cocktails; he takes striking images of them—and of food, landscapes and more. You can view them on the website of Joss Ford Photography, the “side business” this adventurous shaker and restless mind launched during COVID shutdowns.

The Light of Seven Matchsticks

5601 N. High St., Worthington, 614-436-2625

The Rush to Frontierland cocktail at The Light of Seven Matchsticks features Doritos tequila among its ingredients.

About PJ Ford

Age: 33

Hometown: Bexley

Go-to bars: “Bistrolino, Antiques on High, Law Bird and Club 185 are in rotation.”

Local dishes he craves: “The breakfast burrito from One Line Coffee in Franklinton is the perfect mash-up of crispy tortilla, fluffy eggs and gooey cheese. I’m also over the moon with the Yuxiang eggplant from Jiu Thai.”

Reading recommendation: Imbibe magazine

PJ Ford is one of nine “Tastemakers” profiles in the August 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.