Blogs from Edward "Teddy" Durgin - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Fri, 27 Jan 2023 02:53:07 -0500 en-gb Ted Dumbauld Returns SoNo1420_HOME.jpg

Hitting store shelves in Maryland and Washington, DC, is a line of whiskey, gin, and other spirits under the SoNo 1420 brand. What makes this line of premium spirits that includes names like 1420 BBN and Blaze Whisky stand out? They are the products of America’s first distillery to incorporate hemp seed in its whiskey mashbills.

SoNo 1420’s founder is Ted Dumbauld, a rather remarkable man who first got a taste for Maryland and all it has to offer when he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 1980s. In his career, he has gone from serving our country as a submarine officer to earning his MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to working on Wall Street for two decades at such powerhouses as Deutsche Bank and Bear Stearns.

Dumbauld eventually launched his own hedge fund and money management business, which got him involved in the lucrative medical cannabis business as an investor and operator. In those states that would come to legalize cannabis, his research showed there was almost always a corresponding drop in beverage alcohol sales. His vision became to launch a new company that would be a nimble competitor, “at the intersection of cannabis and beverage alcohol.”


That essentially was how SoNo 1420 was born. First, though, Dumbauld taught himself how to make whiskey. He bought a still and had it installed in his basement. He eventually developed a rather unique flavor profile, stating, “We’re making standard bourbons, whiskey, and rye. But rather than using traditional grains like wheat and/or barley, we’ve substituted in some hemp seed. That created our unique flavor profile that has given us a way to distinguish ourselves from a marketing perspective and has won multiple awards.”

He continued, “The hemp seed has a different flavor profile. It has a nuttiness associated with it. You can find hemp seed at Whole Foods and a lot of health food-associated stores in its raw format. We don’t use the whole seed. We used what it is known as the ‘hemp heart.’ You crack off the hard shell and inside is this small kernel that has this nutty flavor. But in addition, it is an oil seed. When we do our mash in, our fermentation, and our distillation, a portion of that oil makes it through that process. After it has been aged in the barrel, you sample it and it gives you this fuller mouth feel. The oil allows the whiskey to coat your tongue, keeping those flavor molecules on your tongue for a longer period of time.”

And the company’s name? On Feb. 4, 1919, the Connecticut State Senate -- by a vote of 14 to 20 -- failed to ratify the 18th Amendment. This made Connecticut the first of only two states to defeat Prohibition. The distillery chose the number ‘1420’ as a nod to the revolutionary spirit embodied by this vote and to symbolize the rights of personal freedom for which the brand still stands today. The ‘SoNo’ pays homage to the distillery’s home in South Norwalk, Conn., and its storied past. 

“Our Double Gold award-winning distillery in historic South Norwalk is a destination unto itself,” states Dumbauld. “A respite for you with a tasting room that’s open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with live music and rotating art exhibits. It is the place where innovation happens.”

Looking ahead, Dumbauld describes his firm’s focus as “narrow, but deep. Because of my roots in Annapolis and Maryland, it made sense to be down there. The state has double the population of here in Connecticut. So just the number of potential customers in Maryland is very attractive to us. We want the same penetration there that we have here in the Connecticut market. I think our products appeal to everyone.  There’s a market for rare, premium whiskeys in Maryland, and we aspire to be in those lofty levels.”

He concludes, “I am more of an engineer-type person. I don’t have a lot of marketing and sales experience. So, I have found you have to hire the right people then pound the pavement to get the product out there. In the spirits world, you have to have a great product. But you also have to know how to market and sell. What I am good at and what I love is developing new flavor profiles -- not just with our whiskeys, but with our gins and our ready-to-drink cocktails. The best is yet to come!”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2023 Editions Mon, 09 Jan 2023 08:26:24 -0500
Maryland's 2023 Legislative Session MD_GA_HOME.jpg

I've been writing this Maryland state legislative preview article each year at this time for more than a decade now. And this is the first time since 2019 where the annual feature won’t be so mired down in pandemic-era hand wringing. For Annapolis and the beverage industry, it’s been back to business . . . eh, almost as usual. Thankfully, so is this look ahead to the next General Assembly session.

But first a look back at the past year and its wins. No victory was bigger than the defeat of a bill to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to put beer and wine on their shelves. Attorney and Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise was happy for the win. But he warned, “It’s a perennial issue, and it does not seem that the supermarkets intend to give up. So, we’ll keep fighting.”

MSLBA Legislative co-Chairman Jack Milani shared Wise’s caution, adding, “Defeating the chain store bill was a big victory. That was probably of the most interest to our members. It’s different how they come at us from year to year, and it’s been fairly aggressive the last couple of sessions.”

Another big triumph was getting legislation passed that hiked lottery commissions, something Wise believes will be “a huge benefit to a lot of our members who are lottery retailers.” Milani concurred, “We had been working on that for a while, and that came to fruition finally. We got a half-percent increase for lottery sales.  There are a little over 4,000 agents in the state. So, that affects a lot of folks. The increase takes us from 5.5 percent to 6 percent. So, that was a really good thing.”

Both men agreed that it has been good to gradually get back to “pressing the flesh” and taking concerns to legislators face to face as opposed to COVID-era Zoom sessions, e-mails, and phone calls. There was still a fair amount of limitation in this regard during the last session. Too many virtual meetings, Wise and Milani both lamented.

But Wise is ever hopeful. “This year,” he said, “it seems like there is going to be much more of an effort to get back to the way things used to be. I, for one, am a big fan of ‘in-person.’ It allows me to be in the halls of the Legislature, and you pick up an immense amount of information just hanging around. I also enjoy one-on-one conversations with legislators. It’s just not the same virtually, even if it’s a one-on-one Zoom session.”


Such “face-to-faces” are going to be even more important with the election recently concluded and so many new legislators for Wise, Milani, and MSLBA’s membership to get to know. “Some faces moved from the House to the Senate, too,” Milani noted. “So, this is a good time for our members to reach out to their delegates and senators, introduce themselves, invite them to their stores, and let them know what we are all about. It’s critical that you know your elected officials, especially with all of the things that can come up with respect to our businesses. Let them know how many people you employ, how long you’ve been at your current location, what you do in the community. Hopefully, your elected official will then reach out and talk to you before he or she votes or takes action on anything industry related. Oh, and let them know that most times, the big guys are not nearly as invested in the community as the small guys!” 

Wise says it helps with his job that most lawmakers have some passing familiarity with the alcohol business. After all, most have had a glass of wine with dinner, a beer with buddies, or a visit to their local packaged goods store for supplies. However, he pointed out, “Most of the time, they are just an end user. A consumer. So, when you are talking about how the industry actually works -- the delivery system, taxation, the concentration of retail stores-- they don’t think about those parts of it. So, while they are familiar with the product, until they have been in the Legislature a little while, they are generally not as familiar with the regulatory aspects of it.”

He added, “We’ve been lucky sometimes. Throughout my 25 or so years, we’ve had legislators who have owned packaged goods stores, bars, restaurants. They bring with them an immense amount of knowledge. But out of 188 legislators, at any one time you might have had two or three of those individuals.  . . . The retailers around the state have to make it a priority to get to know their legislators, especially if they are new. So that when they consider things that affect our industry, they are putting it in the perspective of the businesses in their district when they vote. It’s a constant effort and more so after an election.”


As for 2023, a supermarket bill almost certainly will come up again. Wise believes relief mechanisms that were put in place during COVID that are due to sunset will certainly be discussed. Milani added, “Third-party delivery will be an issue that will certainly be discussed in 2023. Some of the delivery platforms and delivery companies want to get into delivering alcohol. So, expect a lot of talk about that in this session. We think the sale needs to be done by a retailer.”

Finally, another issue that will be paramount is keeping MSLBA’s membership strong and active. Milani concluded, “Anyone new to the business reading this article, you have to become members and get involved in MSLBA! We have a legislative committee that meets weekly during the session. We track all of the bills having to do with employment, taxes, anything that can impact our business that we can weigh in when appropriate. If nothing else, being a member of MSLBA will get you the newsletters and keep you up to date. There’s also a lot of knowledge in the room. So, if you are new and have any questions that are business-related, a lot of the older members will try and help you. We were all new once and went through it. So, come and pick up some knowledge and be aware that we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to make a living and take care of our families. If we work together and stay together on the issues, we have a much better shot at being successful.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2023 Editions Mon, 09 Jan 2023 07:48:32 -0500
Big Bats Café BigBats_Exterior_HOME.jpg

The Major League Baseball season may be over, but the crack of the bat can still be heard at Big Bats Café in Stevensville. This is the latest eating and drinking establishment that we are spotlighting in our ongoing series on themed bars and restaurants around the state of Maryland, and it’s certainly one of the most fun to visit. 

Big Bats Café is a 100 percent baseball-themed sports eatery that some locals have come to call “Little Cooperstown.” Owned and operated by Stephen “Steve” Garland since its opening in March 1997, Big Bats is closing out its 25th anniversary year with the same great food, drinks, and customer service it’s been known for from the get-go. Much credit has to go to Garland, who has always set the tone and pace at the business he still has a passion for at age 73. 


Big Bats Café owner and operator Stephen “Steve” Garland.

“I grew up with great parents,” he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. “I was taught early on that there is only one way to do things . . . the right way! After spending four years in the military after high school, I went into business for myself doing construction work. I eventually started doing custom homes. I learned through that business that you can’t afford not to do things right the first time. But that’s in every business. You don’t cut corners on anything. I know in today’s economy, you would want to. But you can’t do that. You still have to have the best of what you put out there.”

That means a menu of food items made mostly out of all-fresh products, including bar wings that have won multiple local awards. The menu is separated into sections with such baseball-themed headers as: Coach’s Choice (the specials), The Starting Lineup (appetizers), Bullpen (burgers, hot dogs, and cheese steaks), Field of Greens (salads), Sluggers (sandwiches and subs), Pinch Hitters (side dishes), and Grand Slam (main entrees). And the kids’ selections are touted as “The Little League Menu.” The kitchen staff also makes their own wing sauces, soups, salad dressings, and more.

As for beverages and spirits, Garland noted, “We have 24 beers on draft. We have over 40 different craft cans and bottles of beer [including Atlas Brew Works’ Bullpen Pilsner, of course]. We do our Orange Crushes with fresh squeezed orange juice. We have seasonal mixed drinks that our wait staff will recommend to people. In fact, we have some new selections that we’re working on right now, because the weather is about to change.”


But it’s the theme that keeps the customers coming in. In Garland’s view, there’s nothing like good food, drinks, and America’s Pastime. “The restaurant speaks for itself,” he said. “Anyone who really likes baseball, they are pretty much in awe when they come in here with all of the memorabilia. There’s a Nolan Ryan baseball jersey over here, a Pete Rose jersey over there. There is a Johnny Bench jersey on display. We have a room that has nothing but Baltimore Orioles stuff in it. I’m an Oriole fan, and we’re in an Orioles area. Chairs hang on the ceiling from the old Memorial Stadium, and there are Earl Weaver and Brooks Robinson signatures on them. I have an infield painted on the floor of the bar. The legs of our barstools are made out of baseball bats, and the seats are bases.”

He continued, “We have 27 TVs throughout the restaurant. We have a large outdoor seating area that holds about 140 people, with three TVs and a bar outside, too. We have advertisement signs on the fence all around it that makes it look like a minor league ballpark.”


And regardless of whether it is pennant race time or the off-season, Big Bats Café draws a healthy mix of locals and out-of-towners who either visit specifically because they love the place or are in town for other reasons and stumble upon the Café as a happy surprise. Garland remarked, “Just this past weekend [Garland was interviewed right at the start of the recent Astros-Phillies World Series], we were inundated with Philadelphia Phillies fans. They kind of took over the place for a while. We’re located near a large venue that does a lot of weddings from all areas and different parts of the country.”

So, why a baseball theme as opposed to football or hockey or sports, in general? Garland was quick with his answer: “Because I just love baseball. Period! I started playing amateur organized baseball at the age of 40 and played all the way until I was 67. To me, it’s the greatest sport in the world -- one that if you play the game right, it can also teach you in so many ways how to live your life the right way.”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Images by Jade Nikkole Photography

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2022 Editions Tue, 22 Nov 2022 12:08:36 -0500
The Irish Inn Irish-Inn_HOME.jpg

“The restaurant business, to me, is more about people than it is about money.  You want to see people having a good time. It’s nice to see them all.”

So says Christy Hughes, owner and operator of The Irish Inn at Glen Echo in Montgomery County, Md. All the “all” he is referring to is his surprisingly diverse clientele who frequent this authentic pub and restaurant not far from the posh hamlets of Bethesda and Potomac. 

Much of that customer diversity can be attributed less to The Irish Inn’s menu and beverage selection and more to its live music programming throughout the week. Hughes remarked, “On Tuesday nights, we have traditional Irish music. So, we get a lot of younger folk in, as well as some older people. On Wednesday nights, we have more Irish folk and rock, so it’s almost all younger. On Sunday evenings at 4:30, though, we have live jazz and 99 percent of the people are over 70, even over 80! Starting the music at 4:30, our older customers can stay for a few hours and be home by 8 o’clock.”


Christy Hughes, owner and operator of The Irish Inn at Glen Echo in Montgomery County, Md.

This is the tenth in the Beverage Journal’s 2022 series on theme bars and restaurants. In past issues, we have profiled everything from a sports bar to a pirate bar to a magic-themed tavern and restaurant. It was inevitable we would get around to spotlighting an Irish pub, and few pride themselves more on authenticity than The Irish Pub at Glen Echo. 

So, what makes a place like Hughes’ establishment an authentic Irish pub and restaurant as opposed to one of the more chain-like places that shall remain nameless? Hughes was quick to answer: “The least amount of shamrocks you can put out! No, seriously. The key is to just make it real – real wood, real floors, old pictures, and good food and drinks. And we try to hire as many Irish staff as we can. That’s getting harder and harder to come by, and we have some great staff from other places in the world. The problem is our people don’t want to leave anymore. They’re doing so well in Ireland!”

He continues, “We do pride ourselves on having a fun, fun place. We’re also kind of out in the country. When you drive out to us, you almost feel like you’re driving in Ireland to get here. It’s like you are stepping a bit back into history.”

The Irish Inn at Glen Echo has a plethora of history – from a family home in the 1930s to a biker bar in the ‘80s. It was The Inn at Glen Echo in the ‘90s. It re-opened in 2003 as The Irish Inn and has been offering great Irish food and beverages ever since in its quaint setting, combining a traditional Irish pub with a white tablecloth restaurant. Indeed, it offers a half-dozen private dining rooms that are perfect for many occasions.


The fifth of eight children, Hughes was born in Ireland and attended Catering College in Athenry, Co. Galway where he learned all aspects of the hospitality industry. After working for a number of years in his native Ireland, he emigrated to the Washington, D.C., metro area in March 1974, sponsored by his sister. In November of that year, he had begun working as General Manager of The Dubliner Irish Pub on Capitol Hill.

Hughes and his wife, Libby Byrne together went on to become co-owners of Ireland’s Four Provinces in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of D.C. A few years later, they opened a second location in Falls Church, Va. They eventually jumped on their current property when it became available, and the rest is local food and beverage history.

Hughes comments, “I’ve been in the business for a total of 57 years. It’s all I know. I’m just lucky in that I like people, and I hope it shows. It’s just nice to go and sit down and have a drop of whiskey or a pint of Guinness and talk to some American customers. American people are very nice and very different. They tend to tell you exactly what they think!”

And his overall business philosophy? “Be nice and be fair to people. You don’t let people walk all over you. But you never walk over a customer. Without the customers, you’re out of business.”


Hughes and his staff definitely had that lesson reinforced to them over the past two-plus years marked by COVID-19. “Just getting people to come to work was hard,” he recalled. “Although we were very lucky in that we had great staff who did everything they could to help us stay open. But wearing masks and still being nice to everyone . . . it’s just been different. It’s just something we never dealt with. Before, if we hit a stretch where business was bad, we always found a way to make it better. With the pandemic, there just wasn’t much you could do. People didn’t want to go out.” 

But from out of hardship came new ideas and even an expansion of the business on-site. Hughes concluded, “We were luckier in that we were able to place 100 seats in the parking lot. If we didn’t have a parking lot, if we didn’t own the property, we’d be out of business now. The tents and the seats in the parking lot saved our life! It was the best thing we ever did. Now, customers have started going back inside big time. And that’s nice. If it’s nice out, we can have the music outside. But if it’s not, we can still have it inside. I give thanks to my wife, who is smarter than me. She said, ‘We have to get serious. We have to put seats and tents in the parking lot.’ And I said, “Libby, I’ll never do that.’ And she said, ‘Too late, I’ve already bought them!”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Images by Home Vision Photography.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2022 Editions Tue, 22 Nov 2022 11:36:13 -0500
Bard’s Bistro Bards-HOME_Oct22.jpg

Bard's Bistro Serves Dungeon Masters and Commoners Alike

These days, people will sit around a bar or restaurant and go back and forth about everything from sports to politics to the Kardashians. At the new Bard’s Bistro in California, Md., most of the customers are bandying about who is going to be Dungeon Master and what each players’ ability scores are going to be. Yes, Bard’s Bistro is a “Dungeons & Dragons”-themed eating and drinking place. Actually, it is meant to cater to gamers of all types and persuasions. But “D&D” more than anything. 

Owner Rebecca Ali opened Bard’s earlier this year as an extension of her High Tide Games store that she has been operating since March 2013. During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal for our ongoing series on themed bars and restaurants around the state, she remarked, “What makes this different is that I already knew many of the people who would be my customers before opening. Yes, they’re my customers. But I know them like they are family. I know that sounds cliché. But I really feel connected to this group of people. So when I was looking to come up with the concept for the restaurant and figure out the menu and everything, I wanted to have food and drinks that I would be proud to serve my family. It’s been a journey, but I’ve stuck with that [basic philosophy]. I’m a part of this community, and I want to make it better.”


High Tide Games welcomes gamers of all ages and playing abilities. It features a large open space for them to learn, play, and compete in card games, board games, role-playing games, and table-top miniature games. The store also offers a separate room for holding private games, parties, or classes. Ali wanted Bard’s Bistro to be just as inviting. And, indeed, the interior feels like you have stepped into your favorite game of “D&D.”

“Everybody knows about ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’” Ali said. “It’s a table-top role-playing game. It’s very fantasy-themed. We have a big community here locally of ‘D&D’ players and it’s growing. A lot of younger kids and people have gotten into it, and even that crowd is growing. The whole ‘Stranger Things’ [a popular Netflix show that has incorporated the game into its overall story arc since debuting in 2016]. phenomenon really put it into overdrive. When I was going to expand my business and open the restaurant, I thought, ‘What better way to connect the restaurant to the store than to make it a Dungeons & Dragons theme?’ One of the most popular things in ‘D&D’ is at the beginning of the game, you go into your local tavern. You’re sitting there, somebody approaches you, and they give you a quest to go on. It’s a part of the game, and it lends itself well to some fun in the real world.”

The theme has led to fun and creative business choices for Ali and her crew, too. The menu design is one example. There is the “Sharpshooterie Board” instead of the charcuterie board for an appetizer. Other food selections include the Adventurer’s Salad and the Barbarian Pretzel. 

As for beverages, the fun continues with some equally fun libations. “With people here for several hours, serving drinks is a good idea,” Ali stated. “They can relax and not have to worry about driving five minutes later. The drinks are fairly new to us. We just got our liquor license last month [this interview was conducted the last week of August]. I’m trying to stick to what a D&D tavern would be like. Some of the beers that I have on tap are not your traditional domestic beers. I don’t have Bud Lite or Blue Moon or any of that stuff. I have things like a Smores stout and a vanilla barrel ale and a blood orange IPA. These are all drinks you might find if you walk into a tavern in a D&D game.”

She continued, “Then, I have some bottles of what you’d call ‘mead,’ which my distributor told me, ‘We don’t sell mead very often. Everybody that’s tries it doesn’t sell it.’ And I’m like, ‘I feel like I can sell it.’ And [laughing] we’ve been through cases of mead! We have a scotch ale that has a really high alcohol content, but it’s smooth and people are really loving that one. I also have some wines I’ve brought in from the local winery, Port of Leonardtown. And our mixed drink menu has been a lot of fun. We’re serving them in potion bottles like you would have in a game. In some games, you buy a potion, you drink it, and something would happen. So, we’re doing fairy bottles and Alchemist’s Fire and the Potion of Healing. There’s so much you can do with the theme that it’s really fun.”


And how did Ali find the process of obtaining a liquor license? She was quick to answer: “Here in St. Mary’s County, it is a process. But if you go through it step by step, it’s not impossible. There is training and background checks. There is a petition and you have to have the community sign off on it. There’s lots of paperwork. And then you have go before the alcohol beverage board, which is made up of elected officials. It was a very formal meeting and a bit intimidating. There is an administrator for the board, and she sets up the initial meeting and lays out everything you need to do. When you have questions, she answers them for you. So, she was really helpful. It was just a matter of going through all of the procedures.”

From a distance, one would assume that Bard’s Bistro’s clientele is somewhat limited. But that is not the case, according to Ali. Yes, she was able to start with an already loyal customer base. But in the months since opening, she and her staff have noticed a growing diversity among the paying public.

“Mix is a good word for our customers,” she said. “People come into the store to play games. They are usually there for several hours at a time. And every day of the week, it changes. Wednesdays are D&D. Fridays are Magic the Gathering [a strategy card game]. Sundays are Pokemon. Every single one of those events that happens every week has a different crowd that it draws in. Pokemon tends to be younger. D&D is sort of all across the board. Magic is mid- to late-20s. Board gamers tend to be older. Also, we are right near a Navy base. So, we are getting the lunch crowds from the base. I’ve also noticed a lot of people wandering in from the community because they’ve heard our food is good.”

Looking ahead, Ali expressed positivity as her most pronounced real-life super power and ability. Part of her charm is that she never considers herself a business person. Her background is actually in computer programming. But she sounded very much like an entrepreneur when she offered this bit of advice: “One thing that someone told me early on, and it’s stuck with me, is ‘Just focus on making money.’ That sounds silly. But it’s really easy to get caught up in ideas and lose sight of how to make those ideas happen, which is by having money. Whatever it is you are doing is fine . . . as long as you are making the money!”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 

Images by Natalie Grace Photos.

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2022 Editions Tue, 04 Oct 2022 19:10:09 -0400
Turp’s Sports Bar Turps_HOME.jpg

As part of our ongoing series of theme bars and restaurants in and around Maryland, there is no more prevalent theme in this state or any state than the classic sports bar. And one of the best is Turp’s Sports Bar & Restaurant in Baltimore. Located in a historic Mount Vernon brownstone and named after one of the original managers whose last name was Turpin, Turp’s has been wooing Charm City sports fans since opening over a decade ago with a large selection of beers and cocktails and a food menu that includes everything from pizza, calzones, and chicken wings to sandwiches, subs, and create-your-own burgers.

Running the place for the past three-plus years is General Manager Brad Bloom, who grew up in the industry under the tutelage of a father (Jay’s Restaurant Group founder Moe Bloom) who’s been in the bar, restaurant, and catering biz for over four decades. Bloom believes Turp’s reaches far beyond the casual and die-hard Ravens and Orioles fans.

“One of the great things about Turp’s is that it’s a neighborhood-friendly restaurant,” he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. Yes, ‘Sports Bar’ is in the title. But we try to give off a great vibe for everyone. Whether you are a student or a little kid or a couple going to a show in the area or a diehard O’s fan, there is something for everyone here . . . and a big part of that something is a neighborhood feel.”

He added, “At the same time, of course, we focus on sports. We have DirecTV packages. Wherever you sit in the restaurant, you can ask to change to any specific game that you want. We have a TV personalized for every single table and booth.”

The menu features some fun sports-themed selections. Favorites include: the Ravens House Salad; the Johnny U, a grilled chicken sandwich named after the late, great Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas; the Capitals Chicken Sandwich; and the 2131, a burger that commemorates Cal Ripken Jr.’s historic consecutive games streak topped with Old Bay-spiced crab dip.

Turp’s also has a great selection of local sports memorabilia displayed throughout as its primary décor. What is Bloom’s favorite item? “I grew up idolizing Cal Ripken,” he said, “so I couldn’t tell you what Ripken piece we have that is my favorite. We have quite a few. So, hands down, anything with Cal is something I’ll always have my eye on. He just symbolized and embodied the blue-collar worker, of everything you go to work for every day.”


Brad Bloom General Manager, with Turp's Bartender, Brandon Hayes

Bloom continued, “We hope to keep adding, especially with all of the local sports in the area – the Ravens, the new crop of Orioles, etc. There are a couple of jerseys we have – one signed by former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and the other a Lamar Jackson jersey – that are right there in the front [of store] that are generally the favorites. People see them when they come in. We get the most comments on those and they bring a lot of smiles.”

Like many establishments, themed or not, Turp’s was affected by the pandemic and the slow and measured rebound since. While many eating and drinking places lost staff, Turp’s used the crisis to place greater emphasis on team. “One of the biggest changes was with the staff,” Bloom noted. “We all had to become ‘hybrids.’ You weren’t just working one position anymore. You’re working multiple positions. It wouldn’t have been possible to survive these last couple of years without this team and the chemistry we have had. We pick each other up and we work different positions where needed. That was the biggest change COVID brought. No one is just a server or a bartender or a barback or a cashier anymore. Everyone sort of moves around and works as a team.”

And what a surprise it’s been to emerge from a pandemic to find a Baltimore Orioles team suddenly very competitive and in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot (NOTE: this interview was conducted in early August with the O’s on a four-game winning streak and a record of 55-51). Has the Orioles’ success translated into more customer traffic for Turp’s? Bloom was quick to answer: “We are still experiencing the comeback crowds from the slowdown we had during COVID, so it’s hard to say specifically. With the Orioles right now, I can tell you that the excitement is definitely a thousand times greater than it was the past few years. We’re definitely seeing it at the bar, getting more and more requests to have the Oriole game on.”

It helps that the bar has an exceptional beverage menu that keeps customers coming back for more. There are as many as 10 beers on tap at all times. “I try to rotate out, but we have our staples,” he said. “In this area, [laughing] you can’t NOT have Natty Bo! But we also keep on the menu Blue Moon and Yuengling. We have some local brews, too, like Brewers Art Resurrection and Dogfish Head Sea Quench Ale.”

In terms of cocktail drinks, Turp’s has a lot of the classics. But they have been tweaked and given funky names to spice them up a bit. They include a Turp’s Old Fashioned, the One Punch Drunk, Charm Titties, and Miami Ice. “We have a bomb on the menu, which I never thought we’d have,” Bloom added. “But we listened to our customers. It’s called a Robo Bomb, and it’s very popular with the regulars. It’s important to listen to the people you serve and the people you work with. Always keep an open ear. That really helps you build on things.”

Looking ahead, Bloom has a positive outlook as he and his business head into the fall and the fourth quarter of 2022. He concluded, “I always like to keep an optimistic viewpoint, regardless of what’s going on in the world. You always have to adapt and swerve. Whatever happens, we’re going to adapt and we are going to survive. That being said, I’m truly excited about the rest of the year. We have the college students who are going to be full-force back in classes. There will be more people walking around on the streets. It won’t be as deserted as it has been during COVID the past few years. And, yes, the Orioles! Hopefully, they’ll stay in [the chase for a playoff spot]. Then, people will really start believing. The Ravens are coming back, too. So, we’re on the right track.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal. 


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2022 Editions Mon, 29 Aug 2022 14:02:36 -0400
Bobby McKey’s Piano Bar McKeys_Marquee.jpg

There’s a great scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where gumshoe detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) walks into a private nightclub in 1940s Los Angeles and quickly learns that it is a dueling piano bar. And the two musicians tickling the ivories are hurling insults at each other on stage? Rival animated fowl Daffy Duck of Warner Bros. cartoon fame and Disney’s legendary Donald Duck.

“This is the last time I work with someone with a speech impediment!” Daffy famously cracked wise.

Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD, isn’t quite that kooky. But the entertainment value is certainly just as high. Marketing Manager Beth Ketchum remarked during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, “This is a really unique concept. The name is just a little misleading. Our piano players don’t really duel back and forth. It’s more of an ‘in synch’ performance. We have at least two musicians on the stage every night . . . two to four. And they are adept at all sorts of genres and decades of music. The repertoire is incredible. The show is all requests. There are napkins and pens on each table. So, throughout the night, people are writing up song requests that they want to hear. If our musicians don’t know the tune, they’ll try to play something from the same artist or in the same realm of music or ask for a different song. They get a lot of ‘80s hits. A lot of Elton John and Billy Joel. But they also know hip-hop, country, and most everything that is requested.”


She continued, “The other cool thing is our shows have an element of comedy. There’s a lot of improvisational humor thrown in. They’ll make jokes about the artist, about the time. We try to stay away from politics. Since we’re in the D.C. suburbs, it can get really charged especially these last few years. We want to keep the atmosphere light.”

The latest featured venue in our series of theme bars and restaurants, Bobby McKey’s, accomplishes that mission night in and night out. Owner Robert “Bob” Hansan (pictured at right with wife and fellow owner Kate Hansan) got the idea for Bobby McKey’s after visiting Crocodile Rocks, a popular dueling piano bar in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He fell in love with the concept and was pretty sure nothing like it existed back in his home base of Maryland-D.C.-Northern Virginia.

“He knew our area could sustain it,” Ketchum said. “And when National Harbor was coming about, the opportunity presented itself to open it there. He loves marketing, so there is definitely a lot of collaboration with him.”

The name is a combination of two different inspirations. One, Hansan was called “Bobby” in high school. And, two, he loved the old Janis Joplin song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” which has been a great piano bar song for years and years.

The fun extends to Bobby McKey’s drink menu where the selections include such fun concoctions as the Almost Famous. Ketchum said, “The Almost Famous is a popular drink that's made with Stoli vodka, ginger ale, cranberry, and lemon. This one can also be bought as a tower in a 100-ounce shareable portion. Other popular drinks include the Bar Dancer and McKey's Tea made up of Sweet Tea Vodka, water and lemon squeeze. The trendy cocktails of the moment are our moonshine drinks. We use Ole Smoky Blackberry moonshine and have three unique cocktails. We also have a full bar that includes beer and wine. In terms of local Maryland brews, one of our drafts is Flying Dog and we have Loose Cannon IPA in bottles.”

As for the clientele? Bobby McKey’s draws both locals and guests who stay at the National Harbor for either leisure travel or conventions and trade shows. According to Ketchum, “We’re trying to reach both locals and visitors. The convention traffic is actually more of a private event aspect of ours. In terms of local traffic, Maryland and Virginia are more our crowd than DC.  Washington has so much more that is walkable and Metro-accessible. We get people everywhere from Fredericksburg to Woodbridge to Southern Maryland. People travel for us. We’re a destination. And they come to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and bachelor and bachelorette parties. You can get the celebrant on stage and kind of embarrass him or her. But we’ll take care of you.”


And Hansan takes care of his staff very well. Many of the musicians he employs fly in from other parts of the country to perform, and he has a condo at National Harbor that he puts them up in. Ketchum herself was a server at Bobby McKey’s, but has a degree in Marketing and Business. Eventually, she worked up the courage to tell Hansan she was capable of much more. What she wanted was a sales and marketing position. “They had just filled a sales position, but Bob said, ‘I have created a small business, so I can also create jobs. I want to keep you on!’ And he did. That was 2013.”

Nine years later, she and Hansan and the rest of the staff have been through a lot together. But being battle tested has left her with a positive view of the future, specifically 2022’s second half. “I’m definitely optimistic,” she concluded, “and it’s because of all the hurdles we’ve gone through in the past two years. We were shut down so many times. We fought hard for the Save Our Stages grant money. We really needed it, but it was very hard to prove we were a live music venue. Fortunately, it ended up working out for us. I think we are on an upturn. People are wanting to get out again and have that human connection, which is what our venue is all about. We sit guests at tables of 10 to 15 people. So, you’re not just sitting with the two or three friends or family you came with. By the end of the night, it’s not uncommon to see people singing together with their arms around each other. People are craving that now!”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2022 Editions Mon, 25 Jul 2022 11:45:22 -0400
Dead Freddies Roars to Life DF_Exterior_sign_0002.jpg

If you are going to commit to a series of articles on themed bars and restaurants around the State of Maryland, sooner or later you have to cover one that boasts a pirate theme. One such place is Dead Freddies, one of the more popular eating and drinking
destinations in Ocean City.

Stephen Carullo, managing member of Dead Freddies, is quite proud of his establishment. He stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal that “Dead Freddies has multiple areas to dine in that accommodate every demographic. It also has multiple kids’ areas with playgrounds for families; multiple bar areas for adults to enjoy; and multiple dining rooms, some with TV walls that are more of a sports bar theme.” Other dining rooms have no televisions, and Dead Freddies has seen fit to give those spaces more of a laid-back vibe with fish tanks as the main décor item.

Dead Freddies is perhaps best known as one of Ocean City’s most family-friendly destinations, and a big part of that has to do with its pirate theme. But the proprietors don’t go overboard with the theme. Carullo noted, “We started out as a Baltimore-style pub focused on the 21-and-over crowd. The overwhelming success of the concept caused issues from drawing too much nightlife. To better adapt to the community, we scaled back the night-life aspect of the concept and expanded the dining focus adding a kid’s playground.”


He continued, “The theme came around by accident. Our main pirate skull logo was presented to us by one of our T-shirt designers, who had developed it as a shirt design for Seacrets. When they declined to use the design, he offered it to us and we loved it! We thought it would go great, and we incorporated it by adding the logo we used for years into the eye patch of the skull.  So we try to stay true to our pub heritage while incorporating an immersive experience for kids and families.”

The pirate theme has definitely extended to Dead Freddies’ menu. For instance, its appetizers are referred to as “St-Arrr-ters” (it’s almost impossible not to talk like a pirate for at least a few seconds when you’re a customer). Fun menu items include: Black Beard’s Burger; the Captain’s Chicken; and, for the kids, Chicken Planks (not Nuggets). The drink menu, meanwhile, includes such creative concoctions as Pirate Punch, the Drunken Pirate, Freddies Pain Reliever, and the Shipwreck.


Carullo said, “The one we are most excited about is a classic we have been serving for 10 years that is being reworked & rolling out next week [this interview was conducted in early June]. which is the Freddies Shipwreck.  It features a Corona ‘shipwrecked’ in a skull mug with a frozen strawberry or regular margarita.”


He added, “The great news is we are coming out of COVID. So, this year, we are implementing new sections to the drink menu. One is Mocktails, a trend that is rapidly gaining steam. We’ll also have a Tequila cocktails section. Being beach driven, we focus on the white liquors and lighter, fruitier beers. We have a drink menu that has fish bowls and refreshing drinks, which are great when you come off the beach and need to hydrate. We also have options, like the Pain Reliever, which do the opposite. We apply the same concept of the restaurant to the drink menu to give people multiple options from relaxing to pain relieving.”

The COVID-19 crisis did its best to sink Dead Freddies. But Carullo’s savvy leadership along with the steady hands of his managers and waitstaff kept the business afloat. The team did everything from put up dividers in the dining room for in-person dining to implementing contactless curbside pickup for those customers uncomfortable with eating and drinking out. Carullo further stated, “We had to go to market pricing for a lot of items, and we had a QR code that brought you to an online menu so we could update prices as inflation rages.”

From out of this period of trial and hardship, Carullo developed a thick skin and stuck to his proverbial guns even when conventional wisdom told him not to. He remarked, “Ever since I entered the business, all anyone has ever done is question the name, the concept, the changes throughout the years, and beat us down for choosing a business or name at the time was considered taboo. Anytime you innovate or do anything outside the norms, people will question and doubt you. However, if you are not innovative, you more than likely will not stay successful. Copying others will only get you so far. You must passionately pursue your goals. My advice is:  Don’t let others get in your head. Guide your vision to achieve your goals, but always respect your customers!”

Freddies dates back to its 1949 founding. Carullo relates that the business was purchased years later and had a large neon sign that said Freddies due to a lack of funds for a new sign. “A contest for a bar tab was started for anyone who could incorporate Freddies in the name,” he recalled. “A customer walked in during the day, during construction, and said, ‘No one is here. You should call the place Dead Freddies!”

And the name stuck. Today, it welcomes people from far and wide at its waterfront location at 64th Street in Ocean City. The scenic trappings, the bayside views, the enthusiastic clientele – they all have Carullo looking to the near future with optimism. But challenges remain, and Carullo has a pessimistic side also. He concluded, “I am optimistic that the industry is starting to return to some level of normality. But I am pessimistic about inflation and the regulatory environment that is raising costs on all items and making it harder to operate and innovate.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Photography by Nick Bailey


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2022 Editions Mon, 25 Jul 2022 11:15:22 -0400
Boatyard Bar & Grill Boatyard_HOME.jpg

If you are going to do a series of articles on the top theme bars and restaurants in the state of Maryland, sooner or later that series must feature the Boatyard Bar & Grill in Annapolis. The Boatyard was founded in 2001 by Dick Franyo after he left his three-decade financial career with such firms as Alex. Brown & Sons and Deutsche Bank.  As a little boy, Franyo grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. His vision for the Boatyard was to celebrate the Bay lifestyle and rank as the best sailor bar in Maryland.

Vision achieved, mission accomplished.

Located on Restaurant Row in the historic maritime district of Eastport, the Boatyard is just a brief stroll from the Annapolis City Docks. Photos of local sailors line its walls, and fish caught by local fishing pals are hung in the Boatyard’s Pilar Bar (named after author Ernest Hemmingway’s fishing boat). 

“When we started,” Franyo recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, “we really wanted a place that speaks to sailing, fishing, the environment, and the Bay lifestyle. It started with the building we constructed, which looks like a Hinckley yacht with all the woods and treatments and beams. We then filled it full of incredible art and pictures. From ceiling to floor, there is artwork.”


Indeed, there is an old wooden fishing skiff that was bought off a beach in Saint Barths. Another décor marvel is an original wooden sign from the Hogs Breath Bar in Key West. Everyone has their favorite photo or décor item. Franyo’s is the surfboard donated and signed by singer-songwriter Jack Johnson. General Manager Kevin Schendel’s favorite is a photo of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara sitting on a boat, fishing for marlin, and smoking cigars. “Where else are you going to see that?” Schendel exclaimed during the same interview.

And the Boatyard Bar & Grill has developed a bit of a celebrity following. Then-First Lady Michelle Obama visited and was quoted as saying Boatyard’s crab cakes were the best she’d ever had. “Having the First Lady come over from D.C. for crab cakes got us a lot of press,” Franyo recalled. “She came here with something like 10 cars and 35 security people. And the word from friends of theirs is they still order them! Jimmy Buffet comes when he is in town. I’ve sailed with him here in Annapolis. Kevin Bacon also comes here every time he is in town.”

Boatyard’s crab cakes have become local legend, even being named Best in the Region by Baltimore Magazine. They’ve proven so popular that Franyo and Co. ship them worldwide via By Franyo’s calculations, Boatyard sells approximately 90,000 crab cakes a year.

But it’s the beverage menu that customers continue to return for. The wine selection is extensive and features a premium “Admiral’s List.” But the cocktails are where the real fun is at, with such nautical-named and local-themed delights as Boatyard’s Bloody, the Eastport Margarita, Maritime Tea, and Positively Fourth Street. According to Schendel, “We have the words ‘Boat Drinks’ printed right on our menu. So, we’ll have drinks like a Dark and Stormy that are familiar to sailors. But we’re also in Maryland, so we have half-crushes on the menu. The pint drinks offer good value, too. When people come off the water, they want a good, large drink.”

Franyo concurred, adding, “Sailors and fishermen and people who love the water and the Bay lifestyle, they’re really of an ilk that likes a REAL drink! Such big drinks really set you apart, and it ties into our theme and philosophy.”

The Boatyard has been named by such publications as Coastal Living, Sailing World, and Sail Magazine as one of world's top sailing/boating restaurants and bars. Washingtonian Magazine once called it “the nautical Cheers." Franyo and Schendel love and accept such accolades. But what they’re most proud of is Boatyard’s commitment to the environment.


For instance, the Boatyard is a member of One Percent For The Planet, a group of businesses that donate greater than 1 percent of their annual sales to the natural environment. In terms of accolades, the Boatyard received the Annapolis Environmental Stewardship Certification from Maryland’s capital city.  Even the restaurant’s oyster shells are collected by the Oyster Recovery Program.

Franyo remarked, “So goes the Bay, so goes us. If the Bay isn’t healthy, then people aren’t going to come here.”

In addition, the Boatyard founded and sponsors four outdoor lifestyle charity events each year: Bands in the Sand for and at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; The Boatyard Beach Bash for and at the Annapolis Maritime Museum; the Boatyard Opening Day Rockfish Catch & Release Tournament, which benefits the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association MD, and the Annapolis Police Department Youth Fishing Camp; and, finally, The Boatyard Regatta to benefit C.R.A.B. (Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating), which gets those with disabilities on sailboats.

The rest of Boatyard’s success can be chalked up to good, sound business principles that Franyo and his team have put in place over the years and stuck to. “It’s people who are the key,” Franyo stated. “Treat everyone with respect. Your employees, your guests, your suppliers, the people who take your garbage away. Everyone.”

Schendel agreed, relating to how this philosophy benefited the business during the early months of the COVID-19 crisis, in particular. “When the pandemic initially hit,” he said, “restaurants were ordered to shut down and offer carry-out service only. We made a really quick transition to make it easier for people to do business with us. We had carry-out windows. But the key was being able to keep as many employees who wanted to stay on. Anybody who wanted to keep a job kept their job. We were able to keep our entire back-of-house team in place. So, when we could re-open, we were ready to go. That wasn’t the case for many bars and restaurants.”

Franyo concluded, “In this business, there are 1,000 opportunities to make a mistake every day. It takes a lot of work and training to bring that one thousand down to zero. We agonize over everything. Every detail. Our philosophy is to kick ourselves in the butt and not pat ourselves on the back. If you work hard and you do things the right way, I believe you create your own luck.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Photography by Ashli Mix

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2022 Editions Mon, 06 Jun 2022 14:42:44 -0400
Illusions Bar & Theater Illusions_exterior-signage.jpg

Offering Customers a Magical Escape

We all could use a little magic in our lives during these tough times. Illusions Bar & Theater in Baltimore is seeking to give us just that. This is the fourth in our series of articles on great themed bars and restaurants in and around Maryland, and Illusions does what every great themed place tries to do – provide a temporary escape for its customers.

Co-founder and magician extraordinaire Spencer Horsman says that is the most important part of his job. During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, he stated, “I perform because I like providing an escape for people. We all have things in our lives that we need to have an escape from, whether it’s the global pandemic or something more personal. If I can pull you out of that bubble for a little while, that’s great. On top of that, because of the mix of people we get from night to night, it’s amazing to see the interaction between folks from all walks of life. Because we put on an interactive show, I get people to meet each other, interact with each other, and learn about each other. At other places, you just interact with the server, maybe the bartender, and your date, and that’s it. Also, it’s a magic show. At the end of the day, hopefully I’ve also created a sense of wonder and mystery for you.”


Horsman opened Illusions with his late father, Kenneth, in March 2007. Originally, it was his family’s magic store, which opened in 1987 when he was just a small child. Spencer would eventually graduate high school and take his magic act on the road before returning to Charm City where he and his dad hatched the idea to combine a bar with a nightly magic show.

Kenneth Horsman passed away in May 2016 and, today, there’s no doubt his son is firmly in charge of all aspects of the business. “I believe in being a hands-on, on-premise owner,” he said. “I’m the first person you meet when you come in. I welcome the people, give them their drink tickets, and check them in. Then, I’ll jump on stage and perform. And at intermission, you may see me clearing tables.”


Though it may sound as if Horsman is a solo act, Illusions’ guests quickly learn otherwise.  After entering and being greeted by Horsman, guests are next introduced to Nicole Bailey.  Bailey’s official title is operations manager and while she easily fits the magician’s attractive assistant billing (and she does assist as well as take part in ‘the show’) someone needs to be the lead bartender, server, busser, and glasswasher.  While Illusions provides an escape from ordinary life, the team is also running a high-end beverage alcohol service.

In terms of a clientele, Illusions draws a wide range of customers – “everyone from 21 to 91,” Horsman touts. First and foremost, though, the Bar & Theater has emerged as an excellent night out for couples. “The first year we were open, the old City Paper awarded us Best First Date Bar,” he recalled. “That stuck. Travel guides talked about us being a first-date place because we would give couples something beyond just the typical dinner, drinks, and a movie. Illusions gives you something you can both mutually enjoy and then have a conversation about.”


By his count, Illusions has been the site of 11 marriage proposals. “I’ll get asked, ‘Hey, can you make the ring appear so I can come on stage and propose to my girlfriend?’ We’ve had a really good track record with that. So far, everybody has said, ‘Yes!’ I don’t know if they’re all still together. But they all said ‘Yes!’”

Illusions doesn’t just attract couples. Horsman said, “We have a lot of repeat customers. As a result, we change up the show so that people will come back and see new magic. But Illusions is something that is so unique that we also get a lot of out-of-towners. Baltimore is a big transplant city now. A lot of the people who live here, their families don’t live here. So, we often are told, ‘My parents are visiting, and we just had to bring them here!’”


He added, “We also get a lot of private parties, which has been a shift since COVID. Originally, we used to be able to seat 90 people for our shows. To guarantee a private event, we would have to have 40 or 50 to make it worthwhile. But when COVID hit, we started doing smaller, more intimate shows. When we first reopened, I was only allowed eight people at a time because of the restrictions, the six-foot distancing, and all of that. As time went on, I was allowed 12 and now I seat 30. Even though I’m allowed to go back to full capacity, I’m purposefully keeping it at 30. The experience is much more intimate and interactive. With 30 people, everybody gets involved as opposed to 90 where only a portion of the audience got involved. Because of that, we’ve booked more private parties than we ever had in the past. That’s been a nice, happy accident we’ve come across.”

The overall space has a 1920s, Art Deco look and feel. Everything in the bar has been custom-made for the Illusions experience. All of the lights are reproductions of 1920s-era Art Deco lighting. There are cast-iron columns that are from that time period. And the large posters on the walls are also from the ‘20s.

“I continue to pitch this as a full experience about my family and my background,” Horsman noted. “So, there is magic memorabilia on display that’s 100-plus years old. There is circus memorabilia from the time when my family was in the circus. There are other weird odds and ends -- skeletons and things like that. Everything is real and authentic. We didn’t go to some pop-up Halloween City store to get these decorations. Everything we have either has a history behind it or is a direct influence on the show itself.”


And, of course, there is Illusions’ impressive beverage selection. No food is served. Instead, the focus is on drinks that add to the experience. Horsman remarked, “Our drinks are something we take pride in. We work at a very fast pace with regards to creating cocktails. We don’t serve extreme craft cocktails that take five minutes apiece to make. Because my father came from a McDonald’s background with regards to customer service [Kenneth Horsman was hired to replace Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald. For over two decades, he represented the fast feeder for over 500 restaurants throughout the D.C-Virginia area], speed and efficiency are things that have been bred into me from Day One. We’ve tried to streamline our cocktails and ordering. But that doesn’t mean our selection is super-basic. We have an extensive liquor list at our back bar, and we also have a nice split between classic, Prohibition-style cocktails and the more accessible drinks people like.”

One thing that Horsman has avoided is naming too many cocktails on the menu after the theme. He said, “We have some drinks that are named after a specific magic trick. There is the Orange Trick, which is kind of our version of a Crush. We have one that is a layered martini called the Hypnotizing Hypnotic Martini. But we keep a lot of the other ones traditional. Everything else in the bar is heavily themed. So, we feel that you don’t have to drive the nail all the way in with the cocktails also named after magic. Then, it becomes a little bit too themed.”

That said, on any given night, Horsman or some other magician might use the bar’s shaker tins, whiskey bottles, or wine glasses as part of the act. People who are interested in seeing such feats of magic and slight-of-hand, tickets can be purchased at the Illusions website for $60 apiece. That includes the hour-and-a-half show and any two drinks from the bar. Currently, Illusions offers Friday shows at 8 p.m. and Saturday shows at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. with the occasional Sunday matinee.

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2022 Editions Mon, 02 May 2022 11:31:12 -0400
18th & 21st: Stepping Back in Time  18th-21st_0001.jpg

We’re stepping back in time for the third article in our series on Maryland theme bars and restaurants. Long-time industry entrepreneur Steve Wecker opened 18th & 21st in Columbia back in 2018. The supper club is a throwback to the old jazz clubs, supper clubs, and speak-easies of the 1920s and ’30s. In fact, the bar and restaurant is named after the Constitutional Amendment that enacted Prohibition and the subsequent Amendment that repealed it. When you step through the door of 18th & 21st, you are immediately transported back to a bygone time and are subsequently treated to a tailored evening experience of food and cocktails that reflect the feel of the Prohibition era. 

But you gotta look for it first! 

As was the case with many supper clubs back in the day selling then-illegal hooch, 18th & 21st is actually located in the back of another bar and restaurant that Wecker co-owns called Cured. During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, he remarked, “The original concept was one big speak-easy and jazz club. But my son, Stephen who is one of the co-owners and runs our beverage program, said, ‘Why don’t we have two concepts? That way, we can appeal to two markets.’ We used to say, ‘Boomers in the back, Millennials in the front.’ But we’ve actually been seeing great crossover.” 


Wecker, who is perhaps best known for the Iron Bridge Wine Company in Howard County, continued, “Cured is out front, and it’s our corner bar re-imagined. It has a rustic industrial throwback kind of feel to it. But then you walk through, make a left at the rest rooms, and then a right after that to go to the jazz club. You don’t really see the club until you open the door and come in. I’ve had people who have come to Cured four or five times and not even know there’s a jazz club in the back! When they finally do go back, they’re like, ‘Oh my God!’”

That’s because they are treated to quite a sight. The theme restaurant features about 85 seats; has Art Deco lighting; feathers in vases; classic booths; and photos of Jean Harlow, Billie Holliday, and other legends on the walls. Teal and copper is the main color scheme, with some purple thrown in. The centerpiece is a spectacular, 40’ x 40’ skylight of Chicago’s Art Deco skyline (the buildings have been shifted around somewhat for dramatic effect) backlit with 10,000 LED lights.


Steve Wecker of 18th & 21st

And, of course, there are the drinks. There is a large wall that features nearly 250 whiskeys and ryes. “And it’s not the cheap stuff,” Wecker said. “We have an unbelievable selection. We draw primarily a cocktails-and-wine crowd, and the cocktails are our takes on the classic Old-Fashioned, the Bombay martini, the Bee’s Knees, and so forth. The wine list is very nice, and we have at least six beers on draft.”

The menu features such classics as steaks, lobster, and scallops, and the experience is completed with live music. Wecker noted, “We knew from the get-go that we would have live music. We put a lot of money into acoustics. Everything in the place absorbs sound. So, you can be sitting close to the musicians, but still have a conversation with your dinner guests. Almost all of our musicians that play here are local. I think we now have a stable of 30 or 40 bands and artists who have told us how much they absolutely love playing here.”


He added, “The musicians are background. People don’t buy tickets to see a specific act. We’re a restaurant first. I’ve had to tell only a couple of musicians, mostly drummers, that, ‘Look, we play with brushes for the first two sets, and then we’ll see how things have evolved for the third set.’ I had one guy who I told to play with brushes and not sticks call out to the audience early, ‘Hey, you all would like me to play with sticks, right?!’ And I told our music director, John Chordy Teagle, ‘He’s done.’ And he’s never played here since. It’s not about the musicians showing off. It’s about them being background and providing that other element to an amazing evening.”

One of the other challenges that Wecker and his staff have run up against is some regulars have, at times, used 18th & 21st as a sort of personal clubhouse, lingering for a long time and not ordering much. “It’s pretty easy to come back here, order cocktails, and sit for three hours drinking,” he said. “We are starting to take some steps to improve that, like adding an automatic 20 percent gratuity. I won’t have my staff running around for people all night and then getting stiffed. Most people, though, get what we are doing. It’s a supper club. We anticipate that you will be dining and drinking. And you really don’t have to pay $500 a person to have an incredible experience. Now, if you want to, we’re more than happy to make that happen for you!”


One of the great things about 18th & 21st is its flexibility. Wecker and his team can accommodate a large private group and draw curtains closed. Or, they can cater to a young couple out on their first date. In terms of special events, every year on Dec. 5, 18th and 21st throws a Prohibition Repeal Party. People are encouraged, but not required, to dress up in period attire. During the holidays, the restaurant breaks a bit from its theme to do a “Charlie Brown Christmas” with live Vince Guaraldi jazz music.

Wecker remarked, “You can get great food and drinks in a lot of places. But people are out for an experience. The thing that is bringing people back to 18th & 21st is that experience. We have a hostess who goes by Pepper. She is the vice president of some company locally, but she loves doing this. She has the sequined dresses and the feathers. Pepper greets you, she goes to the door and knocks, and then escorts you in. People have said to me, ‘From the moment we walked into the back and Pepper greeted us, then let us in, we were just over the moon!’” 

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2022 Editions Fri, 01 Apr 2022 13:42:44 -0400
Sykesville Station: Right on Track Sykesville-Station_Exterior.jpg

This is the second in our series of articles on really cool theme bars and restaurants around Maryland. How cool is Sykesville Station in Sykesville? It actually has two themes! The first is an obvious one. The restaurant and bar is an old, former train station that was built in 1883 and is now designated an official historic building by the state. 

Sykesville Station co-owners D’Alan and Kim Baugh have embraced the history. The former stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, “The kids love it when the train goes by. The locomotives still come by here every day and rattle the entire building. They don’t stop and let passengers off anymore. They’re freight trains.”


The latter added, “Our regulars love the trains, too. When one goes by, we serve what we call ‘Whistle Stop Shooters’ for $1. Everybody starts screaming, ‘Shot!’ when the train goes by and takes a drink.”

Sykesville Station’s second theme is the one the Baughs play up more. D’Alan remarked, “Our main theme is ‘Bringing a Little Bit of Nashville to Sykesville.’ We play country music videos. We have live music every Saturday night. We call our menu ‘Southern-inspired.’ We have burgers and sandwiches, but we also have things like shrimp and grits, catfish nuggets, smoked meats, and so forth.”

Kim stated, “It’s all about the experience here. All of our drinks are named after country songs, for instance. We try to do things that bring people together. We have trivia on Mondays, ‘Shuckin’ Tuesdays where we have oysters, Wednesday is our special wine night. Last year on St. Patrick’s Day, we had a bagpiper and Irish dancers. Tomorrow night [this interview was conducted in late January], we are going to have a Prohibition-themed murder mystery. Each December, we also have a celebration of the repeal of Prohibition.” Customers and staff are encouraged to dress up in Roaring ‘20s-period clothes. 

After running the former Baldwin’s Station on the site for over two decades, owners Ridia and Stewart Dearie sold the establishment to the Baughs in June 2020. Yes, during the absolute height of the pandemic. The husband-and-wife team were able to start some extensive, but very much needed renovations during the time when restaurants were largely closed. 


D’Alan recalled, “We modernized it the best we could. We shut the place down for a couple of months, renovated it, and then reopened Aug. 1, 2020. We converted it from what was a fine dining restaurant into more of a family-friendly, dog-friendly, outside patio-type establishment.”

The Baughs soon found they had an advantage with the Station’s plethora of outdoor seating. According to Kim, “Since this used to be a train station, we still have the platform where people used to walk out and get trains. It runs the full-length of the building. It’s covered and seats just under 100 people. We were able to keep safe those customers who were afraid to eat inside. They could sit outside, and that’s honestly what saved us through the pandemic.” It doesn’t hurt that the view of the South Branch of the Patapsco River from the platform is both beautiful and relaxing.


D’Alan added, “A lot of the places near us also decided that the coronavirus was more dangerous after 10 p.m. and closed at that time. We stayed open later than that. Not only did locals keep coming in at 11 or 12 o’clock at night, but so did a lot of the people who got done with their work in the restaurants near us.”

Top-notch beverage service has been a focus from the get-go. Sykesville Station has also become known for its high-end bourbons. It’s also one of the few bars and restaurants in Maryland that has its own microbrew beer on tap, a Pilsner called Beer Goggles. And, as mentioned earlier, the specialty cocktails are all named after classic country songs, including: “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Red Neck Woman,” “The Gambler,” “Fancy,” “Girl Crush,” and “Guitars & Cadillacs.” 

T.C. Currence, Sykesville Station’s general manager, noted, “We have two different bars. The first one is when you walk in, and it’s well-stocked with our premium bourbons. When it gets warm out and even in the wintertime, we have an outside bar. We try and appeal to a lot of people. We’ve become known in town as the ‘events place.’”

Indeed, a lot of seniors come in during the day from nearby retirement communities. The Baughs and Currence refer to them as “The Lunch Bunch.” In the evenings, Sykesville Station draws a lot of local families and couples out on date nights. And there is also a loyal bar crowd that comes even later.  Currence said, “We have been a release for people who’ve been tied up in their houses. We became known as a place where you could forget about the pandemic for a little bit and just have a good time.”

Customer service has also endeared Sykesville Station to the local community and beyond. The Baughs often go around to tables and get feedback from their customers. Kim proudly stated, “I get a lot of people saying essentially, ‘Your servers are great!’ And I answer them, ‘They have to be, or they can’t work here.’ We have a sign hanging upstairs in what we call our ‘Team Room’ that says, ‘Work Hard and Be Nice to People.’ Those are two simple things that a lot of people just can’t do.”

D’Alan believes it’s all about taking care of one’s employees. He has personally drawn on his many years working in sales to guide how he treats the people working for him and his wife today. “I’ve worked for a number of business owners,” he said, “and some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from those guys is what NOT to do! One guy I used to work for would say all of the time, ‘How much mileage do you think we can get out of that guy?’ Well, how about if we do a great job taking care of him and maybe he’ll want to work hard here and do his best job for us?!” 

And if you have a staff that is doing a great job, it makes it easier on a certain husband-and-wife team. Kim, indeed, stresses the importance of delegating. “You can’t do everything yourself,” she said. “So many businesses fail where the owners felt they just had to do it all. Put the right people in place . . . and then get the heck out of their way!” 

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2022 Editions Wed, 02 Mar 2022 08:23:50 -0500
Old Bay Flavored Vodka Old-Bay-Vodka_HOME.jpg

One of the more famous statements in Western philosophy is Socrates’ “Know thyself. The unexamined life is not worth living.” Greg David, CEO, co-owner and Chief Mixologist at George’s Beverage Company LLC, has come to know himself very well in recent years. He said in a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, “I’m an entrepreneur, which sometimes make me my biggest challenge. I’m the kind of person who likes to run through walls, break down barriers, and get something to market immediately. The biggest challenge is pulling myself back a little bit, slowing my pace down, and trying to see the bigger picture just so we don’t miss any important steps in the process. The process is the most important part.”

It’s certainly been the most important part of bringing Old Bay Vodka to Maryland store shelves starting March 7th. Hanover-based George’s Beverage has partnered with McCormick & Company, Inc.’s Old Bay brand on this all-natural spirit. 


Distributed by Breakthru Beverage, Old Bay Vodka is made from corn distilled to six times purity and then flavored with the high-quality ingredients found in McCormick’s Old Bay seasoning. McClintock Distilling in Frederick, Md., is the distiller of record.


David stated, “We wanted to make a great vodka first and foremost. It just so happened that when we chose McClintock back in 2020, they had just been voted No. 1 Craft Vodka Distillery in the country by USA Today. We also worked with the flavor solutions team at McCormick. Their scientists asked us, ‘What are you looking for?’ And we said, ‘We want a vodka that will have the essence, smell, and taste of Old Bay, but for it to have a subtle hit.’ We didn’t want it to smack you in the face, but we definitely want people to know it’s Old Bay. So, they made a clear Old Bay liquid, and that’s what seasons the six times distilled vodka.”

He continued, “It’s 70 proof, which allows drinkers to taste both the seasoning and the alcohol. We tried 80 proof/40 percent. But it was just too high on the alcohol side of it.”


David believes Old Bay Vodka’s biggest selling point is its versatility. Indeed, a lot of flavored vodkas on the market are good for maybe just one or two different drinks. Old Bay Vodka is good in a lot of drink recipes. “One of the most exciting is the Bay Crush,” David declared. George’s marketing will also include drink recipes for such tasty concoctions as a Bay Martini, a Bay and Tonic, the Reel Bay Breeze, Bay Bombs, Bay Oyster Shooters, and more.


Old Bay Vodka is made and bottled in Maryland with a price point of $18.99 - $20.99 Each bottle contains 750mL and features the unmistakable colors and lettering of the classic Old Bay cans of seasoning you find at the grocery store or in many Maryland crabhouses and seafood restaurants.

According to David, “People will see the classic, familiar label and the packaging, and they know McCormick & Company is actually involved. This isn’t some license they’ve sold or outsourced. They’ve been with us every step of the way. In Maryland, Old Bay is a powerful brand. It resonates with people. So, we think people will be excited to try this.”


With Old Bay Vodka, George’s Beverage Co. continues its commitment to sustainable practices. One of the reasons David and his colleagues chose McClintock Distilling was its commitment to the environment. For instance, McClintock utilizes a closed loop cooling system that has reduced the amount of wastewater by at least 250,000 gallons per year. They’re also one of the few distilleries in the country that is 100% renewable energy powered.


Said David, “I grew up in this region. I spent most of my formative years in the Annapolis area and in Berlin, Md. So, I’ve grown up around the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, and the ocean most of my life. The sustainability of the largest ecosystem on the East Coast is massive to us.” 

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Mar 2022 13:51:34 -0500
Kaló Hemp Infused Seltzer Kalo_HOME.jpg

Kaló Hemp Infused Seltzer is coming to Maryland store shelves. And rather than start this Brand Profile with what the product is, it’s probably best to educate readers on what it is not. Ivy Wimberley, Kaló’s Director of Trade Development, said it best during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal: “On the sales side, the hardest thing has been getting people to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana. We are NOT a marijuana seltzer! We are a hemp-infused seltzer. A big part of my job has been educating people.”

She continued, “We love being able to give somebody a product that’s good for you and that can help you relax. We also love turning the skeptics. Kaló is something that will help you take a breath after a can or two. Some people think it’s a hoax. But we’re giving them an all-natural way to feel good with something that’s plant-based.”



Wimberley and her team are so confident that they’ve made Kaló’s slogan for 2022: “Feel Good Fast.” Wimberley stated, “We wanted to create something that you could drink that indeed would make you feel good fast. You have all of the positive benefits of the hemp plant in one drink. Not only do you get the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but you get 15 milligrams of CBD.”

Kaló seltzers are hand-crafted and come in eight flavors: Black Cherry, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Ginger Lemonade, Blood Orange Mango, Lemon Lavender, Raspberry Lime, Pomegranate Peach, and Strawberry Watermelon. They are sold in 12-ounce cans either individually or in multi-flavored eight packs. 

Kaló seltzers are also 100% vegan, gluten-free, and kosher certified. “I think we are the only hemp-infused or CBD seltzer that is kosher certified, which hits a nice market,” noted Wimberley. It’s also a good mixer in various vodka, gin, and rum cocktails with the website featuring such recipes as a Raspberry Refresher, Blood Orange Sparkler, Grapefruit Sunrise, and Kaló Mule.


Hillview, Kaló’s New Jersey-based parent company, is a third-generation farming business run by the VandeVrede family. They spent more than two years crafting a new way to harness all of the healthy elements found in hemp in a water-soluble form that customers can easily digest. That means no weird aftertaste.

Erin Stivala, Kaló’s Director of Marketing, noted, “It took two years because we wanted to be the best tasting [in our niche]. We tasted others and found that, unfortunately, what you get with a CBD or hemp seltzer is what’s called ‘nanoemulsion.’ They take CBD oil and spin it really fast to get the particles super tiny. But it’s still oil, and oil and water do not mix. You always get that gross, oily aftertaste. For our product, it’s truly water soluble. We’re able to extract the water molecules out of the hemp plant.”

She added, “And with our water-soluble technology, when you drink Kaló, you’re going to be feeling something out of it in five minutes. And it’s likely going to be good.”


For some, Kaló Hemp Infused Seltzer is an “outside-the-box” product in the beverage business. It has certainly come with its own set of challenges getting to store shelves in such states as Florida, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

Stivala acknowledges, “Regulations have been challenging. There is a cannabis product in it, and every state has their own legal requirements. Sometimes, individual stores have their own requirements! We have had to be extremely agile and patient. We’ve had to make sure what we are doing is all compliant. That’s been the biggest hurdle, for sure.”

Both she and Wimberley, though, anticipate success in the Maryland market. For Wimberley, this marks a return of sorts as she is a Towson University graduate and was a former star member of their competitive swimming team. “I think our product is going to do really well in Maryland,” she said. “We did over 10,000 cases in New Jersey in just our second year. Maryland is very similar to New Jersey in that you have beautiful shores, but you also have your cities and your college towns. I’m indeed a Towson University grad. So, I know from the ground that Marylanders are very eclectic and open to new products. Kaló is something Maryland definitely needs!”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Mar 2022 13:35:07 -0500
Five Iron Golf 5Iron_0001.jpg

Sitting on Top of Baltimore’s Leaderboard: 5Iron Golf.

This is the first in a series of articles on theme bars and restaurants around the state of Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The first entry couldn’t be cooler for those looking for a swinging club to swing their clubs. Five Iron Golf in Baltimore is part of a growing chain of businesses that offer golf simulators, indoor golf lessons, and top-quality food and drink choices. The goal is to re-shape urban golf culture with additional locations now up and running in Chicago, Las Vegas, Manhattan, Philadelphia, and elsewhere with more to come. 


Frank Purdy, General Manager of Five Iron Golf in Baltimore, remarked during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, “We are the nation’s leading indoor golf and entertainment experience. We don’t have a ‘thumb-your-nose’ country club vibe. All are welcome. And we combine the golf with excellent food and beverage service, as well. We have golf simulators where you’re hitting a golf ball off a matt onto a screen. But after 15 minutes, you get lost in the [virtual reality] that you’re playing Pebble Beach or one of the great courses the PGA has to offer.”

He continued, “There are a couple of courses in the city and a couple of driving ranges. But as those tend to book up on the nicer days really quickly, we offer another avenue for you to get your golf fix without having to travel outside the city 15 or 20 minutes at minimum. Five Iron Golf is a good thing to have in an urban area. They can walk over with their clubs or we have clubs for them to use. They can walk right in and get a round in.”

And, of course, customers can walk right in and have a fine meal or a round of appetizers or just drinks. The golf-themed menu has creative categories like “Go for the Green” (salads) and “The Majors” (burgers, sandwiches, and entrees). Meanwhile, the drink selection is a solid mix of beers, wine, soft drinks, and specialty cocktails. 

“We really lean into what our community likes to drink,” said Purdy. “We listen, we pay attention. We want to make sure that we are bringing them the options they want. We have a constantly changing menu. Actually, I would call it a ‘constantly adapting’ menu. We have our golfers who love their certain types of drinks. Our service philosophy is whether we’re setting you up on a TrackMan (a radar-based, $20,000 unit that gives you real-time measurements about your swing) or just bringing them a soda or a nice glass of whiskey, we want that service to be the same across the board. So, whether we’re setting someone up on a golf simulator or just bringing them food and beverage to a table, we want that to be the best.”

Purdy and his staff also offer certain drinks that golfers would expect to order if on a real course or clubhouse. “Our John Dalys and our Transfusions are our biggest sellers,” he noted, “basically because they’re ‘golf drinks.’”


He added, “We’ve also developed some great relationships with our distributors. For example, we have a great relationship with one of the craft beer breweries, and they let us rename/rebrand one of their beers. It was the Duckpin Pale Ale, but it’s now the 5i Pale Ale.” Five Iron’s Baltimore location also boasts a really good bourbon collection, with Pappy Van Winkle being particularly popular.

Before getting into hospitality, Purdy started his professional career in corporate event coordination on the audio-visual side. He transitioned into an accounting role with a consulting company. On the side, he worked several odd jobs including sales at Bay Wine & Spirits in North Beach, Md., where his mother is the co-owner.


“Five Iron combines two of my favorite things in the world – golf and a bar!” he exclaimed. “I’ve worked my way up from server to manager to eventually being in charge of our Baltimore location, and here we are. Five Iron has been a unique experience in that we’re not just food and beverage. The fact that we have the golf simulators, we were able to follow all of the rules put in place by our municipality as far as COVID restrictions. We initially opened back up as just a golf simulator and kept our kitchen and bar closed for a while. As restrictions started easing, we were able to open up with each new step and were able to serve food and drink and offer that whole customer experience. People in Maryland, they love their golf. And in the wintertime, when you can’t go outside, our loyal customers come in, and we can’t keep golfers away from hitting balls.”

Along the way, Purdy has soaked in advice from several mentors across various industries. One key piece of advice that helped him as GM of Five Iron Golf was to “develop relationships.” Purdy says he treats every interaction as an opportunity for a new relationship, whether it’s Five Iron’s members who come in frequently or the various distributors who go from location to location. Perhaps the best advice he was given was from a former co-general manager at Five Iron Golf: “He once told me, ‘The best ability is availability.’ That will stick in my head forever.”

Looking ahead to 2022, Purdy says there is reason for optimism at least with regards to Five Iron Golf. In early November, the four-year-old startup secured a $30 million investment from golf-behemoth Callaway. Meanwhile, the Baltimore location’s subscriber base continues to grow.


Purdy concluded, “I take it one day at time, especially given how things are constantly changing. We like to be adaptable. I believe we have been here at Five Iron. Given how the community has stood behind us from the very beginning of the pandemic all the way through now, I am optimistic that we are going to continue to see success.” 

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Feb 2022 14:17:42 -0500
Feebs Distilling Feebs_Logo.jpg

Feebs Distilling of Milford, Delaware, is looking to make inroads in the Maryland spirits market. It not only has the right products to sell, it has the right story to sell. Co-founder Eric Fibelkorn and his wife, Stacey Arnold, had dreamt of going into the beverage business. But it took Arnold’s cancer diagnosis in 2017 and subsequent survival to convince them that life is too short not to follow one’s bliss. Feebs Distilling, whose name is based on a Fibelkorn family nickname, was subsequently born.

In a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, she recalled, “I went through all of the radiation and chemo and ended up on this side of the dirt. That’s when we decided we were going to go for it. But we were not going to mortgage the house. We don’t have investors or bank loans. We do everything out of pocket. When we started out, we would buy a barrel when we had the money. So, we only had one, 30-gallon barrel to make bourbon. That obviously has changed. We now have 30 barrels aging in the distillery.” 


The entrepreneurial couple hand-crafts small batch brandy and corn liquor. Most of their liquors are indeed classified as brandy by the federal government due to their distilling process and chemical makeup. 

Arnold stated, “We have five flavored brandies and then the corn liquor. What’s the favorite? So far, there is not a top seller. I pull the report every Monday, and they’re still neck and neck. Peach is a fan favorite. My favorite is blueberry. Eric’s favorite is apple. We also have a strawberry and a blueberry brandy.”


She continued, “We offer the most bang for your buck. We call it ‘real deal liquor.’ Craft is a whole market of its own. It’s never going to sell like Jack Daniels or Absolut. But there’s a whole market of people who appreciate what we do – the time, the cost, the ingredients, all of those things. We put in the work to create a product that is true to tradition.”

From the get-go, Fibelkorn has been insistent that all of Feebs’ liquors are made using the Tennessee method for making moonshine. Feebs Distilling gets all its fruit from Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, Delaware, and all of their grain is sourced from the nearby town of Laurel. Arnold said, “Our label says ‘moonshine,’ and we honor that tradition. So, if it doesn’t grow on the ground or on a tree, we don’t use it. We don’t use any artificial colors or flavors either.”


Feebs Distilling may be a relatively young company, but its first years in business have been a trial by fire. The business is located in an old warehouse owned by Penco Products. The couple rents the 1,762 square feet of space for the distilling process, along with a small tasting room they open on weekends for tastings and sales.

Most of its time in business, Feebs has been operating amid the pandemic. “We got started on May 30, 2019,” said Arnold. “By the time we had enough of everything to bottle and open the doors, it was the third week of December. People came, the business picked up in January 2020, and it was all going great in February. And then March happened, and everybody shut down.”

The husband-and-wife team immediately switched to a “call ahead-pay-curbside pickup” model. The result? Business went through the roof! She marveled, “Every time our governor extraordinaire went to give a new speech on the virus, people were like, ‘Oh my God. What if he closes down liquor stores? I usually get three bottles. But I’m going to buy five bottles!’ It was insane. Word of mouth really kicked in. People who couldn’t come in and sample ended up just buying our products. We stayed closed until September. Finally, when we did re-open, there was this whole new group of people who were suddenly our core customers.”


Feebs Distilling is indeed now looking to gets it products on the shelves of Maryland’s packaged goods stores. It helps that Arnold is a Maryland native, originally from Harford County. “I’m a transplant, who’s been here for 16 years,” she declared. “I still have friends from Maryland who come and get our liquor. It’s not unheard of any weekend to have customers from Dorchester County or Salisbury.  . . . What we’ve realized with Feebs Distilling is everybody wants good liquor, and they want it triple-distilled and clean so they can still get up the next morning and function.”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Feb 2022 13:52:11 -0500
A Beverage Biz Look Ahead ... The 2022 Legislative Session Leg_Preview_Jan22.jpg

With new variants popping up, it’s clear that the coronavirus will be a factor in all aspects of our lives for some time to come, whether it’s personal or professional or political. But the wheels of government grind on. I’ve been penning these annual legislative update features for the Beverage Journal for a decade now. Last year’s edition was unlike any I had ever written up, with 2020 being the birth of COVID-19 and the absolute height of business restrictions statewide.

So, with the vaccines and booster shots and eased government policies, was 2021 really any better? Compared to 2020? Of course, it was! But two years of this now are starting to constitute an “era.” And Annapolis has adapted to these times, as have beverage industry interests looking to have their voices heard in the state capital.

For this year’s update, the two Legislative co-Chairs of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) agreed to go on record and chat about the year ended and the year to come. David Marberger of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis proudly declared, “This past legislative year, we were able to defeat chain stores from being able to sell alcoholic beverages. They were trying to disguise it as ‘food deserts,’ a term we have to deal with from now on, I guess. One of the arguments was that there are some underserved areas throughout the state that don’t have access to quality food, fresh fruits and vegetables, good meats, and so forth. In an attempt to lure supermarkets and grocery store chains into those areas, there was a bill proposed that would have allowed alcohol sales in grocery stores to help bring national chains to those ‘food deserts.’ From a public health perspective is the angle, I guess, they were taking. Fortunately, we were able to defeat that.”


MSLBA’s other Legislative Co-Chair Jack Milani also applauded the victory. But he acknowledged that the discussion about supermarkets, grocery stores, and other chain retailers like Target selling beer and wine will certainly come up again. “It is a constant and never-ending battle that I am sure we will have to look for in 2022,” he remarked. “Last year, there was also an attempt at an alcohol tax increase. I’m not sure if we’ll see that again. But if it does come around, we’ll be ready for it. I don’t know. Maybe in the year to come in Annapolis, it will be other businesses and industries in the headlines.  That’ll be fine by me!”

Nevertheless, Milani and Marberger are indeed prepared for battle, and they want others to be ready also. So, too, does attorney and MSLBA lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise, who noted that beverage industry interests should be particularly aware that the year ahead is one where voters will eventually be going to the ballot box. He said, “It may not be on people’s minds yet, but 2022 is an election year in Maryland where the statewide offices of Comptroller, Attorney General, and Governor are all up, as well as all 188 seats in the General Assembly. That will be in the backdrop of everything that occurs for January all the way through the election in November.”


Milani, proprietor of Monaghan’s Pub in Baltimore, added that the bigger picture may be comprised of smaller snapshots. “Some of the issues that go under the radar each year are local issues, county by county,” he explained. “That brings to mind the importance of every retailer to get involved at the local level. You should not only get to know your elected officials and talk to them well before session even starts ... also attending your liquor board hearings. Everybody should be doing that. That’s when you hear these things first pop up that no one else knows about. The only way you are going to find out about it is if there is someone there at the meeting to hear what’s being proposed. Then, you can possibly stop it at the very beginning if it’s going to be detrimental to the rest of the state. Most things start out on the local level and they turn into a statewide issue.”

Another issue that will likely draw attention in 2022 is direct shipping, specifically from distilleries but wine and beer also. “As retailers, when we open our doors every day, we are susceptible to stings and undercover operations,” explained Marberger. “With direct-to-consumer, there are very little – if any – compliance checks. How do you make sure packages are delivered only to those people who are 21 years of age or older or make sure the person who ordered it is 21 or older. There is none of that. It’s certainly not a fair system, and there could be a lot of underage people getting their hands on alcohol that way.”

One positive that all three men say has happened in the COVID era, and that they are hopeful will continue, is state legislators becoming more sympathetic of the plight of small business owners and their importance to the communities these elected officials serve. Milani said, “They’ve heard from a lot of folks who have talked about small businesses and the importance of looking out for them. We just hope they keep that same attitude and urgency once COVID passes, where they do look out for the small, independent-owned, family-owned type businesses. Hopefully, they saw how much the general population was supportive of their small, local businesses during troubled times.”


He continued, “I had customers who sent checks to our waitstaff while we were going through the worst of COVID. A lot of people tried to help, and a lot of legislators saw how small businesses have that connection with their neighborhoods. When you live in a neighborhood and work in a neighborhood and that’s where you are from, you have a different sense of how things should operate. I do think legislators enjoy hearing from regular folks. They hear from lobbyists all session long. They need to hear from the people who are actually doing things every day in their communities.”

Marberger concurred, adding, “Last year was not a typical year in terms of the Legislature. Everything was done virtually. You couldn’t roam the halls and see your legislator and talk to him [or her].  But I do think there was increased opportunity for all of us to work with the Legislature to make whatever changes or tweaks needed to come, such as drinks to go. I personally had a difficult time seeing our business boom so much while our neighbors – specifically the restaurant operators – were dying on the vine. Retailers didn’t do anything right or wonderful to warrant doing all of that extra business, and restaurants didn’t do anything wrong to warrant having to fight for their lives. Drinks to go was put together to help those on-premise accounts, and that was done with constant communication with our elected officials to craft something that would get them through the times, but eventually have to sunset.”

As for what’s ahead, both Milani and Marberger cited a certain amount of fatigue trying to plan for what challenges await their businesses even a week from now, to say nothing of what will come during the entirety of the new year. 


Milani commented, “I’m cautiously optimistic. People are certainly going out more to restaurants. Hopefully, more people will be going into their offices, and that will help restaurants with their daytime business. We’re all just hoping the vaccines stay ahead of the virus, and we can continue to try and return to normal. Again, if this article could stress one thing, it’s the importance of getting the retail community to try and form relationships with their elected officials to the point where they know who you are, they actually expect you to call them about certain issues, and maybe they’ll even reach out to you and ask your opinion on those same issues.”

Marberger remarked, “I’ve stopped trying to guess what’s coming next in this industry. I think things are going to get worse on the supply chain side before they get better. We’re still experiencing a lot of out-of-stocks and limited quantities. All of the shipping costs have doubled even tripled for products coming from overseas. Even products that are being moved around the country domestically are getting more expensive. So, we’re going to start seeing higher prices. It will get worse before it gets better . . . but I do hope it gets better soon!”

Wise is still buzzing over the successful year just concluded that the beverage industry had in Annapolis and is hoping the momentum will carry over to 2022. “We were able to defeat the beer and wine in supermarkets bill, and there had been discussions about increasing the alcohol tax, and that turned out to not happen. Given the great uncertainty we went into last Session with, we came out tremendously well. I’m cautiously optimistic for the year ahead.”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2022 Editions Fri, 31 Dec 2021 16:25:51 -0500
Litchfield's Fabulous Baker Boys Litfield_Brothers_Dec21.jpg

Hollywood once featured “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” about two brothers (Jeff and Beau Bridges) who are struggling musicians until they meet singer Michelle Pfeiffer. Litchield, Conn., has its own terrific Baker brothers in the form of David, Jack, and Peter Baker, co-founders of Litchfield Distillery.

Their line of bourbons, gins, vodkas, and canned cocktails are making their way into the Maryland market, and the siblings are hoping for big things. “We think our relationship with Constantine Wines is going to be a great one going forward,” said Peter Baker, the youngest of the three. “I think the demographics of Maryland are very attractive. We lose a bit of our local story the further we get away from Connecticut, but we’re pretty proud of what we do here.”


Middle brother Jack Baker thinks their Connecticut ties are still something Marylanders should appreciate and know about. “We’re lucky to have the great resources that are our local farmers,” he said. “Connecticut has great soils for grains. Our corn is known everywhere. Our rye and barley are grown in the state. The New England climate is different than, say, Kentucky.”


Litchfield Distillery’s ready-to-drink, canned cocktails should prove especially enticing to drinkers across the Old Line State. The Batcherita is the brothers’ newest concoction. This tasty, Margarita-inspired offering is crafted from a recipe with spirits distilled from agave, agave syrup, lime juice, and natural orange flavor. According to Peter, “we call ourselves ‘batchers,’ because we make small batches of things. That’s where the word ‘Batcherita’ comes from.”

Additional canned cocktails include a Spiked Lemonade and “The Litchfield,” a crowd-sourced cocktail that is a blend of the distillery’s straight Bourbon whiskey, local maple syrup, and lemon juice. Jack Baker remarked, “It’s kind of like a New England whiskey sour. It’s 7 percent alcohol, so it’s light and easy to drink. It’s very versatile and appeals to both bourbon and non-bourbon drinkers.”

Other spirits in Litchfield Distillery’s lineup include multiple bourbon whiskeys (everything from double-barreled bourbon aged five years to such flavored variations as cinnamon and coffee) and numerous flavored vodkas (apple, blueberry, and more). 

Founded in 2014, Litchfield Distillery has grown steadily and recently completed an expansion of its distillation capacity with the installation of a second fermentation and distillation line. The equipment for the second line includes a new hybrid still and five fermentation tanks. “It’s going to increase our total footprint by 50 percent,” Peter said. “We’re busting at the seams. We’re doubling our output of product, so we needed to plan for that and have plenty of room to store those barrels.”

So, what’s the secret of the brothers’ success? And how do three siblings work so closely together and still get along? The youngest was quick to answer. Peter replied, “We were in a three-generation family business [water] prior to this. So, we’ve got a lifetime experience of working together. We’re hands-on here. We are physically on the floor every day. It’s not just a couple of guys who got together, threw some money into a venture, and have had other people doing all of the distilling and sourcing. We do all of that ourselves. The upside is we have each other’s back. I tell most people who come through here, ‘Hey, at least we don’t get into fistfights anymore like we did when we were younger!’” 

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2021 Editions Wed, 01 Dec 2021 11:40:08 -0500
With Workers Scarce, Frederick Bars and Restaurants Stay Open as a Labor of Love Were_Open-Frederick_Dec21_HOME.jpg

Frederick, Md., is known for many things. County music legend Patsy Cline lived there in the 1950s. Francis Scott Key is buried there. The city’s minor league baseball team, the Frederick Keys, is named after “The Star-Spangled Banner” composer. The town has a symphony orchestra, some of the most beautiful historic churches in the state, and was briefly Maryland’s capital city in 1861 when the legislature moved from Annapolis to vote on the secession question.

But it’s also known for its eating and drinking establishments, some of the best of which are located along Market Street. Frederick is the latest in our series of articles about the Great Reopening of 2021, and it has a mostly positive story to tell coming out of the pandemic. 

One such Market Street favorite is Brewer’s Alley. General Manager Jamie Ellis-Ade remarks, “I think Frederick is doing great now. It’s a wonderful little foodie town. We have some awesome chefs, and the local community has really rallied around the restaurants during this time and supported us. For those people who have not taken the time to come to Frederick and dined their way down Market Street, they really should come! You can have an appetizer at three different places, an entrée with us, and still have dessert at a few more places.”


Things have definitely improved throughout 2021 for Brewer’s Alley and its various competitors. One such establishment that has seen an upswing is Showroom. General Manager Matt Josephs states, “The COVID fear is not so over-arching compared to this time last year. People seem to be more willing to dine inside restaurants now. As a result, we have redoubled our efforts on creating a guest experience that will be a memorable one -- one that people will want to return for.”

That’s not to say certain COVID-era challenges don't linger. They do. Chiefly, an ongoing labor shortage has both GMs frustrated. Josephs laments, “Retaining and finding employees has, by far, been the biggest challenge over the last year.”

Ellis-Ade concurs, adding, “Staffing has been such a big test of my leadership. Twenty years in this business, and the past year and a half has been the hardest stretch to find people who can and/or want to work. Sometimes it’s hard to come to work and be positive when you set up interviews, and only one person out of 20 shows up.”

Josephs says one of the keys moving forward will be “motivation.” There has always been a certain psychology to managing staff in service industries. But the pandemic era has made it even more imperative that employers know what’s going on with their employees and what is important to them. 


He explains, “It’s not just monetary that’s the sole or primary motivating factor anymore. People’s priorities have clearly realigned. Those of us who manage need to understand that our employees are people who need to be led in a way that they know they’re being taken care of and looked out for.”

Ellis-Ade states, “We’re now in the fourth quarter, and the world is short-staffed, short-stocked, and a year behind. We’re just living in a different world now than two years ago. But you have to adapt. You have to roll with the punches. You have to find new ways to do things that you’ve been doing for decades.”

Both were quick to point out that not everything that has come from the COVID-19 crisis has been bad. Brewer’s Alley, for example, has made increasingly smart use of technology. “We’re getting more tech-savvy,” Ellis-Ade declares, “which I feel wouldn’t have happened if the pandemic wasn’t a thing. I really like that we’ve gone to QR code menus. It’s easy for us to make menu changes now and update prices. And if we want to change specials three times a day, we can. It’s that easy. We’ve also updated our computer system during COVID to allow for greater online ordering.” Brewer’s Alley now uses the Toast online ordering system, which allows guests to order takeout directly from the restaurant.

Josephs, meanwhile, has observed an increasing comfort level among staff and customers with wearing masks: “The benefit of wearing masks has not just been to combat the coronavirus, but it has also helped to prevent other airborne illnesses. I wouldn’t be surprised if some restaurants or individuals continue wearing masks well into the future.”

Finally, Frederick bars and restaurants have discovered newfound value in features they already had. Ellis-Ade concludes, “Fortunately, we have many patio areas for dining, and that’s really helped us. Our rooftop bar, in particular, has been a real game-changer! Unfortunately, there are still customers who don’t feel comfortable sitting inside.” 

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2021 Editions Wed, 24 Nov 2021 09:16:28 -0500
The Barking Dog of Bethesda Barking-Dog_0001.jpg

Has The Pandemic Taken a Bite Out of The Dog?

Establishments that depend on commercial-district employees as their patrons encounter unique obstacles in their attempt to return to normal.

This is the fourth in a series of articles I’ve been writing on the Great Reopening of 2021. And while the previous installments covered the successful returns to form of Baltimore, Ellicott City, and Ocean City, Md., this month’s market – the office-heavy, Montgomery County city of Bethesda – has not fared as well in the ongoing pandemic.

John McManus, co-owner of The Barking Dog located in the heart of Bethesda’s commercial district, is one of those proprietors who has felt the sting. “There’s no one down here!” he exclaimed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. “There are crickets. You could throw a grenade down the street and you wouldn’t kill anybody. Now, there are some people who have returned to their offices. I’ll give you a perfect example. My wife is in a brand-new office half a block from here. She just started going back three days a week. But her office is 60 percent empty. People are coming back, and they’re going out. We did have a big Happy Hour last night [this interview was conducted in late September] with an office that brought 35 or 40 people. But that is, by far, the exception and not the rule. Things are NOT back to normal!”

The biggest loss of revenue for The Barking Dog has been substantially fewer corporate events and office parties. “It’s where we make our money,” McManus said. “Selling beer and burgers is fine. But I need the parties to make the money.”


John McManus, co-owner of The Barking Dog

He continued, “I just don’t think people are comfortable yet, especially in Bethesda. Bethesda is highly vaccinated. Yet you see people wearing masks in their cars by themselves. I don’t have a problem with personal safety, and we are starting to get some parties. But I literally just had a lady call me. She asked about windows being opened and mask mandates, and I said, ‘Listen, it sounds like you need to stay home! I can’t guarantee you anything.’”

Other nearby eating and drinking establishments have been going through similar upheaval.  Among the once-popular businesses that have closed during the last 18-plus months are Booeymonger, Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle, George’s Chophouse, Gusto Farm to Street, Jaleo, and Prima, among others.

“For us,” McManus noted, “things are about 90 percent back to where they were. Yes, a lot of that is a function of the fact that many places have closed. And there’s a lot of weird patterns going on here in Bethesda, and I can’t figure them out.” Indeed, Muscle Bar is closed two days a week. By most accounts, the Silver Diner is hurting for customers during the week, but quite busy on the weekends.

The Barking Dog has advantages, though, that some of these other places lack. “We are in a little different situation than others,” McManus conceded, “because we’re privately owned. My partner [Bob Brooksbank] and I have owned it for 21 years. We own the building. We own everything in it. We don’t lease equipment. We don’t have any bank debt. The only thing we have is an SBA loan, which is what saved us during the pandemic. Had we not gotten that loan, we probably would have been out of business.”

McManus stated that the biggest test of his and Brooksbank’s leadership has been managing finances. “But let me tell you,” he added, with a big grin. “I was on the ball with the grants and the loans! The minute they announced them, I filed. The difference is, if you weren’t legitimate, you weren’t getting money. If you were paying people under the table, you weren’t getting money. If you weren’t paying yourself, you weren’t getting money. A lot of places that operated in the ‘underground economy’ where they don’t pay people on a payroll, they weren’t going to get Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money and they sure weren’t going to get a grant if they couldn’t prove income. We’re real. We have an accountant. We have a bookkeeper. What the government did saved a lot of small businesses in America. People can say what they want. PPP wasn’t a perfect program. A lot of people abused it. But it saved my family business. It was instrumental. The government mucks a lot of things up. But, man, they did it right with that.”


"I literally just had a lady call me. She asked about windows being opened and mask mandates, and I said, ‘Listen, it sounds like you need to stay home!  I can’t guarantee you anything.” ~John McManus

On the local level, he added, “The minute Montgomery County would announce a grant, I would apply. I got multiple grants from the county. They weren’t a lot [of money], but they helped! Navigating the PPP was a [female dog], but we got both our loans forgiven. Also, Montgomery County did us a solid when they allowed off-premise alcohol sales. That is something I really hope stays. I was also very lucky to have an outdoor space with picnic tables that we added literally right before the pandemic. I obtained a permit for outdoor dining and seating, which I had for years. But until I got picnic tables, it was never a big thing for us. It worked out really well. It was the best thousand dollars I ever spent! The return on that has been awesome.”

Speaking to other operators reading this who are struggling with the still lingering coronavirus, McManus stressed the need for personal dedication to the job and the business during such times of crisis. “I’ve been here 21 years,” he said, “and the only reason I’ve survived is because I’m here every day! My partner and I have worked together a total of 31 years, and he and I are here every single day.”

But even he can see the day coming when he might step away: “I have my last kid in college. My wife works. I’m 57 years old, and I bought my first place when I was 25. I haven’t been afraid to gamble, and I think I’ve managed my money well.”

Nevertheless, McManus remains an optimist. “The glass is always half-full and not half-empty with me,” he concluded. “I’ve also had a lot of help, and I give credit where credit is due. As far as I’m concerned, if you can survive the pandemic up until this point, you can basically survive anything. It has required people to work harder, make less. But, ultimately, if you came out of it, you were a Hell of a lot stronger.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2021 Editions Wed, 03 Nov 2021 12:48:09 -0400
It’s No Seacret: Ocean City Roars Back Seacrets_001.jpg

Vacation destinations have seen their share of hurdles in an attempt to return to normal.

Written By Teddy Durgin  |  Photography by Ashli Mix

This is the latest in a series of articles I’ve been writing on the Great Reopening of 2021. And while the previous installments covered the successful returns to form of Baltimore and Ellicott City, nowhere has this year differed from last year in such a big and positive way as Ocean City, Md. 

And one of the biggest beneficiaries has been Seacrets, the massive Jamaican-themed bar, restaurant, and nightclub that has been a mainstay in Maryland’s most popular resort town since 1998. General Manager Scott Studds has kept a steady hand at the wheel throughout the entire pandemic, and he and his staff have been reaping the rewards since May.


"A huge goal of this summer was to not close any days and not cut back on any of our normal business hours.” ~ Scott Studds General Manager

“Honestly, it hasn’t taken a lot to get people back,” he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. “I say that very appreciatively. But it was apparent that people were ready to come back out. We’re fortunate in that the majority of our business is outdoors, so I think people feel a certain comfort level in that respect. Two-thirds of our place is exterior, the majority of our dining is outdoors. If you’re someone who hasn’t been around a lot of crowds, knowing that we are open air and you won’t be limited to a certain spot is comforting. We have a 4,600-customer capacity, so you can imagine how big we are. You can find a spot at Seacrets based on your comfort level that’s a little less crowded or just a little off to the side that you feel safe at. It’s leant itself to a great summer.”

It’s certainly been a far cry from summer 2020 when COVID-19 was raging through the state, the country, and the world, and there were no vaccines in sight. Rules and regulations kept changing. Information and misinformation was rampant. People were staying home.  And if they were heading out for a beach vacation . . . it was for a true beach vacation! The tourists stayed on the sand, stayed outdoors, and mostly ordered take-out and curbside food and drink and took their eats and treats back to their motels and timeshares.


Matthew Morrison, Bartender

Studds recalls, “Last year obviously, so much more was unknown. There was the beginning of the pandemic, the shutting down of almost the entire business for a few months, then rolling into limited capacities. People had to be masked and distance-seated. It changed our business model in terms of how we ran the place, because we were and are a live entertainment complex. But live entertainment, dance floors were not possible, and we really had to adjust. It made things quite different. We went from being a free-flow, walk-around, stage-to-stage place to where we were physically seating every single customer who walked into the door the entire summer of 2020.”

Seacrets scaled back its entertainment offerings, putting on stage more solo acts and duos. Nothing really high energy. “It was nice to hear live music,” Studds remarked, “but it wasn’t performers that really made you want to get up and dance or up moving around. We didn’t want to create an issue that we didn’t have at that point. There was the whole not knowing how to deal with the ever-changing rules and the landscape of the pandemic itself as far as what we were supposed to be doing to protect not only your customers, but also your employees.”


Robert Gordy, Bartender

He continued, “As far as this year goes, we had a pretty good idea of what the restrictions would be because they were being timed with the vaccines going out. We knew we would be allowed to open up more. We’ve been pretty fortunate this year with comparatively low numbers on the Shore and the state in terms of positive [COVID] cases.”

Staffing issues locally have helped Seacrets, too. Some eating and drinking places weren’t open as much or as often this past summer. “I think we benefited from that to a certain point,” Studds acknowledged. “We’ve felt the same pressures and struggles. But we’ve done our best to work around those. A huge goal of this summer was to not close any days and not cut back on any of our normal business hours. Up until this interview [in late August], we’ve been able to accomplish that. We’ve had to shrink certain areas. There have been some nights where we’ve said, ‘Well, we’re not going to open this section or this bar’ at certain times. But it wasn’t too noticeable. And if it was, customers were understanding, even if they’ve had to wait a few minutes.”


In addition to Seacrets being known as a bar, a restaurant, and a nightclub, it also boasts its own distillery where it makes Seacrets’ own signature spirits. There is even an on-site radio station. 

So, while Seacrets has fared well, the question was posed to Studds, 'How has Ocean City fared, in general?' He was quick to answer: “This year, I feel like Ocean City has done very well. You can tell there has been an uptick in people. After Memorial Day, you would typically have a lull for a time in June. This year has been steady from May on. People have wanted to be out, they’ve wanted to be dining. In fact, today was the first day all summer I’ve actually noticed that hotel parking lots are just a bit thinner. It’s Aug. 30th! But it’s about that time. Schools are going back.”

This means, of course, there will be additional tests of Studds’ leadership in the weeks and months to come. “Nobody is foolish enough to think this is over,” he said. “We’re going to keep plugging along as much as we can. There are some concerns that once we start getting into the colder times, how will that affect things? Will people’s mindsets be, ‘OK, now that I am back indoors, I’m not as comfortable.’ Going into next year, we hope to be a little more proactive in terms of overstaffing. Not that there wasn’t an attempt for that this year. But you try and build in a ‘couple-of-people buffer’ wherever you can. I think staffing issues are going to be something that’s going to continue that we need to get ahead of.” 


Geoff Ernst, Bartender  |  Scott Studds, G.M.  |  Kelly Schumacher, Bartender

Moving forward, Studds says it’s all about people. The people he serves, and the people he manages as employees. It’s a balancing act, for sure, but one he and his fellow management are up for. 

He concludes, “You come into work, and you’re so focused on work that sometimes you don’t realize there is so much other stuff going on. Everybody has had something going on, whether it’s somebody in their family getting sick, someone not having child care, and so forth. I guess I can say I’m now more aware that these times have affected everyone in different ways, and it’s not all physical. A lot of it is mental. We’re pushing our people hard, we’re asking a lot of them, and we know we are asking a lot. But these are all human beings, and I have to be more aware of what they’re going through.  . . . I am more aware of what they’re going through!”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2021 Editions Wed, 29 Sep 2021 14:55:10 -0400
Pickles Pub: What the Great Reopening Looks Like in Baltimore Exterior_001.jpg

Pickles Pub is a family-friendly, game-day institution that has been serving classic pub fare since March 1988. Located across from Oriole Park at Camden Yards and near M&T Bank Stadium, it has become a Baltimore favorite among Orioles and Ravens fans, tourists, and downtown regulars. Bustling and teeming with customers before the pandemic? For sure. Empty seats and tables during the pandemic? Co-owner Tom Leonard and his staff had to pivot greatly. 

“Because we have a good brand name and we’re right across from the ballpark, the business always came to us,” he said, during a recent Beverage Journal interview. “Our whole business acumen was ‘How can we maximize this?’ and ‘How can we get more people in here and make them happy?’ Online ordering, having a social media presence, and all of that stuff – we did it, but it was an after-thought. When the pandemic happened, we didn’t transition incredibly well, because we thought like so many others, ‘Oh, by the latest, things will get back to normal in June or July.’”


He continued, “We had to up our online ordering game and our social media presence! Once you’re behind on that, it’s hard to catch up. We’ve updated our website twice, but so has everybody else. We’ve improved our online ordering system, but so has everybody else. Places like Jimmy’s Seafood, which had online ordering and mobile food trucks before the pandemic, were much more ready for it. Places like ourselves, we not only had to deal with paying the bills and keeping the staff engaged while working very limited hours, we also had to play catch-up.”


From out of hardship, though, came invention and a willingness to try new things. “The great thing has been the increased use of QR codes,” Leonard declared. “We can now change menus quick and automatically. If we’re out of a beer or a [food option], I can jump on my phone or my computer and change the menu on the online format, upload it to the QR code, and done! People then just scan the codes at the table, and – BOOM – updated menu. It was a tool that had been there for a while for us to use, but we were just too old school. Now it’s here to stay.”

And now with the “Great Reopening” taking hold even amid the COVID-19 variants, Pickles Pub is welcoming back customers . . . sometimes in droves. “It’s been 100 percent better than last year without a doubt,” Leonard acknowledged. “A good metric for us is stadium attendance. The Orioles are probably averaging – what? – 8,000 a game? Camden Yards can get up to 47,000. So, it’s a pretty small number. But, for us, the dollars spent by people going to the games are the highest they’ve ever been! From that metric, we’re doing well. People like our outside seating. It’s more important than air conditioning. And there’s a lot more table service in what we’re calling the post-pandemic era. We probably have more staff now than we did in 2019.”


Leonard further observes the changes in Pickles Pub’s clientele. People are different now than they were prior to March 2020. “That middle person doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “It’s either, ‘I want incredible service! Give me everything I want and then some!’ or ‘Thank you SO much for being open! We’re here to support you. We’ll over-tip, and we don’t care if it takes longer to get food and drinks to the table.’ It’s literally those two things. The middle customer, I suppose, is our die-hard regulars who were set in their routine, and they’re just so happy their routine is happening again.”

Through it all, Leonard has had to keep a steady hand at the wheel. It hasn’t always been easy, of course. But he’s hopeful the worst is over. “My partner and I are really vested in the business,” he concluded. “We own the building. So, there was no way we were going to fail! It was the same thing as, ‘Hey, are you gonna lose your house?’ ‘No! Where would I live?!’ The big revelation that we had going through all of this was . . . we really, really like what we do! Because it definitely tested every color of our rainbow. There wasn’t a single thing that didn’t come into question during 2020. We had to deal with supply shortages, staffing issues, when you could do business, how you could do business, increased inspections. Every protocol, every procedure – everything you could imagine – was tested to its limits. And I think we’ve passed.”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2021 Editions Tue, 31 Aug 2021 18:14:57 -0400
The Sun Rises on a New Career for Mike Fratantuono Mike_01.jpg

If you are reading this article and you have ever eaten at the Sunset Restaurant in Glen Burnie, then right now you are probably fondly remembering the iconic eatery’s cream of crab soup. Or maybe their shrimp salad. Or you’re just smiling at the memory of some leisurely meals you enjoyed with your friends, family, or colleagues.

Chances are, Mike Fratantuono was somewhere in your orbit during those meals. He was one of the three long-time proprietors of Sunset along with Dave and Gary Fratantuono. The family operated the restaurant for 60 years until pandemic times forced its closure at the end of last September. 

It didn’t take long for Mike to land on his feet. Another restaurant? According to him, “No, never.” Instead, he is now an agent for Passauer & Miller Insurance Inc. in Manchester, Md. One of his specialties? Selling policies to restaurants, bars, and packaged goods stores, of course. 

So far, his clientele has appreciated his background and experience. During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, Fratantuono remarked, “I understand what people who are in the bar, restaurant, and liquor store business are going through. Whether it’s trying to hire employees or preparing for a kitchen inspection. From a safety protocol, are their fire extinguishers up to date? Do they have mats on the floor for safety? Is your refrigeration in good order? Is everything up to fire code? Has the hood system been cleaned? By doing all of that myself for 32 years, I just need one eyeball and I can see what’s going on. Once I show them that I had been in the business for 32 years and that I speak their language, they know I understand things pretty well.”


Fratantuono and his firm offer a wide range of insurance products. In particular, bars and restaurants need general liability coverage, fire insurance, and liquor liability insurance. “They’re also going to need insurance for the building,” he added, “They’re going to need liability in case somebody experiences food related injury. In today’s world, they’re also going to need employment practices insurance, to protect them from employment related claims in dealing with their staff.”

As much knowledge and experience Fratantuono has brought over from the foodservice industry, he has also drawn on qualities from a whole different part of his background and being. “One of the things I stand behind is I have 50 years of scouting experience,” he says. “It sounds kind of corny, but I try to follow the Scout Law Principles. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. If you cover all 12 of those, both sides are going to be OK. Insurance agents should always try and have a positive attitude with the customers. And if someone is happy with their current insurers and says, ‘No, I’m happy with what I’ve got; or a family or friend is their agent,’ you should thank them for their time and move on.  However, when they let us take a look, often times cost savings or coverage gaps are revealed.”

He went on to state that the favorite part of his new job and lifestyle is he now works Mondays through Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “I have all my nights off and all of my weekends off!” he declares proudly. “I also work in an office where everybody is great and extremely knowledgeable. Dave Miller is a fantastic person to work for. He’s there to help you and understands the insurance inside and out, as does the remainder of the staff.  Everybody, in our organization is willing to help out. 

In addition to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, his clients include landscapers, auto shops, and so forth. So, would he ever go back to his old profession? Fratantuono gave a quick and emphatic “No! After so many years, it’s been good to sign the back of the check rather than the front.”


The restaurant industry has changed so much. The customers’ expectations are totally different. Every restaurateur will tell you that people generally don’t ‘dine’ anymore. There is a difference between ‘dining’ and going out to eat. The experience now seems to be more about ‘how fast can they get it, how fast can they eat it, and how fast can they get back out the door.’ Dining used to be an event. People would get dressed up to go eat out. The average person doesn’t do that anymore. There’s no time to enjoy the dining experience. A lot of the chain places are really pushing that. Now it’s all about the turnover. The Dining “experience” is something that’s been really lost in the industry these days. 

At Sunset, we always said, ‘Take your time, sit back, enjoy yourself...Dine!’”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2021 Editions Tue, 31 Aug 2021 18:09:33 -0400
The Great Reopening Were_Open_Again.jpg

A great reopening is underway here in Maryland. The on-premise side of the industry has taken punch after punch since the onset of COVID-19.  With restrictions lifting, restaurant and bar proprietors face many obstacles on the road 'back to normal'.  Restrictions are being lifted and people are once again venturing out to stores and entertainment, attending live events, and (of course) eating and drinking out.

Ellicott City has been part of this comeback, but that’s no surprise. The historic district of this Howard County suburb has been in comeback mode for several years now, having weathered the devastating effects of not one, but two deadly and destructive floods that happened pre-pandemic.


Among those who have survived and come out on the other side is restaurateur Mark Hemmis. But the combined experiences have changed him, changed his business. The owner of the old Phoenix Emporium sold his leasehold interest in that Ellicott City bar and restaurant in the spring of 2019 and subsequently purchased Ellicott Mills Brewing Company further up Main Street. A new eating and drink place was subsequently born . . . Phoenix Upper Main.

And then the pandemic hit, and everything went to Hell again. But Hemmis and his staff successfully navigated the COVID era’s highs and lows. “There was a COVID spike back in November-December,” he recalled, “which certainly had a dramatic impact on people’s willingness to go out and venture into restaurants and bars. When we got through that, we were then in the middle of winter. So, our outdoor seating was widely unused except for an occasional day or two when it was palatable to eat outside. As we came to the spring, though, you could see that people really wanted to return. We have this outdoor seating because of the permit Howard County so graciously issued. As the weather has gotten better, our business has increased and that’s coincided with people getting vaccinated. And as the restrictions have eased up, we’ve seen even more of a willingness to eat indoors, too. The restaurant is now filling up inside.”

Problems, though, linger. As the Beverage Journal conducted this interview in early July, Phoenix Upper Main and other competing businesses in Old Ellicott City were still having staffing problems. “We have been unable to go to 100 percent indoors,” Hemmis lamented. “Our tables in our main dining room upstairs are still six feet apart because we don’t have enough employees to accommodate full-on dining when our outdoors is open.”

Some changes that occurred during the pandemic have also lingered. “Our food runners are still wearing masks,” he noted. “Our kitchen staff is also still wearing masks when they’re preparing food. That’s out of an abundance of caution more than anything. Yes, it’s for visual effect. But it’s important to reassure our customers that we’re still taking COVID protocols seriously. I am not 100 percent sure it’s necessary. But it makes customers feel more at ease, and my staff is comfortable doing it. You have to respect all customers, including those that still don’t feel comfortable. There is still a portion of the population that is at risk. There are still people who aren’t vaccinated, there are still children, and there are still people who are caring for the elderly. You want to show them the same respect you show the rest of your customers.”


One thing that hasn’t changed is Hemmis’ steady hand at the wheel. He acknowledges that “change” has been the biggest test of his leadership. “At the very beginning,” he stated, “we had our barstools roped off, and we had an alleyway taped on the floor that was a path for people to use the restrooms when they could only eat outside. Every time we made changes to that, changed the restrictions, changed the way we did business, there is resistance that had to be overcome. Staff appreciates knowing what to expect. So, for example, when we decided to allow minimal bar seating or when we brought tables inside or when we switched from using ketchup packets to using bottles of ketchup, both customers and staff had to be reassured that we’re being safe and that this is the right decision.”

It’s helped that he is in a much bigger restaurant space now than he would have been if he were still running the old Phoenix Emporium. Ellicott City’s flood mitigation plan left him little choice but to move his business up Main Street. He has no regrets. “I’m learning and growing,” Hemmis said. “I am learning how to manage a larger staff and I’m learning how to delegate, because there’s been a LOT more things added to my plate. Fortunately, I have a staff that is extraordinarily well qualified. Part of my job now is to enable them to make decisions and support them when they do.”

He added, “Did I make some wrong decisions? Probably. We had a couple of COVID scares in-house. You’d have a part-time employee test positive, and we had to shut down to get everybody tested. It’s an easy decision, but it’s a difficult one when it means closing on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Hopefully, I got most of the decisions right.”

It’s also helped that customers are genuinely thrilled to be returning to some of their favorite haunts in Old Ellicott City. In addition to Phoenix Upper Main, people are re-discovering such still-in-business eateries as The Judge’s Bench, Manor Hill Tavern, Georgia Grace Café, and more. Unfortunately, though, not a whole lot more.


Hemmis concluded, “I’m excited to see what happens next. I think we are due for an explosion of business, and -- like everyone else -- we are trying to add staff to accommodate that. The issue we’re having is there are less restaurants in Ellicott City now. That wasn’t totally COVID-related. It was also the restructuring at the bottom of the hill. There was the removal of the old Phoenix, Cacao Lane, The Rumor Mill. We hope that our new business increases due to the fact that we’re doing things well and providing a service that customers want. But we need more restaurants in town! The food and drink scene bring visitors to Main Street. That, in turn, supports the other businesses. Right now, there are only a few full-service restaurants in town. We would be so excited to welcome some new foodservice neighbors to Old Ellicott City!”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2021 Editions Tue, 27 Jul 2021 10:11:50 -0400
Wells Discount Liquors: A Mother-Daughter Affair Wells_HOME.jpg

Over the last 18 years of writing for the Beverage Journal, I’ve penned numerous columns in which I profiled packaged-goods stores run by fathers and sons. But it’s rare when I come across an establishment operated by a . . . mother and daughter!

So it is with Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore. JoAnn Hyatt and her daughter, Roxann Rogers, don’t just operate any store. Wells is one of the oldest and largest businesses of its kind around, first opened in 1937 and boasting more than 10,000 square feet of space. As such, it has one of the largest selections of wine, beer, and spirits you’ll ever see.

The story does have a bit of tragedy, though. Rogers said, “My father, Michael Hyatt, suffered a brain injury seven years ago. He had run the business for years, but Mom had to take over. I quit my career as a crisis/social worker to come help her. [chuckling] My counseling skills have helped a lot with the personalities that we have. But the tough part was the business and the buying was all new to me. There’s no manual on how to buy.”

Hyatt has been proud of her daughter’s transition. “She’s now one of my head wine buyers!” she stated. “She’s really taken to the business.”

Of course, everyone had to transition last year when COVID-19 hit. Wells Discount Liquors was no different. Both women look back on those first few months of the pandemic with a mix of emotions. Rogers recalls, “We weren’t letting people in for the first six to eight weeks. So, we stepped up our curbside service. People would call and we’d shop for them.”


The Wells Team: Lee Grandes, Lead Wine Manager; Roxann Hyatt-Rogers, Vice President; Diana Abbott, Customer Service Manager; JoAnn Hyatt, Owner; Trish Eby, Chief Financial Officer; and Steve Eby, Operations Manager.

Wells only had six phone lines coming into the store at the time, and Hyatt and Rogers only had a handful of employees who would come to work during the health crisis. “Those lines were ringing!” Hyatt exclaims. “We were exhausted, because you took the orders and then you had to go shop for everybody! And you had to do it quickly, because they’d show up in your parking lot 20 minutes later. And in those 20 minutes, you’d taken five more orders over the phone.”

She continues, “The one thing I found really funny is the number of people who’d call and say, ‘I need to order wine. And the wine I like is in Aisle 4 . . .  and it has a bird on it!’ Some people would have no idea what the name of what they had been drinking was! But they knew where it was in the store, and they’d just walk there and grab it. Well, all of a sudden, they couldn’t do that. There were tons of customers like that! There were some situations where you said to the customer, ‘Look, this situation is awful for everybody. Trust us and let us pick out a wine for you.’ So many customers called us back and re-ordered what we picked for them. We’d have people say, ‘I’m just going to let you pick out our wines from now on!’ It actually worked out, because we got to expand on wines that you’d normally have to sell through tastings [and other means].”

Fortunately, there were certain long-time staffers that stepped up during that time as they had done before when Hyatt had to make the transition to store operator in the wake of her husband’s disability. Some of Wells’ staff give new meaning to the term long-time employees. Hyatt remarked, “Our oldest employee, Lee Grandes, has been here 38 years this October. He is our head wine buyer. He is Wells. Most people who come in think he owns the business! He’s an institution here. And Steve Eby is our receiving manager. He’s been with us for 37 years! I couldn’t run this business without them.”


Another thing that gives both ladies comfort is the helpful presence of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) in Annapolis and statewide. When Hyatt does turn over the business to her daughter one day, she knows that she, the store, and the family’s legacy will have advocates in the state capitol. “I love how the MSLBA advocates for all of us,” Rogers said. “Whenever we have questions or concerns, they’re either there to answer those questions or help us navigate to where we can get the information.”

Hyatt concluded, “They’re fighting to keep the beer and the wine from going into the grocery stores. How much longer we can keep that going, I don’t know. But thank God, the MSLBA is still fighting!”

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2021 Editions Wed, 30 Jun 2021 13:45:25 -0400
Peter Frank of Talbert's Ice & Beverage Talberts_Home.jpg

In his 93 years, Peter Frank has witnessed Prohibition, the Repeal of Prohibition, a World War, Space Walks and Moon Walks.  For much of his time he has been an active member of the beverage alcohol business. In fact, he holds the distinction of being the longest living director of the Maryland State Licensing Beverage Association (MSLBA) board.

What’s his secret?  “I’m not retired,” he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. “But I think it’s important that when people do retire, they at least get into volunteer work. They need to keep active. If they don’t keep active, their mind will go, and then their body will follow. Not me! I’m 93 and I’m still pretty active. You have to stay with it. And to stay with it, that means keeping up with everything.”

Keeping up is a big part of his job as President of Montgomery Ice, which operates Talbert’s Ice and Beverage Service in Bethesda. He is not at the store every day anymore. His daughter, Toni Levin, handles the day-to-day operations. But he still can talk shop with the best of them.


“Our core customers stretch from Potomac to Northwest Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s a very high economic area. That means we need to carry the very high end as well as the low end in both wines and beer. We used to not carry as much high-end product, because there wasn’t the demand. But over the years, the variety of wines has dramatically changed. We now carry a wider selection than we ever have. For the longest time, we had no more than 50 SKUs. Now, we probably have about 250 in beer alone, and it changes from day to day.”

Frank has been with Talbert’s from its 1955 beginnings. It was founded that year as a wholesale ice business. In 1958, he and his partner purchased a business in Bethesda that delivered beverages – at that time, just soft drinks -- to people’s homes. That same year, Talbert’s was able to transfer a local beer and wine license. In 1961, an expansion added a beer and wine convenience store, and Talbert’s has been a landmark in Montgomery County ever since.

Today, beer and wine sales have made up for a wholesale ice business that suffered mightily during the pandemic. “A large part of our operations has been supplying restaurants, hotels, and country clubs,” Frank noted. “Our corporate accounts have also suffered. We virtually shut down at the beginning of the pandemic.”

Fortunately, Talbert’s beer and wine clientele have indeed remained loyal. So, what characterizes a typical Talbert’s Ice & Beverage Service customer? Frank was quick to answer. “Our customers have gotten smarter about their beverage choices,” he said. “But most just go with the flow. They go with what they see advertised. The more astute wine drinker buys wines in anticipation of the product, or the vintage.”

It’s the customers that keep him going more than anything. Frank has been service-oriented all of his life. He doesn’t know any other way to be. “I still love that we’re able to have what the customers are looking for,” he declared. “They don’t have to spend a long time shopping in our place. Most people come in and out within, I’d say, four minutes. We’re also one of the largest lottery agents in the county, although that does not automatically translate into beer and wine sales. Lottery customers generally buy lottery tickets and nothing else. But we cover a need. We also still deliver beer and wine, and people love that.”

The other thing that keeps him going is the industry camaraderie. He is particularly proud of his ties with the MSLBA. “I think membership in the MSLBA is very important,” he stated, “because it is a very astute lobbying group in the state capitol. It has proven over the years to be strong in helping maintain the three-tier system and representing the individual licensees in the state. 

He added, “MSLBA has kept the state government from overreaching into our businesses. They’re very good at understanding the problems retailers in Maryland have. They’re trying to prevent the extension of alcohol sales to grocery stores. They do this by engaging with the legislators. Lacking that, our businesses would suffer greatly."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2021 Editions Thu, 27 May 2021 23:23:50 -0400
Links Drinks' Transfusion Transfusion_Hoime.jpg

Some of the best days are golf days. You’re away from the demands of your business, your family, your day-to-day life, and it’s just you and the ball . . . and maybe two or three of your buddies or colleagues. You shot a pretty decent round, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself, and now you just want to relax at the clubhouse and have a drink. A beer is always good. So is a soft drink. But a lot of golfers will tell you that the best drink after 18 holes -- or at the turn -- is the Transfusion.

A mix of vodka, ginger ale, and grape juice, Transfusions are not only great to replenish the fluids, they’re also good to share in social circles. Now, Links Drinks LLC has come up with a canned, ready-to-drink version.  



This gluten-free Transfusion features a six-times distilled vodka made with ginger ale and Concord grape juice. The company uses all-natural ingredients and no preservatives. And it is seven percent ABV.

Links Drinks owner Fred Evanko says the product was a hit right from the testing and tasting phase. He remarked, “The overwhelming response when people tasted it was 1) ‘It’s refreshing;’ and 2) ‘It’s delicious and is not too sugary or sweet.’ A fair amount of people also say it’s ‘dangerous.’ [chuckling] It doesn’t really feel like you’re drinking a strong vodka drink, but it certainly has a kick at seven percent.”


For sure, the product has a built-in audience in golfers. And Maryland certainly has its share of popular courses from Bulle Rock in Havre De Grace to the Links at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels to the Maryland National Golf Club in Middletown. “A lot of people know this cocktail and like it,” Evanko stated. “We figured the response would be, ‘Wow, there’s a can version? Let’s give it a try.’ Golfers like to tell each other about things they purchased. Well, hopefully, they are telling each other about our product.”

Evanko added that the product is selling well in packaged-goods stores near golf courses and at sports bars. In fact, Links Drinks found that about 60 percent of Transfusion’s sales have been via off-premise. “There’s more volume, more foot traffic,” he reasoned. “Plus not all golf courses are open year round. When they are open, they have certain hours. You’re probably only going to have a couple of drinks at most at the course. But you might buy in bulk at a store.”

Evanko hopes the product will eventually mature into a lifestyle drink. After all, you can’t be on the course all of the time. But with Transfusion in a can, you can pop the top in your living room, your kitchen, or on your back porch after a long day of work or family; close your eyes, sip; and feel you’re about tee off on a Par 4.


Links Drinks’ Transfusion is sold in standard, 12-ounce cans in so-called “foursome packs.” The can design practically shouts “TRANSFUSION.” But it appeals to golfers with its subtle use of golf ball dimples as background art. The company’s logo is featured also and has a subtle, almost hidden peace sign. “We lost our daughter to cancer,” Evanko said, “and she was big into peace signs. The words ‘Enjoy life’ that are on the can also comes from that. We went through a lot and we came out the other side with a perspective that many people don’t have. Life is too short. Enjoy it.”

His wife, Denise, is the creative person on the Links Drinks team and came up with the company name. She is also credited with the dimpled design of the can and handles Links Drinks’ website and social media.


Looking ahead, the Evankos are eyeing an expanded line of canned beverages for the golf course and beyond. “We want to continue growing the business,” Fred concluded. “We’re hopefully going to have two more flavors by the end of this year. Right now, we have the classic Transfusion. But we’re also going to have the Front 9 Transfusion, which is vodka, ginger ale, and orange juice. It will be ideally suited for those early-morning tee times. And then the Back 9 Transfusion will be vodka, ginger ale, and cranberry juice. It’s going to be more of a year-round cocktail. The game plan is variety!”

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.  

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2021 Editions Thu, 27 May 2021 23:07:28 -0400
Fisher Reels 'Em in at Freeland Wine & Spirits Freeland_002_20210422-193001_1.jpg

Richard Fisher has been a beer, wine, and spirits man ever since he went to work part-time at The Liquor Pump in Parkville. That was 1985. While at The Liquor Pump, Fisher soon discovered he had a real head for the packaged goods business and worked his way up to store manager. An opportunity eventually presented itself to purchase the old Timonium Liquors on the corner of York and Timonium Roads. He seized it and operated that store from 1994 to 2002.

In August of that year, he transitioned to Freeland Wine & Spirits. "We initially rented," he recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "But in 2008, we bought the property and did an extensive expansion."

Freeland is known for many things: its wide selection, competitive prices, and customer service. But, most of all, it's become known for its seasonal displays. In addition to his business acumen, Fisher has a real creative side. "I like to change things up!" he declared. "We have a full basement under the store that ended up getting littered with display pieces. Anything that was decent, I didn't want to throw out." 

Fisher ended up buying a Class C cargo container that he keeps out back of the store that is filled with nothing but display pieces. "Some of them go back 30 years," he noted. 

After football season and St. Valentine's Day, that decor comes down. Then, the last week in February is when he and his staff start putting up the store's St. Patrick's Day displays. "We go all out for St. Patty's Day even though it's a bar holiday for the most part," he said. "When that ends, we go into Oriole mode. And then comes Cinco de Mayo, which leads us into our summer set of rotating displays and decor." 

In mid-September, the store becomes full of Oktoberfest displays. Right before Thanksgiving, Freeland flips to Christmas. Fisher remarked, "The sales reps love it. They'll say, 'Wow! You come in one week, and it's one thing. You come in the next, and it's like a completely different store!' We like the constant change." 


Freeland Wine & Spirits' Patrick Fisher, Suzanne Fisher, Richard Fisher and Matt Jacobs.

Another thing that distinguishes Freeland is that it's a family business. Fisher's wife, Suzanne, works in the store and maintains Freeland's website. His middle son, Patrick, is the store's manager. Richard adds that he and Suzanne have two other sons who have worked at the store "from the time I could get them in here lifting cases." Their oldest, Cole, works for Amazon. Their youngest, Aidan,  is a student at the University of Tennessee.

So, after all these years, how does Fisher maintain his enthusiasm for the work? "I like the excitement of new products coming in," was his quick reply. "I also love the cat-and-mouse game of ordering right. 'Did I order too much? Did I order just the right amount? Am I hitting the products that people want?'"

Fisher says it is enthusiasm that any young store manager looking to open his/her own place must have. "If you're going to be in a people business, you gotta like people!" he exclaimed. "It can be like 'Groundhog Day' sometimes where it seems like you're doing the same thing over and over. But it's the people who will make each day seem different. You'll start to feel a part of people's lives. It's not for everybody. Some people don't want to be closed in with four walls every day. They have to be outside or on the road. I've always liked the task at hand -- coming in, seeing what needs to be done, and making sure it gets done by the time I leave."

And, by all means, join an association. Freeland Wine & Spirits is a member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association's Baltimore County affiliate (BCLBA). He states, "Joining an association gives you a head's up on so many things that affect your business. They are on the front lines doing the battling for us and protecting our livelihoods. Membership is important, because there is strength in numbers."

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2021 Editions Thu, 22 Apr 2021 15:26:17 -0400
The Famous Fund: Saving Baltimore's Bars & Restaurants Famous_Fund_HOME.jpg

Across Maryland, bars and restaurants are hurting. Among those who have been hurting the worst are those in Baltimore City where Mayor Brandon Scott has imposed some of the tightest restrictions and longest lockdowns in the state. To the rescue has been The Famous Fund, which has been disbursing thousands of dollars to eating and drinking places in Charm City -- and garnering national headlines for doing so -- since its inception back in January.

The fund started as a wager between John Minadakis, owner and President of Jimmy's Famous Seafood, and Barstool Sports site owner David Portnoy, who is currently doing a national fund in support of struggling eating and drinking places. The bet was on the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Buffalo Bills playoff football game back on Jan. 16. If the Ravens won, Portnoy would have saved one restaurant in the city of Baltimore.


Although the Ravens failed to achieve victory, the bet and concept inspired Minadakis to start the Jimmy’s Famous Seafood Fund to help many establishments in need during the ongoing lockdown. He launched the fund on GoFundMe. 

"The most rewarding part of this whole experience has been seeing hope personified," Minadakis said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "It's been a brutal year for everyone in our industry. And it has been a year now. Every time we've seen a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, it just gets taken away from us it seems. And along the way, our industry became vilified. To see people caring about us in such a positive fashion and stepping up in such a major way, it just shows you how important these restaurants and bars are to the everyday citizens. So many have come to the realization that without their immediate reaction and financial action, their favorites might not be there once things get back to 'normal.'"

He added, "It's been very humbling to know you really are appreciated, especially as  you're putting in those 16- to 20-hour days. Sometimes, you don't know just how much you really mean to your customers."

One of the first recipients of the fund was Simply Marie's, a breakfast eatery in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood that initially received $10,000. Former Orioles All-Star outfielder Adam Jones, who was a regular customer back in his playing days, Zoom-called owner Marie Branch personally to tell her she won the award. He then added another $10,000 of his own money. 


Branch, who just celebrated her 10th year in business, recalled, "[Former mayoral candidate and Famous Fund board member] TJ Smith called and said, 'Someone wants to talk to you. Someone amazing.' And he added, 'You'll find out in the morning.' I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.' But I also told my son that 'there was nobody in Baltimore other than Adam Jones who'd surprise me, but he lives in Japan now.'" 

After learning how to download and take part in a Zoom call, the next morning she opened the app and indeed saw . . . Adam Jones! "I lost it," she exclaimed "I just completely lost it." And when she found out that Jones had matched the $10,000 donation from the Famous Fund, "I just started crying. I've now paid my rent all the way up to the summer! In addition to the donors, I also want the Beverage Journal readers to know that I really appreciate my Canton neighbors helping me to keep my place open! Without them, I wouldn't still be here."

Minadakis remarked, "Just to see the relief come over her face on that Zoom call and the pure excitement . . . that's one that really stood out. And with Adam stepping up and giving her an extra $10,000, that was a life-changing call for a lady who has poured her entire life into her establishment. She was truly worried she was going to have to close her doors for good. But because of the Fund, she has not only paid her rent, but she's attracted new customers because of the attention the Fund has garnered. That's why we don't announce the recipients all at once. We release them every two or three days to give each place two or three days in the spotlight."

South Baltimore restaurants Pickles Pub and Barracuda's are among the more recent businesses to receive windfalls from The Famous Fund. Pickles Pub in the Ridgely’s Delight neighborhood of Baltimore received $15,000 and found out during a call from 105.7 The Fan’s Jeremy Conn. Pickles owner Tom Leonard's staff, past and present, submitted a heartfelt video to be eligible. In the video, they described the challenges of the past year, but also spoke to the drive Leonard has had through the struggles. They went into detail about some of his efforts. Last Easter, for instance, Leonard and his daughter dressed up as Easter bunnies and delivered baskets to his employees. Additionally, being located next to University Hospital, Leonard has often kept the kitchen open late for the doctors and medical staff.

Leonard remarked in a late February interview, "We just got the first disbursement. My partner and I are going to give as much as we possibly can to our staff. It was our staff who submitted the videos. We wouldn't have the money without them, so it's only right they get it. The business means so much to me. We are the pre- and post-game bar for the Ravens and the Orioles. We're literally across the street from Camden Yards. We've been in business since 1989, before the stadium. I was a customer before becoming an equity partner. I never thought, way back in the day, when I was a patron at Pickles that I would one day own the place!"

Barracudas in Locust Point near Fort McHenry, meanwhile, has received $10,000 from The Famous Fund. Owner William “Billy” Hughes and General Manager Samantha Stinchcomb got the good news during a call from Baltimore celebrity chef and Charm City Cakes owner Duff Goldman.


"I knew we were getting it, but Billy didn't," Stinchcomb recalled. "So, seeing him be genuinely surprised and then having that overall feeling of relief that it brought and knowing that our hard work was being recognized and appreciated by people who share similar values was really fulfilling for us."

She continued, "We're using the funds to get new furniture for upstairs and outside. When the weather breaks and people are eating outside all of the time, having new furniture will be a selling point and allow customers to enjoy themselves even more."

Other restaurants helped by the Fund so far have included the Angle Inn, The Chasseur, G&A Restaurant, Illusions Magic Bar on Federal Hill, Shotti’s Point, and Sliders Bar and Grill. 

Rachel Sheubrooks, proprietor of Sliders, stated, "My first reaction was extreme appreciation. I've never been one to ask for handouts. But I always loved owning a restaurant and bar where I could treat people to a meal -- friends, family, etc. Now I am charging my friends and family every penny just to stay afloat. To finally get something back was absolutely fantastic. It made me cry. I haven't been to Target in the last year to buy a T-shirt. We haven't even turned the heat on for the entire winter. So, we're using the funds to pay bills like our mortgage and the electric."


The Famous Fund has gotten the attention of some famous folks. In addition to Adam Jones, Duff Goldman, and TJ Smith, the Baltimore Ravens' Marlon Humphrey, Ronnie Stanley, and General Manager Eric DeCosta have gotten involved as has CNBC's Marcus Lemonis, who donated $20,000. Organizational contributors to the fund have included the Baltimore Orioles and Advance Business Systems. In addition, the Famous Fund now falls under the umbrella of former Ravens kicker Matt Stover's player philanthropy fund.

The big names have definitely helped in getting the word out. And for Minadakis, it's all about the messaging. "The biggest challenge has been making people aware of just how dire some of these situations are," he said, "and how desperate some of these places were for immediate funding. In some cases, they were just days away from closing for good. The $50 you donate pays one restaurant's rent for a day. So, you may not feel it's a big deal, but it is. It's actually a massive deal!"

Minadakis concluded, "I'm running out of words to describe the last year. I'm sure that anybody in my situation has had some definite bouts with depression and hopelessness. You're being vilified in some cases just for trying to provide an honest living for your family and employees. Personally, the Fund is making me remember why I fell in love with Baltimore and why I fell in love with the restaurant industry, as a whole. Theoretically, these are all places that are competitors. We're all competing for the same nuts as squirrels. But we're all uniting now and coming together, and the community is rallying around us. It's definitely changed me in the sense that it's restored my faith in humanity. I consider myself a pretty religious person, and it's really renewed my faith in God, too. There is a higher power at work. You just need to look a little harder than usual and you'll see it through the actions of everyday, ordinary citizens."

To learn more or to donate, go to

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2021 Editions Thu, 25 Mar 2021 08:08:42 -0400
Festival Wine & Spirits Festival_HOME_2.jpg

"Giant Food is great for my business. It's the anchor of my shopping center. But I'm two doors down. If they were permitted to sell beer and wine, I would be out of business!"

So says Joe Gray, proprietor of Festival Wine & Spirits in Annapolis' Festival at Riva Shopping Center. Gray is one of many packaged goods store operators statewide who's alarmed that the Legislature year in and year out considers allowing major supermarkets and big-box retailers to sell beer, wine, and possibly spirits.

"I don't think people understand the ramifications of what chain stores can do to small businesses," he told me during a recent interview. "When big chains take over and push out the mom-and-pops, customers lose variety. They lose service. You won't go into a grocery store and find somebody like me there to explain a wine to you. You completely lose that kind of service. The variety will suffer too. A chain store will basically go towards the streamlined stuff. I don't know if consumers or legislators really understand that."

But it's part of Gray's side job as President of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association (AACLBA), an affiliate of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, to make as many people understand as possible. It's all about getting the word out and showing strength in numbers.


"Association membership will make you more aware of what's going on and the power of the state Legislature and how it can change your whole world," he stated. "We try our best to get our message out. But sometimes it just doesn't sink through to people. We need all of the support we can get."

He continued, "I've seen the importance of people paying attention. It's been a couple of years since I moved into the President's role. It's been especially hard this past year with all our Zoom meetings and distancing. We just want to make sure things don't slip through the cracks, especially now with people paying a lot more attention to their personal issues, their businesses, and their families [amid the pandemic]. We worry that some chain measures will get pushed through when we're not paying attention. We're trying to make sure that doesn't happen."

Gray has been making it happen in the business since he was a teenager, following in his father Robert Gray's footsteps. The Gray family first owned a liquor store and deli in Edgewater, which they sold in 1999. A year later, Robert and a cousin opened up Waugh Chapel Wine & Spirits, which they have since sold. In August 2010, the family took ownership of Festival Wine & Spirits. 

Sadly, his dad passed away last June of cancer. But he had instilled in his offspring a strong work ethic. "Everything I have is because of my dad," said Gray. "Working beside him for most of my life, I got to see how much of a hard worker he was. A lot of people own businesses, and they let other people run them. Festival is run by my brother, Jim, and myself. And like our dad, we're very hands on. We're full-time workers here, and we lead by example. Our employees see our hard work and dedication, and it trickles down."

At Festival, customer service is paramount. "I love interacting with my customers," Gray said. "We've long been a wine store. Our first eight years at Festival, our sales were probably 50 percent wine. There's a lot of interaction when you are dealing with wine and people. It makes you feel good when you help someone pick out a bottle, and they come back and tell you, 'That was a great choice!'"

In recent years, the Gray brothers have expanded into craft beers. In 2018, Festival Wine & Spirits expanded its cooler from 11 doors to 17 doors because of the more aggressive move they had planned towards craft beers. "Sales are way up as a result," Gray touted. " We've just been trying to follow the trends of the market. This extends to local products. With Maryland wines, we carry Boordy, St, Michaels, Fiore, Linganore, and more. It's the same with craft beer. We carry everything from Calvert Brewing and Jailbreak to DuClaw and Manor Hill. The market is full of home-grown stuff, and we do our best to support our locals."

But first and foremost, he and his colleagues have to fend off the chains. "It's what we talk about in all of our meetings," he concluded. "'What does the threat look like this year?' We have to remain vigilant!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2021 Editions Wed, 24 Mar 2021 23:47:59 -0400
Casa Mia's: A White Marsh Mainstay Casa_Mias_Sign_0001.jpg

Joe Carolan started Casa Mia's White Marsh in 1986 as a small carryout without any beverage alcohol. He originally had only 12 employees. Flash forward nearly 35 years later, and his payroll is at 46. These 46 staff a business that has grown as the Perry Hall/White Marsh community north of Baltimore has grown. Today, Casa Mia's is a restaurant, a catering service, and a delivery operation.

"We deliver everything that we sell," Carolan stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "including packaged goods. A customer can call up and get a bottle of Jack Daniels or red wine and also order lasagna and a crab cake if they want. I did deliver cigarettes up until about five years ago … but that got too crazy!"

Carolan eats, sleeps, and breathes this crazy business. He says he would put his work ethic up against anyone's. "Early in my career," he recalled, "there was an older gentlemen who worked for me. And he said, 'Don't worry about how many hours you work. The rewards will eventually follow hard work.' Honestly, I can say that's the case. I don't even know how many hours a week I work. Sometimes it could be 40. Sometimes it could be 70. It's rewarding at the end of a week when you know you've done well and you have some money in the bank!"

Part of what has made Carolan so successful is a genuine love for the community. Casa Mia's supports numerous local organizations in whatever ways it can, whether it's a gift card giveaway or providing items for baskets of cheer. "We believe that when we give, it will come back and pay dividends in the long run," Carolan stated. 


He also believes in treating his employees right, something that has become even more important during the pandemic. "Obviously, COVID has been a thorn in everyone's side over the last 10-plus months," he said. "Our biggest challenge has been trying to accommodate our employees as far as giving them the hours they want. One of our biggest revenue centers as far as food sales is we do a substantial amount of catering. But our catering is off by about 60 percent over the last year. Our employees have been great. They've altered their duties and altered their schedules to accommodate the business."

He continued, "What is also challenging is dealing with the changing operating costs of the business -- food costs, alcohol purchases, etc. Profit margins are very slim compared to what they used to be. As a hands-on owner, I'm there six and even sometimes seven days a week. You have to really watch your bottom line and oversee your operating costs in order to make a profit."

Managing change has also put Carolan's leadership skills to the test. After all, you can't be in business since Ronald Reagan was President and not face your fair share of industry ups and downs. "When we opened in 1986," he noted, "there weren't so many choices on the food menu. Today, the customer wants a variety of choices. And they have demands like gluten-free and vegan. That didn't really exist 34 years ago. Buffalo wings were just coming on the scene in '86. We used to give buffalo wings away if the customer paid more than $25 for a home delivery. Today, buffalo wings are three times the cost because of demand. Also, back then, there was just plain vodka. Now, there is every type of flavored vodka you can imagine! Sometimes it's hard to accommodate all of the choices."


Despite the challenges, Carolan hasn't lost the love for the work. He remarked, "My favorite thing about the restaurant business is interacting with the customers on a daily basis. It's very rewarding when you get to know the customers and speak with them year after year. I love it when they come back and tell us how enjoyable their last meal was. Always take time to get to know your customers and make them feel appreciated. That develops a relationship that becomes everlasting. I have customers who have been coming to me since I opened."

Finally, he credits his success and longevity to the representation the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) has provided in the state capitol. Carolan concluded, "MSLBA is our eyes and ears in Annapolis. They stay aware of any legislation that would adversely affect us in the beverage alcohol industry.  While we're running our business, MSLBA is protecting our business. I urge licensees to get more involved. If they do, they will see first-hand the time and effort MSLBA spends on our behalf."

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2021 Editions Sun, 28 Feb 2021 14:03:40 -0500
Party Time Liquors: Part of the Community PartyTime_FRONT_Feb21.jpg

Jaskinder Gill is an American success story. After coming to this country from India, he became active in the restaurant business and worked within the industry for the next 25 years. In 2016, Neal Dicken and his father were looking to sell Party Time Liquors in Mount Rainier. Gill leapt at the opportunity.

Upon taking ownership of Party Time, Gill immediately adopted an operating philosophy that he had embraced throughout his years in hospitality, the same one shared by the previous ownership of Party Time.

"One thing I want to always make sure of is that we are fair to people," Gill said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "Be honest with your customers and with your employees. And if you do that, I think you will have a lot of success. When we bought this store in 2016, many of the [staff] had been there for 20-some years. They're still with us now. The most recent hire we've had was two years ago. People stick with us."

Party Time Liquors has been in business since 1976. But the store had never seen a year like 2020. Gill decided early in the crisis to meet the challenges of the pandemic head on, even recruiting some of his competitors to join him in an impressive community outreach effort.

"COVID-19 began really affecting people in our business back in early March," he recalled. "Everybody got scared. We didn't know what to do. I decided to talk to two of my neighboring stores and I said, 'This is the time we need to do something for our community.' They agreed. We decided to call four of the mayors closest to our city of Mount Rainier [including Brentwood and Colmar Manor]. We told them we wanted to help as much as we can. They were very excited and assigned their police chiefs to talk to us directly and figure how to deliver various products to our community. Everybody was very helpful."


The Party Time Team: owner Jaskinder Gill (center) with managers Neil Dicken (left) and Mohamad Chavoshi.

Together, Gill and his colleagues donated everything from thousands of masks to gallons of hand sanitizer. The police departments helped in the distribution. Gill remarked, "When crisis occurs, people often don't know where to start when responding. God gives us the wisdom, though, and that's why it was very important to get in contact with local leaders. It was good to find them so excited for our help."

Community service is very big with Gill. His store services a largely blue collar clientele with affordable prices, money order service, an ATM machine with low fees, and more. At the same time, he and his staff have realized the changing taste profiles of younger consumers, who are accounting for an increasingly larger share of Party Time's customer base.

"We recently remodeled the store," he noted. "The new drinkers are very different from the Baby Boomers, so we now offer more craft beers and high-end liquors. We've reorganized the whole store to appeal to our current customers, but also to make sure we don't lose future customers."

Perhaps the biggest source of assistance for Gill and his business throughout COVID-19 has been the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association. "The association keeps us up on all of the issues," he said, "especially with the big chains trying to come in and eliminate the small businesses. MSLBA has been standing in their way for years, and I have no doubt they will continue to work hard so that small businesses will be taken care of."

Gill has been so moved by the association's efforts that he became a County Director for MSLBA.  "It was important to not just be a name member, but to also do something," he explained. "We have recruited many new members. We've gone store to store to make sure everyone is aware of the MSLBA and how it's the key to our success for the future."

Looking to the future, Gill says he is mostly hopeful heading into 2021. He feels like his county and industry have been through the worst of it, and that the pieces are in place for an eventual return to normalcy. He concluded, "I think the outlook is good. I'm feeling positive that the new President is mature enough to take us in the right direction. The recovery is going to happen. I've been in this country from India for 35 years now. Every time something bad has happened, people have always gotten together to figure things out."

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2021 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2021 14:10:07 -0500
Maryland's 2021 Legislative Session MD_Leg_Sess_2021.jpg

I've been writing this Maryland state legislative preview article each year at this time for nearly a decade now. The annual feature is usually a look ahead to the next General Assembly Session. But there's no way to move ahead with 2021 without acknowledging 2020, quite possibly the toughest, most challenging year on record for all facets of the beverage business.

The Year of the Pandemic worked its way into each of the three interviews I did for this feature. The COVID-19 crisis was a part of many answers to the questions I posed. Ultimately, though, all concerned expressed hope for the year ahead -- hope that business can return to something resembling normal. Just as important, they are hoping that state government will work with them rather than against them in 2021.

Attorney and Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise remains ever vigilant. He's never left the front lines of battling in Annapolis on the industry's behalf. "There is already a major effort underway by the supermarket and convenience stores to put beer and wine in their locations," he cautioned. "We talk about this every year. But this year, they have marshaled their resources and are putting on a full-court press. Our members have already begun to respond to that, but that's going to take a lot of our energy over the course of the legislative session."


MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani shares Wise's concern. "In this upcoming session," he said, "the chain store issue is definitely coming at us. There is a bill already pre-filed in Prince George's County, and it wouldn't surprise us to see a statewide bill. It will indeed be a good time for all the legislators who say they support small business to show that small business really matters to them. A lot of people in Annapolis say, 'Oh yeah, I am for the small business people.' This will be a really good barometer."

Another issue looming in the New Year is a proposal to increase the alcohol sales tax. Maryland has both an excise tax and an alcohol sales tax. In 2012, the latter was raised from 6 percent to 9 percent, while the sales tax on all other goods remained the same. "So, it's already 50 percent higher in Maryland than other goods," Wise noted. "This proposal would take it to 10 percent. So, on top of everything else these small businesses are dealing with, they're looking at that. Our argument? Customers tend to shop with their feet. It won't take them long to figure out that some of our surrounding states have a lower tax burden."

So, why the proposed take hike? Milani, who has co-owned Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn since 1990, was quick to respond. "They want to close the health-care disparity," he said. "While we acknowledge there is a need to do that, we're not sure why we're being singled out to carry that burden. Years ago when the state decided to expand the alcohol sales tax from 6 to 9 percent, we were told, 'Every time prices increase, the State will get a raise, and we won't have to look at this again.' Obviously, not everybody got that memo!"

At the same time, Wise and Milani will be looking to protect some of the positive changes that were implemented in 2020 to deal with the pandemic and its impact on business. "Thanks to Governor Hogan's executive order, bars and restaurants are able to sell whatever alcohol they're able to as part of their carryout and delivery services as long as it's purchased with food," Wise pointed out. "An on-premise account couldn't just wake up one morning and decide, 'Oh, I'm going to become an off-premise delivery business.' We want to make that executive order permanent, because the bars and restaurants are going to be in recovery mode for a long period of time even after there's a vaccine and things return to normal. Putting it into law will give them peace of mind that they'll be able to continue doing that."


Milani is going to have a certain piece of mind in the year to come with a new co-legislative chair. There has been a vacancy in the co-chair position for several years. David Marberger, proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits in Annapolis, has accepted the assignment. 

"I guess my name was the one drawn out of the hat!" Marberger, a past MSLBA President, joked before getting serious. "I've been involved with the MSLBA and our industry for 20-plus years. Now being involved in the day to day of the legislative session is going to be a change for me. There's going to be a learning curve. It's going to be like going back to school, and I'll need to be a quick study. I go into it knowing a little bit more than some, but a lot less than others. But with Jack, Steve, and [MSLBA Executive Director] Jane Springer, I couldn't learn from a better three-person panel." 

All three men stressed that they and the MSLBA are in full-on "call to action" mode. With the health crisis still going on and lockdowns always a threat. It’s "all hands on deck" to ensure the state's on- and off-premise trade stays the course. "If ever there was a year for people in our industry to speak up and let legislators and decision-makers know what they've been going through, it's this year," declared Wise. "That's what the MSLBA is for -- to help them coordinate that effort. So, reach out to the association and ask, 'How can I help?'"

Milani concurred, adding, "It's now more important than ever to become a member of MSLBA or your local affiliate, which will make you a member of MSLBA. If you've come into this business, you have to understand that it is very highly regulated. In a normal year, we could have 70 to 80 bills that affect the industry. You need to get involved. If you've made an investment in this business, you should spend a few more dollars and become a member, then get to know your local legislators. Reach out to them, invite them to your business, show them what you do, how many people you employ, and what you do in the community."

He continued, "When these bills come up, they'll hopefully reach out to you and ask your opinion. Every legislator that I know wants input on these bills and how their constituency will be affected. That's why it is important they know who you are."

Marberger was even more direct, more urgent. He cautioned, "Our business is highly regulated, and the government can drastically change the landscape of our industry within the state by passing any one law or a multitude of laws. If we're not paying attention as to what the outcome is or can be, we can be drastically impacted. It's absolutely paramount that as many retailers as possible pay attention."


Through it all, Wise noted the importance of moving the industry forward. This can only be done, in his view, with some form of government help. "I would love to see some type of aid package for the bars and restaurants," he remarked. "Rather than increasing the sales tax, maybe we can look at lowering some taxes on these folks or doing some other things that help them get their financial feet back underneath them. That would do wonders for our industry, for our economy, and certainly for all of the employees and tax revenue that comes from them."

Marberger seconded the need for more help from elected officials. "There's a certain guilt that I and other packaged goods store operators feel. We've been a beneficiary -- and I hate to use that word -- of the crisis. Our business has certainly increased. But it's not because we did anything right. And restaurants and bars didn't do anything wrong to warrant being punished for this. There clearly needs to be a multitude of fixes, whether it's federal grants, state grants, local grants."

Milani just doesn't want new legislation that will go against his business and the businesses of his colleagues. He said, "I really hope all concerned remember what small businesses are all about. Let us just do our jobs. We certainly understand that we need to be regulated and that we need to follow the rules. The best thing Annapolis can do is leave us alone, let us run our businesses."

Wise was perhaps the most hopeful of the three interviewees. "I do think that there is some light at the end of the tunnel," he concluded, "which I attribute to the promise of a vaccine as well as improved treatments. Treatments have been buried under the headlines of the various vaccines, but I think there's some promise there. With the combination of those two things, I really hope that by the time we're midway through 2021 that people are starting to get some semblance of normalcy back."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.     

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2021 Editions Tue, 29 Dec 2020 11:43:12 -0500
Christos Discount Liquors Christos_Jan21.jpg

From Greece to Glen Burnie, It's Been a Family Affair

Christos Discount Liquors has been a pillar of the Glen Burnie/Ferndale community since 1962, and the Christopoulos family has operated the business since that time of JFK, Johnny Unitas, and Ed Sullivan.

Today, three of the family's five siblings -- John Christopoulos, brother Nick Christopoulos, and sister Madia Toll -- are the proprietors. The trio bought the business from their parents in 1991.

"Being in the area for nearly 60 years is kind of cool," John Christopoulos said, in an understatement. "There's not too many businesses like ours left. Our parents are from Greece. Our first language was Greek. When Madia and I went into the first grade, we knew very little English. But we all have lived the American Dream!"


John Christopoulos, and sister Madia Toll are the proprietors of Christos.

Such longevity has not only strengthened the family's ties to each other, but their ties to the community at large. These close ties to a multi-generational clientele have helped the store weather one of the most difficult years ever encountered.

"The biggest challenge this year has been keeping everyone healthy through the pandemic," Christopoulos noted. "We've made sure anyone who hasn't felt good has stayed home. Any employees that have needed to be tested, we've got them tested. We have an obligation to the community. People mean a lot to us. Our community is also our family. We know so many customers by name, which is rare today."

Toll agreed, adding, "We've been here for so long that we know great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, their children, and their grandchildren! A lot of our customers' sons have worked here over the years, too. And we've also had a couple of daughters and granddaughters work here."

For many of these young people, working for the Christopoulos family was their first job in the beverage business. John, Madia, and Nick have since watched a number of them go on to career positions at such companies as Anheuser-Busch and Republic National. Former staffer Meghan McNichol-Tress, for instance, is now a regional vice president at The Wine Group.

The store itself has proven to be a special place that customers and ex-employees alike have returned to time and again. Christos features a temperature-controlled wine room for its most exclusive vintages. The Christopouloses offer case discounts on wine and spirits, a daily seniors discount, and a weekly Ladies Day discount on wine each Monday. The siblings have also embraced technology with a Facebook page and a weekly e-newsletter that touts special sales and coupons. For local pride, the store co-sponsors an amateur soccer team, Baltimore's Christos FC, that played DC United for the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.


At the end of the day, though, the store remains a source of family pride. Toll remarked, "I like to think of myself as the female version of my father. He instilled in all of us that the customer comes first, especially with regards to their wellbeing and health."

Christopoulos added, "Like my father, I love dealing with the customers. I work seven days a week, and I never get tired of it."

It's because of this pride that the family knows how important it is to protect their legacy. This means getting involved in state politics and maintaining membership in the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). Christopoulos stated, "We're fully aware of the challenges our industry has to deal with, the threat of chains coming in and so forth. There are a lot of things against us. We know that it's really all about educating these delegates, letting them know we all work under certain rules that have been established for years. But now they're thinking of changing all that to accommodate big retail. If that happens, it'll be very difficult for a lot of small retailers. We'll survive. We own our own building, and we've been here a long time. But it would be devastating for a lot of the small mom-and-pops. People really need to talk to their elected officials, their councilmen, their delegates, and their state senators." 

And for anyone looking to jump into the fray and open their own business in this tough political and economic climate? Christopoulos was quick to offer some wisdom: "You have to be willing to work and work hard. I'm talking seven days a week, and it's not going to come easy. But at the end of the day, it's worth it. Nobody counts your money better than you!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2021 Editions Tue, 29 Dec 2020 10:57:41 -0500
Chartley Liquors Chartley_HOME_01_V2.jpg

Navigating a Course Into the Future

A  lot of packaged goods stores pride themselves on their customer service. Chartley Liquors in Reisterstown is proud of its customer relationships.

"We have been in the same location for 24 years," said owner Nick Vitale, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "During that time, we've grown to know our customers and their families in a very close and personal way,” added Tricia Vitale (Nick’s wife and co-owner). “Our customers enjoy being greeted by their first name. Our staff makes them feel welcome, and we give them the special attention and service. No matter how small or large their purchase is, they're all treated equally. I find it very true that what you give of yourself comes back to you tenfold whether it's a smile, a kindness . . . but, most importantly, loyalty!"

Chartley Liquors is named after the boulevard on which it is located. Vitale describes his core clientele as middle class local residents, hard working families, and single people who mostly purchase the same product over and over again. 

Keeping products on the shelves has definitely been a challenge throughout the pandemic. Liquor stores in Maryland were fortunate to be considered "essential businesses" by the Hogan administration, so Chartley and many of its competitors have actually fared very well during the crisis. "Sometimes we were overwhelmed by the number of customers coming into the store," Nick noted. "Not a bad situation to be in, but initially it was challenging to require our customers to wear masks and social distance while shopping in the store. Everyone now understands what is required."


Tricia continued, "We carry masks in our store so they are available to customers who need them. We also have floor markings to assist with social distance guidelines, and we employ extra cleaning measures to ensure the safety and health of our customers and staff."

When asked what his biggest challenge has been since mid-March, both husband and wife quickly replied, "time management." To be successful as a small business owner in any time period, one has to be willing to sacrifice personal commitments. Vitale says, "It is very challenging to make time for other aspects of your life. When you own a business, you're married to it!  You have to learn to adjust to long hours and schedule your life around them. I guess we’re doing something right. It's been 24 years, and all of us (the store and our marriage) are still together!"

Fortunately, the pluses frequently outweigh the minuses. "The favorite part of our job is definitely working with the customers," both Vitale’s agreed. "They are what keep the business thriving. Tricia and I are certainly both 'people persons' and want to be pleasers. It's our core policy to make sure the customer is happy with their service and to make sure they have what they need.  When a customer tells us that they passed three liquor stores to see us, I know we’re doing something right!"

Nevertheless, obstacles remain. Some are temporary problems that need to be solved as they occur. Other issues require more long-time fixes. "One of the biggest threats to the business is the possibility of chain store licensing," Nick states. "We’ve spent the last 24 years investing in this business not only monetarily, but through blood, sweat, and tears.  If legislation passes that would allow chain stores to sell beer and wine, my business would not survive. I know that I can't fight this fight alone! My hope is that all liquor stores will join me in being a member of their local affiliate or a direct MSLBA member. We need them to help us in this fight."

Association membership has indeed been extremely important to Vitale over the years. Chartley's membership in the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association (BCLBA) also gives them membership in the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) and American Beverage Licensees (ABL).

"I have representation at all levels of government," Nick states. "Locally, BCLBA has fought on numerous occasions to protect my business and the value of my liquor license. They have worked hard to build relationships with our local legislators and educate them on the alcohol industry. BCLBA has also helped us through COVID-19 challenges by providing resources to help small businesses survive."

He adds, "As a small business owner, there is no way I would have the time nor the knowledge of what is happening through local, state, and national legislation that could harm my business. They keep me informed and educated on important alcohol related issues. These groups look out for my interests, my business, my livelihood.  Without their guidance, I doubt that I would still be in business."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2020 Editions Tue, 24 Nov 2020 19:05:49 -0500
Indiana's Starlight Distillery thumbnail_Starlight-Distillery-Product.jpg

There are a number of businesses in our industry that can correctly be labeled "family businesses." Huber's Orchard, Winery & Vineyards in Starlight, Indiana, is something beyond that. It is a legacy business, one that dates back to 1843 when Simon Huber settled a farm in the southern part of the Hoosier State and used his experience from his native Germany to grow fruit and make wine and brandies.

Over the decades, the farm has expanded from its original 80 acres to 700 acres today, and Huber's vision has been perpetuated through the generations of Hubers who have lived and worked the farm since. Among them is Dana Huber, Vice President of Distribution and Public Relations, and wife of co-owner Ted Huber. Ted and his first cousin, Greg Huber, are the sixth generation to run the business. And more and more beverage aficionados in the Mid-Atlantic are coming to know their products.

"Business is business," Dana Huber remarked, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "but family businesses are a bit different. In a family business, you will never find more passion and energy for success."

Huber gives a lot of credit to the fifth generation of the family for propelling the Hubers' operation to nationwide recognition. "What they established in the fifth generation was our agriculture, producing quality fruits and vegetables," she said. "They started and opened up a farmers' market in our small community of Starlight. They made 'pick your own' very popular here."

Then, in 1976, Indiana passed legislation allowing farmers to open up wineries. Two years later, the Huber family did just that. "That was a real turning point for our business," Dana Huber said. "All of a sudden, we began embracing what we now call 'agri-tourism.' It's become a lot more classy, a lot more publicized. 'Come out to the farm, stretch your legs, learn how we plant the crops, and how our winemakers make the wine.'"

One of the most popular wines the Hubers' have in their outbound distribution network is Sweet Marcella. Marcella is the grandma of the current generation of Ted and Greg. It is a sweet red wine, which can be chilled. "It's our No. 1 brand not only on property, but also out in the market when it comes to wine," Dana stated (the family's wine list also includes Dana's Vineyard Sweet Traminette and Dana's Vineyard Dry Traminette).  


 The Starlight Distillery team: Jason Heiligenberg, Winemaker & Distiller; Christian Huber, 7th Generation family member & distiller, Ted Huber, 6th Generation Co-Owner & Master Distiller; Blake Huber, 7th Generation family member & distiller; and Jesse Williams, Distiller. 


The Hubers have more than 90 acres of vineyards. "We're one of Indiana's largest estate bottled wineries," she commented, "and we make beautiful dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines. We have over 32 wines -- ports and infusions -- on our lists here. For distribution, that list is more reserved and scaled down to ensure that whatever we put into the market, we're able to keep on the shelf."

The Indiana University graduate continued, "Of interest to your Beverage Journal readers, what we are distributing in the mid-Atlantic is our spirits. In 2013, Indiana gave us the ability to start producing grain spirits. Up until that year, even though we knew how to make bourbon, vodka, and gin, we were not allowed to because of our state regulations. So, in 2013, we expanded our distillery with about 15,000 square feet. Today, Starlight Distillery is producing drinks such as our Carl T. signature line of bourbon whiskeys. Carl was Ted and Greg's grandfather. So, both our flagship products represent the first names of the grandparents of the current ownership!"

Other popular products range from the 31 Stars Vodka to Simon's 1794 Gin. Regarding the latter, Huber noted, "Simon was indeed the founder of the property here in 1843, and his birth year was 1794. The names are meant to pull you back to our heritage and our sense of place here in Starlight."

The Hubers' distributor in Maryland and The District of Columbia is Lanterna Distributors. From the outside looking in, Huber has nothing but praise for Maryland as a spirits market primed for sales. She said, "There appears to be tremendous interest there in other craft brands throughout the United States. I feel like there is a desire to learn about smaller production houses like ours. This high level of interest was one of the big reasons why starting distribution in the Mid-Atlantic made a lot of sense."

Of course, like nearly every other business, both the Huber Winery and the Starlight Distillery have had to navigate through a challenging era dominated by the COVID-19 outbreak.  It certainly helps that this legacy business has been recognized as an "essential business" by the State of Indiana since the beginning of the crisis. "We did have to pivot during those first 50 days or so in March, April, and May," Huber recalled. "We couldn't have anyone in our tasting room. We were limited with the samplings of our spirits and wines. But when we opened back up in May, we saw tremendous visitation throughout the summer. People felt safe and secure with us. There is a lot of space here on the property. And we're signed on to the Hoosier Hospitality Promise, which shows that you are following all of the practices to ensure people are safe and all of the protocols are followed when  you are here."

The Huber family has also maintained good relations in the community. Early on, they started producing hand sanitizer in the distillery. "We were able to deliver, free of charge during the first 60 days, about 15,000 gallons of sanitizer to our emergency responders, to our police officers, our nursing centers … anyone who called us, we tried to serve their needs as best we could," Huber proudly stated.

The family has also done a number of virtual tastings. "Our single-barrel program is on fire right now!" she exclaimed. "We've had probably over 50 different bourbon groups connect with us throughout the United States. We did a virtual call just last night, with a Bethesda, Md., country club."

Through it all, the Hubers have stayed together as a family and as entrepreneurs. And they've never lost sight of priming the next generation -- the seventh -- to take over someday and continue the legacy. Dana and Ted, for instance, have two adult sons, age 24 and 22, who both have studied at wine-making colleges (Niagara College in Canada and Cornell University). Greg's children are now working in the business, too.

Dana concluded, "We plan to be in this business for a long time    all of us!" 

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2020 Editions Wed, 21 Oct 2020 21:50:26 -0400
The Butlers Did It! Riverside_HOME.jpg

Riverside Liquors is ALL about family! Co-owner David Butler says his family's roots in the packaged goods business date back to 1986 when his father, Albert, opened his first liquor store in Frederick. Dubbed Willow Tree Liquors, Albert eventually turned over management of the business to David's older sister, Cheryl Young, to return to his previous career in the computer industry.

David started working at the store part-time while going to community college and then went to work there with Cheryl full-time at age 20 (with their dad still contributing financially). In the early 1990s, the siblings heard about a new shopping center called Spring Ridge being built that would be anchored by a Weis supermarket. They eventually opened Spring Ridge Liquors at the site after selling Willow Tree to fund the move.

But the Weis family owned the shopping center, so Cheryl and David had to pay rent. Their dream soon became owning their own freestanding store. Opportunity knocked once again. And once again it was in Frederick. They acquired an acre of commercial land between a then-proposed Walmart and Giant grocery store and proceeded to have their own store built using the proceeds of Spring Ridge Liquors' sale.

Twenty years later, Riverside Liquors is still going strong. Maybe stronger than ever. "The pandemic has been good for us," David Butler declared, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "With so many people working from home and many not working at all has made it easier for people to shop at our store. Before, if you were driving down to D.C. five days a week all week long, you didn't have as much time to stop. But with all these people telecommuting, they can pretty much shop whenever they want."


Here are Brittany Pirrone, assistant manager; Kenny White, manager; and David Butler, owner/operator; all with Riverside Liquors.

But Butler will never forget those early years of struggling to establish Riverside Liquors among the biggest and best stores in Frederick County. "We worked ungodly hours," he recalled. "My sister was starting a family, and she was easily working 60 hours a week. I didn't have a family yet, and I was working at least 70 hours  a week. My dad was working full-time at his computer job. He would leave that job around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and he'd work at the store as well! But it was worth it because we finally owned our own space."

Riverside Liquors stands out because of its size and selection. It's an 8,000-square-foot store, with approximately 2,000 square feet of storage on the second level. There's also plenty of parking. And you can't beat that location between two heavily trafficked stores.

Their father has since retired, but the brother and sister have recently brought onboard another brother -- a retired state policeman -- as one-third owner. "I love working with my family," Butler declared. "We're a tight-knit group. I'm lucky in that I get to spend a lot of time with my brother and sister, and I probably wouldn't if we all had different careers."

Still challenges remain. Butler can't help feeling a certain unease for the future. Other proprietors have the same nerves. "My biggest concern is the lawmakers in the State of Maryland," he said. "I hope they don't change the laws and allow chain stores to come into Maryland. That would adversely affect every family that I'm responsible for now, including seven full-time employees. That's a heavy burden and my biggest worry."

Fortunately, Butler, his family, and other store operators statewide have the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) on their side in Annapolis. He remarked, "The MSLBA is extremely important. We're not absentee owners. We're at the store every day, working to maintain our business. If we had to, on our own, try and fight for our fair share with the state government, it would be impossible. The MSLBA is our voice when we can't be there."

And Butler believes Riverside Liquors is well-positioned for the future as long as forces in the State Capitol don't interfere. He concluded, "What I learned early on was that everybody has different personalities, everybody is different. It's nice to sell a product to someone one time. However, if you are friendly, courteous, and kind and you interact with your customers and develop relationships with them, then you can sell them product for a lifetime. And if you have customers for a lifetime, then you can actually make a living. Treating your customers like family is THE way to run a family business!"

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2020 Editions Wed, 21 Oct 2020 21:11:16 -0400
Nikita Corn Vodka Nikita_HOME.jpg

The story of Nikita Corn Vodka starts during the Cold War Era when the then Premier of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev, impressed by the corn agriculture in the U.S., sought to plant corn throughout all the regions of the country--even in Siberia.

The idea proved to be mostly a disaster, but not for Ukraine. Corn is considered the "gold" of Ukraine. It is one of the main agricultural crops. There are ideal conditions for its cultivation, including fertile Ukrainian chernozem (soil rich in minerals and high moisture retention capacity). 

Corn is the second best-selling grain crop in the world (after wheat). Today Ukraine (now an independent country) is one of the three global leaders in the exportation of corn and one of the largest producers of non-GMO corn.

The discovery of corn spirits in the 1960s in the USSR (with minimal levels of aldehydes, oils, and esters) made the idea of creating high quality alcohol possible.  There is much agreement that zea luxurians (yellow corn) produce alcohol of the highest quality.  The corn grown in Ukraine is non-GMO and has been used to produce LUX class spirits according to the Ukrainian Research Institute of Alcohol and Food Biotechnology.


“Our grain neutral spirit starts from a proprietary recipe of the finest corn mash distilled seven times in column stills, creating a cleaner, higher-purity distillate without any presence of methyl alcohol,” explained Konstantin Khizder of Interbalt Products Corp.  

Artesian water collected from a 300-foot deep well within granite bedrock is not distilled (which is the usual practice), but undergoes a series of transformations to conform to the highest standards.  “For example, if a batch has a high ferrous content it will go through the oxygen ‘shower’ to oxidize the excess into a sediment. After reverse osmosis purification the water gets a final treatment to achieve a perfect pH balance and mineral composition,” explained Khizder.

The ingredients deemed the highest quality are then married to give birth to a 40% ABV liquid that goes through a four-stage filtration--a mixture of birch and beech activated charcoal, which frees the vodka from undesirable aldehydes and esters. Once filtration is complete the mixture is left to rest for at least 72 hours. 

Before bottling, Nikita Corn Vodka undergoes a physicochemical quality check in a modern laboratory, and an organoleptic check by a technician. Then, on the bottling production line, each bottle is examined and only after complete comparison with the reference sample is Nikita Corn Vodka made available for distribution.

Khizder concluded, “At Interbalt Products Corp. we live by the famous Occam’s Razor principle; ‘Don't multiply the agents in a theory beyond what's necessary.’ Striving to achieve perfection we were in pursuit of a perfect vodka … pure, great tasting and healthy. Twenty years of searching, trials and errors have paid off.  We finally found one of the best products, in our humble professional opinion.”

The taste of Nikita Corn Vodka has shades of corn bread, poppy seeds and pure artesian water. It gives a dry aftertaste of a medium duration.

(Pictured in article: The Roswell and Elizabeth Garst Farmstead in Guthrie County, Iowa, was visited in the 1950s by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev as part of his corn agriculture research for the Soviet Union. One such visit made the cover of LIFE magazine.)

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2020 Editions Fri, 25 Sep 2020 11:24:38 -0400
S & W Liquors: Celebrating 50 Years SWLiq_HOME.jpg

S & W Liquors is celebrating 50 years in business and is, "Still Fighting the Good Fight!"  Some journalists are just fated to write certain articles. September 2020 will mark my 50th year on this planet. August 2020 marked S & W Liquors' 50th year in business. A random assignment? Or … destiny? I'm going with the latter.

Kevin Shifflett is the third-generation owner and operator of the Temple Hills store that has been in his family since the late summer of 1970. "I've been here my entire life," he said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal."

For Shifflett, customer service has always been the top priority. "When people have a wedding or big get-together, we always do big bulk buy purchases for them and give them discounts on whatever they need. We put together a good list and try and stay within their ballpark of what they're willing to spend."

While there have been fewer such large gatherings in 2020 due to the coronavirus, S & W Liquors has still posted impressive sales numbers. But it hasn't been easy at times. Shifflett stated, "The pandemic has been a blessing and a curse. Of course, everyone knows how liquor sales have grown. For us, it's been very, very busy especially in that peak April, May, June timeframe. And it's still going pretty strong for us."

He continued, "The problem has been the liquor companies have SO many out of stocks! For instance, Mike's Hard Lemonade -- I haven't been able to buy any of that now in almost a month! We also had a problem with Modelo, which is a huge brand. At least at my store, tequila has been the No. 1 growth category throughout all this. I can't keep the high-end tequilas in stock. Don Julio 1942 is normally $130 or $140 a bottle. I got one case of it in here last Friday. It lasted me one hour, and it was all gone!"


Like other operators, Shifflett has made the necessary physical changes to his establishment to stay in business. "We've installed Plexiglas on both sides of the store," he noted. "Everyone has to wear masks. It's a pain, but we do it. We also have social distancing stickers on the floor to tell everybody to stay six feet apart when they're in line. There's also hand sanitizer by every one of my credit card machines."

S & W Liquors is located next door to a Giant Food supermarket. Consequently, one of the big battles Shifflett got involved in last year was defeating legislation that would have allowed grocery stores and big-box retailers to sell beer and wine. "I wouldn't say I attended every single time there was a hearing," he remarked, "but I was there for probably 90 percent of them. We weren't really able to speak. But when I was at the hearing, I let myself be known. The last one was in Annapolis. At that particular event, Blaise Miller of BK Miller’s was able to speak and he actually used my store as a prime example when he was up there talking to the delegates. Because we're near a Giant, I was all for whatever I needed to do to help protest the legislation. It would have been a devastating blow to me!"

“I'm not a huge store” Shifflett continued. “We're only about 2,600 square feet. There are some bad liquor stores out there that don't do what they're supposed to do. But we keep a clean store and we have done a lot for our employees and customers. Throughout our 50 years, my family has been donating to the community – little leagues and churches. We have 17 employees, 2 just recently hired. Most of them have been with me for 15+ years.”

Shifflett [sighing] said “This will probably come back up again in January.”  And if and when it does, he takes comfort in the fact that he will be fighting alongside the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) on the issue. "The MSLBA keeps me informed," he said, "with e-mails on all of the hearings and events. The association fights for us, it's a fantastic organization, and I pay my dues every year to be a part of it."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2020 Editions Fri, 25 Sep 2020 11:11:00 -0400
Antietam Spirits Antietam_HOME-1.jpg

A Family Legacy Continues

John Holmes, proprietor of Antietam Spirits in Boonsboro, recently turned the store over to his son, Chase, after running the business since 1972. Holmes had taken over the store from his own father, who founded it (as Ye Olde Spirits Shop in Frederick) in 1960. Along the way, he received lots of good advice from his dad -- advice that he has imparted to his son.


"Number one," he replied during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "you have to have product that people want. Today's customers want to know their choice is going to be there. They want to get in and get out. If people come in too many times and can't find what they want, they're not coming back. Also, you cannot have enough personal service for people! This is not a high-profit business. You have to do volume to make real money."

But, in Holmes' opinion, even more important than those two pieces of advice has been … do NOT have a television in the store! "There's always something to do," Holmes stated, "and you tend to not see your customers come in when you and your employees are watching TV. Bars are different. They have to have TVs for their customers. But stores like Antietam?  TVs are SO not necessary."  

Other than that, Holmes says the rest of the advice he's given and been given over the years is really just "common-sense stuff." Things like "the customer is always right" (although he added with a small chuckle "for the most part, they are") and greet people when they come in the store. He explained, "My dad would tell me, 'You really need to acknowledge your customers when they come in the door for a number of reasons.' It lets them know that YOU know they're there. You should also carry orders out for people who need such assistance. We really go overboard with that."

Holmes does indeed still put in hours at Antietam Spirits. In fact, he's worked more since the COVID-19 crisis took hold back in March. "Lucky for us," he said, "our business was up considerably in the very beginning, probably 35 to 40 percent. So, yeah, I had to go back to work! Because with that kind of an increase, it had to be all hands on deck. You can't hire people and train them to do what we've done for so many years. So, we started working extra hours. We paid our employees bonus money for coming in and working every shift. It's slowed down a bit, but we're still running probably 20 to 25 percent ahead."


Antietam Spirits' Chase Holmes, third generation beverage alcohol porveyor, with his father John, second generation beverage alcohol proveyor; proudly serving their community.

It helps that Antietam Spirits draws from a wide geographic area and attracts several customer demographics. Holmes says the business has seen a "fair amount of growth" in sales to Millennials. "But there's some real old money out there, too," he remarked. "So, a mixed bag. We're drawing people from out of West Virginia, because we're not far from Shepherdstown. We're also seeing customers from Pennsylvania and the Waynesboro area. We're drawing from a pretty big area, and I think it's because of our selection."

Chase is now doing all of the buying, and his dad praised the younger Holmes for his knowledge of wine and craft beers ("a segment that has gotten huge for us"), in particular. The store also boasts a fairly large selection of bourbons, Scotches, Irish whiskeys, tequilas, and vodkas.

Thinking back over his years, Holmes remarked, "The biggest change has been in how you buy -- quantity discounts and that kind of stuff. Years ago, everybody paid the same price for a bottle of wine. It didn't matter what you bought. That was a huge change in this business." 

At the same time, one of the constants over the years has been the Holmes family's support of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) and vice versa. His wife, Evelyn, currently serves as the MSLBA Washington County Director, for instance. 

Holmes concluded, "The unfortunate thing is a lot of people just don't understand what we do as an association. MSLBA does a LOT to help keep big-box stores out of Maryland. Those stores, if they sold beer and wine, would probably put 60 percent of our businesses out of business! Maybe more. Most of our stores work very hard to keep prices reasonable, to not sell to minors, and so forth. The association has had a lot to do in keeping us strong. And we are strong!"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2020 Editions Tue, 25 Aug 2020 11:54:26 -0400
Coronavirus: Chain Reaction Corona_Chainreaction_HOME.jpg

The IMC Unit of MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center is very appreciative of the crab cake platters prepared by Costas Inn and paid for by Drug City Liquors.

Off-Premise Establishments Help Front Line Heroes by purchasing Meals from On-Premise Establishments to then be delivered to Healthcare, Law Enforcement and Community Services ... Sound Like a CHALLENGE?  It Was!

Six years ago, the world became captivated by the Ice Bucket Challenge, an initiative that involved the dumping of a bucket of ice water over a person's head to promote awareness of and raise funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. The challenge encouraged nominated participants to be filmed getting doused and then nominating three others to do the same. If the nominees either didn't comply within 24 hours or simply refused to get soaked, they would have to make a charitable donation to an ALS organization. The campaign raised over $220 million in research funds.

Flash forward to 2020. The Year of the Pandemic. Maryland, my Maryland. Packaged goods stores have been allowed to open, but restaurants statewide have been subjected to some of the strictest coronavirus-related shutdowns and limitations around. At the same time, thousands of everyday heroes have been putting themselves on the front lines of healthcare, law enforcement, and community service. 

Enter a new challenge. The #BCLBA-MealsForHeroes challenge!

Jane Springer, Executive Director of the Maryland State Licensed  Beverage Association (MSLBA) recalled, "It really just started from an e-mail we sent out to all of the members to see what they were doing to protect their customers and help in the community. We started getting information about people who were donating meals and helping to support frontline workers. We started sharing those positive stories and got the idea to help out all around. Many of our liquor store members were doing fairly well, but some of the restaurants obviously were not. 'What can we do to help each other and the community?' we asked. Jeri Zink got the ball rolling."

Zink, Executive Director of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association (BCLBA), recalls that when the pandemic started really taking hold earlier this spring, it quickly became clear how badly it was going to affect healthcare and local businesses and how disproportionate the impact was going to be on restaurants. 

"BCLBA members were strongly voicing the desire to do something," Zink said. "Liquor stores were deemed an essential business. So, they actually saw an increase in demand, whereas restaurants had to resort to carryout and delivery just to have some income to support their staff. We designed our initiative to allow the liquor stores to make meal donations to their local healthcare workers, but purchase the meals from local BCLBA member restaurants. So we're supporting both our healthcare heroes and also our members."


Dugans Liquors and Firehouse Tavern teamed up to deliver dinner from Monaghan's Pub to LifeBridge Health.

The association made it a social media challenge in order to create visibility and awareness for its members' efforts. Zink added, "And also because we know our members are naturally competitive and would want to get involved if they saw their peers participating."

And participate they have! Marty Kutlik, owner of Ridgely Wines & Spirits, remembered receiving a call "out of the blue" one day from Zink with her idea.  "Genius!" he exclaimed. "Two good deeds at once. Jeri had BCLBA challenge Ridgely Wines & Spirits to buy lunch for one of the Saturday afternoon shifts at St Joseph's Hospital in Towson [approximately 55 lunches, as it turned out]. My preferred on-premise colleague to perform the catering was Casa Mia's of White Marsh.  As we accepted and met the challenge, we then tossed the next challenge to Cranbrook Liquors to do the same."


Casa Mia's of White Marsh prepared 55 Crabcake platters courtesy of Ridgely Wine & Spirits for frontline workers at St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson.

He continued, "From there, the challenges continued. Jeri coordinated. She kept it going! Last I heard, other counties wanted to duplicate the initiative. It doesn't get any better. And while there are many opportunities throughout the year as an off-premise licensee to give back to the community, this was very timely and particularly gratifying."

Joe Carolan of Casa Mia's said his establishment was delighted to be part of the #BCLBAMealsForHeroes challenge. "Our philosophy is always to give back to the community in a time of need," he remarked. "When we realized the amount of time and dedication healthcare workers were performing, it was natural for us to donate crabcakes."

The initiative did indeed expand to other Maryland counties, chiefly Anne Arundel. Becky Ebner of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association (AACLBA) remarked, "We kind of copied BCLBA's challenge, but changed it up a little bit and called ours the 'AACLBA Support for Heroes Challenge,' because some of our establishments made other donations besides meals to hospital workers. AACLBA does not have a Facebook page, so we used the MSLBA Facebook page to post the challenges. The association president, Joe Gray from Festival Wines & Spirits, started by donating meals and then he challenged the next person."


That next person was Kim Lawson of Fishpaws Marketplace. She got particularly creative and opted to give the gift of the grape. "We sent 175 gift bags with a bottle of Pinot Noir and a box of Wockenfuss chocolates to Baltimore Washington Medical Center Critical Care/Covid Unit doctors," she said."We were indeed challenged by Joe Gray at Festival, and we forwarded the challenge to Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits."

David Marberger, owner and operator of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, stated, "We accepted the challenge and donated $1,000 to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank. We didn't do it to benefit ourselves. We did it more as a service to the community. There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs -- a lot of restaurant employees, a lot of hotel workers, a lot of service industry people -- and they've needed to take advantage of such social services. The food banks are getting decimated. If we could help restock those food banks in some way, shape, or form, we thought that would be a good thing."

Not to be outdone, Hops & Vines proprietor Amrish Vyas donated 33 restaurant gift cards totaling about $1,000 for the month of May and June each (66 gift cards total) to the various "Healthcare Heroes" that live in his store's immediate area of Piney Orchard. "We bought gift cards from our neighbor -- Mamma Roma, an Italian eatery -- to help them out in their business during these challenging times," Vyas noted.

Vyas' friend and colleague Bimal "Bill" Katwala of Sun Valley Liquors also rose to the challenge, "I have provided 100 meals to the staff of the COVID-19 floor at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. We had also donated $900, which was the proceeds from selling hand sanitizers to Maryland Food Bank."

Ebner credited Dan Donnelly and his staff at Donnelly's Dockside in Arnold, Md., for getting the meals organized for the different departments at the hospitals and delivering them. Julianne Sullivan, operator of Bella's Liquors, also gave high marks to Donnelly's Dockside in helping her provide crabcake meals to five different first responder locations in her store's area. "We provided our meals to the Arnold Volunteer Fire Department, the U.S. Naval Academy Fire Department, the Department of Natural Resources, and Maryland state police at the Bay Bridge and the Cape St. Claire Volunteer Fire Department. We also had a box for customers to drop off hand-written cards, letters, or store-bought cards, and we gave them to the first responders we served."

Paul King from King Liquors in Baltimore stepped up and furnished meals for the COVID-19 unit at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Rosedale. His reasoning? "I know in an emergency, pandemic, or any other situation, the staff at Medstar and all of the first responders will be there for all of us."


Meals Decorated by Nieces and Nephews from White Marsh Plaza Liquors.

And for the various packaged goods store owners and restaurant operators, the benefits went far beyond just "feeling good." According to Zink, "It's created substantial recognition of what we've always known: that local businesses like to give back. By creating this as a social media challenge, we're able to leverage the followers of all of these restaurants, liquor stores, and even hospitals, who are all sharing and commenting on each other's posts. For example, one picture of Casa Mia's crabcakes generated thousands of impressions. So now thousands of people recognize how delicious their crabcakes look, but also that they're dedicated to their community."

Casa Mia's Carolan concurred, adding, "Many of the healthcare workers were already existing customers. We received many calls thanking us, which also helped boost employee morale. Responses from our crabcake picture on Facebook received over 3,000 views, as well."

Sullivan of Bella Liquors has also taken full advantage of social media. "We posted pictures of some of the men and women we served on Instagram and Facebook and received a ton of positive feedback from our customers and the first responders we served," she noted.

Vyas  and his staff also got back just as much from the community as they gave to it. "Although we did this simply out of our need to be a good member of the community," he said, "we have gotten countless 'Thank You' notes and appreciation messages for doing what we did. We are proud and happy that, at this time of need, we were able to help."

Zink concluded, "It’s also brought awareness to something that is pretty unique to local businesses, as opposed to the big chain retailers. Local businesses are really a part of their communities. They understand their communities' needs in a way that big chains just aren't set up to understand. The restaurants have also been very appreciative of the business, but they would have been involved even if it wasn't benefiting them. For instance, when I called Bill's Seafood, and told him about the initiative, he said, 'Sign me up! How much should I donate?' And I said, “No, Bill, this is to benefit your business, as well! We’re paying you for the food!"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:59:25 -0400
The COVID-19 Crisis Hasn't Dented Chief's Bar Chiefs_Door_Sihgnage_20200624-135832_1.jpg

Chief's Bar is the kind of place people REALLY miss going to when there is a snowstorm, a tropical storm, when  they're traveling … or when there's a global outbreak of a deadly coronavirus. The business has been a community hub in Tall Timbers, Md., since 1927. David Dent is the second generation of his family to own the business since 1978. He has come to appreciate both Chief's history and the place it has in people's hearts.

"Chief's is truly 'Your Neighborhood Bar,'" he declared, during a late May interview with the Beverage Journal. " I am always amazed at the number of guests who celebrate their birthdays with us. We have hosted birthday parties for guests as young as one year old to guests well into their 90s.

It helps that Chief's is more than a bar. It's more than a restaurant. It's also a deli, a store, and a caterer. Having so many different areas of operation can be challenging. "I find several key factors that make a business successful," Dent said. "You must have great systems and consistent training to set your staff up for success. Chief's most important asset is our employees. Invest in your employees, and your guests will be well served."

But even the best employees have never experienced anything like the shutdown orders, business restrictions, and social distancing guidelines that were imposed when COVID-19 started take hold of the country and Maryland. This is where steady leadership is so important. "Since the start of the closure," Dent stated, "our sales are down. But we are at least open and still able to serve our community. Although most of our full-time staffers continue to earn a paycheck, it has been necessary to adjust our food service procedures and reposition some of the staff members. But all things considered, we've been very fortunate during the pandemic."


The challenges haven't diminished his love for the work. Dent says it is has been especially rewarding to help preserve certain long-standing St. Mary's County food and beverage traditions.  "Our county is the home of the 10-ounce Budweiser and Stuffed Ham," he noted. "Ten-ounce Bud and Bud Light beers are staples of county life. Nothing is better than eating a Stuffed Ham sandwich while drinking a 10-oz."

Still, being the boss does have its personal challenges. "I find communication can be very challenging," Dent shared. "To be a good communicator, you must also be a good listener. You must take the time to listen to others to be a problem solver."

He credits his dad, a retired Senior Chief from the U.S. Navy, for instilling in him the qualities of a good decision-maker. "He led by example and instilled in me a strong work ethic," Dent remarked. "He taught me to set goals, then to enjoy the rewards of working hard. It's amazing how lucky you can get when you work hard to accomplish goals." 

Dent also learned much as a past president of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). He enjoyed his time while at the reins and was also an active participant of the American Beverage Licensees (ABL). "I have been associated with the MSLBA for many years," he noted, "and I have found the association to be an integral part of our success here at Chief's.  In Maryland, the alcohol beverage business is regulated at the local level to ensure responsible retailers are looking out for the best interests of their community.  Chief's is the definition of a local 'Mom and Pop' store. As part of the MSLBA, not only do I have access to important information concerning legislation that directly affects my bottom line, but I have a voice that allows me to help not only my business but other small businesses. I would urge all alcohol retail licensees to join MSLBA. During this COVID-19 crisis, the association has been an invaluable resource to help licensees navigate the executive orders, guidance, and support available for small businesses."


Looking ahead, Dent is eager for a time when Chief's and Maryland, in general, have moved past the virus. He is cautiously optimistic that the second half of 2020 will go well. As of May 29 when this interview was conducted, restaurants and bars were permitted to begin reopening with outside table service. 

At that time, he commented, "We are focusing on a plan to safely reopen for outside service and hope that will soon lead to the lifting of closure orders and allow us to reopen for regular business. There is so much pent-up demand, so I am sure we will have the opportunity to be successful … as long as everyone practices common-sense measures."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2020 Editions Wed, 24 Jun 2020 09:39:40 -0400
Reopening: Clearing The Air Billy_Martin_Martins_Tavern_0001.jpg

On-Premise Establishments Are NavIgating The Fog of Reopening

Nationwide, restaurants, taverns, and bars are gradually reopening in the pandemic era. And to ensure the return of nervous customers concerned with their health and exposure to a virus still active in the population, some are taking some pretty bold steps. In St. Louis County, Mo., chef-owner Robert Zanti has installed transparent, Plexiglas dividers between tables in his dining room to put guests at ease. Dan's Place Restaurant in West Greenwich, R.I., has retrofitted its indoor HVAC system with an ultra violet light and metal catalyst that effectively kills viruses in the air. 

Closer to home in Maryland and Washington, D.C., our intrepid owners and operators are being similarly aggressive. For example, several popular eateries have purchased ActivePure air purifiers from Vollara Health & Wellness. Dana and Alex Theodoropoulos, proprietors of the Black Forest Taphouse in Fallston, Md., are among them.

Said Dana, "We've purchased two air purification systems – one for the bar area and one for the [dining room]. Vollara's ActivePure technology is the most powerful air and surface purification technology and is the same technology used by NASA for the space shuttles. It's used to treat problems such as mold, mildew, viruses, bacteria, and allergens in the air.  They use ultraviolet light with a fan system to pull in air and then push out the clean air up to 3,000 square feet."


Dana Theodoropoulos, proprietor of the Black Forest Taphouse in Fallston, Md. is pictured above with their Vollara ActivePure unit.

Local Vollara representative Wade Gowl notes that his company's air purifiers were popular back in the days before smoking was prohibited in restaurants and bars. Fortunately, the technology has endured. "Everybody is going to be wary of eating out, maybe from now on," he stated. "They want to not only feel safe, but be safe. Coincidentally, we just happened to have the proper technology to take care of their concerns. You just plug it in and turn it on. There's sometimes a little adjustment that needs to be done. But it's nothing complicated. You don't have to talk to the landlord about putting it in either. It basically looks like a stereo speaker. It should be placed where most of the people are. The more wide open your interior is, and the more air flow there is, the better job it will do."

His colleague, Leia Ryan, added, "Indoor environmental conditioning is what we are doing. Restaurant owners' No. 1 priority is keeping the customer safe. The nice thing about our technology is it's filter-less technology. You set it on a counter, and it will indeed take care of a 3,000-square-foot area and two to three levels."


Also proving popular is an anti-microbial fogging spray championed by Tony Anzelone, owner of Bianchi Fogging Services in Virginia. The historic Martin's Tavern (where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in one of the booths) in D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood contracted his service, and Anzelone is looking to expand his clientele into Maryland.
Anzelone typically comes in around closing time when everything is being shut down and fogs the entire restaurant with the anti-microbial spray. He focuses on hot spots like the entryway of the restaurant, the entry of the kitchen, behind the bar -- areas that get the most foot traffic. 

"But I do hit every nook and cranny that I possibly can," he said. "And I also focus on hitting the ducts, the vents, and the air registers. It's a quick process. The average restaurant is around 4,000- to 5,000 square feet. From the time I set up to the time I leave, it's right around 45 minutes to an hour. You then come in as the proprietor the next morning and do your normal set-up. wiping down the countertops, the condiments, and so forth and that's basically it."

Bianchi_Fogger.jpgHe added, "The good thing about fogging as opposed to just spraying with a bleach bottle is fogging gets every nook and cranny. These anti-microbial sprays are live bacteria. They stay alive and in that property effective for up to 90 days. So, if someone comes in with COVID-19 and they start touching things, all of your spraying goes right out the window. It's only good until somebody comes in who's infected. An anti-microbial spray has live bacteria that eats bad bacteria, that stays on the property for 90 days while you are open."

So far, Martin's Tavern owner Billy Martin is impressed. "Tony's service has given us a lot more peace of mind," he remarked. "We still do the day-to-day wiping of everything down. But it's the areas that you can't get to or can't see where the fogging is really good."

Martin and the Theodoropouloses aren't the only ones dealing with the "new normal." When the word came down in late May from Governor Hogan and the state government that Maryland restaurants could only start serving customers on site via outdoor seating, Lenny Wohlfarth, owner of Oliver's Old  Towne Tavern in Laurel, Md., took steps to offer outdoor dining for the first time ever.

"We did a trial run and things went pretty well," he noted. "We have five tables, and we can fit four to a spot. We're taking reservations for Noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. We've been asking people to be patient with the situation and be able to have their tabs closed at 15 minutes 'til the next reservation. That gives us time to sanitize things properly."

"We have sanitizing spray available for the customers that the servers can bring over," he added, "sort of like our version of Olive Garden coming to the table with the grated parm! We also are using the front door only for carry-out. We let the outdoor diners know that they can use the restrooms. But they use the side entrance, and a mask has to be worn to come inside."

Alex Theodoropoulos is taking a page from some of the national fast-food and casual dining chains that have been open throughout the crisis with curbside pickup and delivery. "All employees will be temperature checked upon arrival during the reopening phases," he pointed out. "According to CDC guidelines, if we detect an employee's temperature to be above 100.4, we should ask for you to leave and be tested. I am reducing the 100.4 guideline to 100.0 flat.  You will be required to provide proof from a doctor with a return back-to-work date."

He and Dana are also encouraging customers to use their electronics to view the Taphouse's menus. Billy Martin is also going the technology route: "Right now, we're using one-time-use paper menus. But we're looking at getting QR codes with our menus on them so that people can look everything up on their phones and order off of that. We're working with a couple of companies to get a good price on that and should have up and running shortly, too." 

Chris Richards, owner of Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Md., is another proprietor who is looking forward to a full reopening. He also has installed Vollara's air purifier in his restaurant's interior. What are some other steps he's taken? "We have a COVID-19 sanitizing training [program] that we will be doing for returning waitstaff. We'll continue to keep an hourly log of wiping down door knobs and anything that gets touched on a regular basis. Every hour on the hour, we've been doing that. We'll be wearing masks. We've increased our hand washing frequencies. We won't have any communal condiments on the tables either. We'll have things like single-serve packets of ketchup, salt, pepper, and so forth."


Chris Richards, owner of Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Md. prominently displays signage that lets his customers know he's using the Vollara ActivePure system in his establishment.

 Everyone interviewed for this article agreed that taking such measures means very little if customers aren't aware of what they've done. Vollara's Gowl and Ryan concur that signage is key. The latter remarked, "We offer 8.5-inch x 11-inch signage. It says to the customer that this area is being treated by ActivePure and that is a solution to problems like viruses, bacteria, allergies, asthma, smoke, VOCs, odors, mold, and mildew. We also have 18x24 window and door signage, so basically your clientele on the outside can tell, 'Hey, they're doing something different in there."

Martin has been especially aggressive in getting the word out. "We have touted [the anti-microbial fogging] on social media. We have some signs up. And we've gotten some big 'Thumbs up!' from people as a result, saying, 'That's great!'"


Billy Martin of Martin's Tavern in the DC's Georgetown neighborhood let's his customers know his premises are protected with the Bianchi Fogging System.

Anzelone concluded, "You want to take the steps to let everyone know they're safe when they're entering your restaurant. That means you have to get it out communication-wise. You have to let everybody know that you've taken the steps that need to be taken for your customers to come back and have a good experience. Nothing is 100 percent. But you have to do everything you possibly can to make sure people are taken care of."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2020 Editions Tue, 23 Jun 2020 13:51:32 -0400
Marty Kutlik: A Cut Above the Rest Ridgely_Marty_0001.jpg

Martin "Marty" Kutlik got into the beverage alcohol business right out of high school in 1977. While others his age were watching Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star that summer or the Bandit run circles around Smokey, Kutlik was working long hours as a cashier/clerk at Dutch Liquors in Parkville. Four years later, he landed a job as a salesman with McCarthy-Hicks, then Maryland distributor for Seagram's brands.

But he dreamed of being his own boss. That opportunity came in 1986 when he purchased Ridgely Liquors in Lutherville and eventually transformed it into the popular Ridgely Wines & Spirits of today. 

The store is located in the heart of Lutherville-Timonium, so Kutlik's clientele is mostly mature, well-established local families. "That being said," he remarked, "we have a full cross section. There is a Light Rail Station close by bringing us urban residents, and we are close to [Towson State University], Loyola, and Goucher colleges, bringing us young consumers. Our advertising is pretty extensive so we can draw folks from as far away as Pennsylvania."

And these folks have kept coming, even in the era of the coronavirus. Like so many of you reading this, business has changed dramatically amid government restrictions, social distancing, and diminished consumer spending. For Kutlik and his staff, it's been one of the bumpiest roads to navigate ever. But navigate they have.

"At the beginning of the crisis," he said, "we experienced a lot of panic buying. In the initial weeks of Maryland's State of Emergency, sales easily exceeded our holiday sales. People were not buying a 30-pack of beer; they would buy five or 10 30-packs, not bottles of wine and liquor. The consumer obviously feared that liquor stores might soon be closed.

He continued, "Ours is a neighborhood store so things are tight under normal circumstances. But with all those customers coming in at once, my management and staff started expressing concerns about their and our customer's safety."

To best protect his staff and the paying public, Ridgely Wines & Spirits quickly adopted a "contact-less, curbside service" policy with reduced store hours. "It took a little time to perfect," Kutlik conceded, "but we were able to bring it to a point of running seamlessly. It's intense, taking twice as long to wait on a customer, but it was the right thing to do. We have always offered delivery. And, as you might imagine, that is in high demand right now [this interview was conducted in late April]. Our employees have been provided with [personal protective equipment], and the store is kept sanitized throughout the day."


Customers have been coming to Ridgely because of its service, product selection, and competitive prices. Of  course, 34 consecutive years of continuous ownership has also helped create brand loyalty. In those more than three decades, Kutlik has seen his share of changes. The biggest? "That would have to be the 'Post & Hold and Multi-case Discounting' ruling. Retailers were forced to change their buying patterns and dig up more money and space. At RW&S, I re-capitalized my business and purchased heavy-duty storage racks to take advantage of the unused overhead space in our backroom. … But the most challenging thing, still today, would have to be protecting our interests in Annapolis. Threats to the small guy in our business are non-stop; you can't drop your guard for one minute."

This has prompted Kutlik to become politically active over the years. He served as President of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association (BCLBA) from 2002 to 2004. Three years later, he served as President of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) until 2009. He currently chairs BCLBA's Political Action Committee.

He has especially fond memories of his days at the helm of the MSLBA. "MSLBA has perfected the art of protecting licensees," he remarked. "I challenge all non-members to join, because everyone needs to do their part. This is our watch, and we need to make sure that nothing bad happens on our watch!"

He added, "The thing I recall most was how organized and effective Jane Springer, the Executive Director, and her staff were!" he exclaimed. "They made me look good. The proudest thing would have to be when I had the privilege of naming Tom 'Goose' Kaiser as 'Man of the Year.' That man is an industry giant!"

Along the way he has taken inspiration, even counsel, from people like Kaiser and others. So, was there some business advice given to Kutlik early on that has stuck with him over the years? "Yes! Carl Yarema, the gentleman who I bought the store from told me: 'Marty, customers are easy to lose … hard to get … and even harder to get back!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2020 Editions Wed, 03 Jun 2020 14:31:24 -0400
Coronavirus and the Local Market COVID-local_0001.jpg

Boordy Vineyards is taking orders and payments over the phone and will bring your wine to your car.

beveragemedia_may20_retail_covid_BMG_covid_logo_Some are getting by with a little help from their friends. Or, in the case of Jimmy Spiropoulos, operator of Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, a few special customers.  "We're now working behind sheets of Plexiglas that we have installed," he said. "They're hanging from the ceiling at each one of our five checkout counters. Basically, I went and bought five large sheets, and I had one of my local handymen -- who's actually a customer of mine -- install them. Customers seem to really appreciate the steps we've taken to try and protect everyone."

He continued, "There is another customer of ours named Mike. He's an IT guy along with his wife, and they've basically set up our website to have an online ordering form for curbside pickup or delivery. Those orders are keeping us very busy. The challenge is the time it takes to put each one together is probably five or six times the normal transaction."

Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify whose clients include the Maryland Wineries Association and the Brewers Association of Maryland, singled out Brendan and Bailey O'Leary , owners of True Respite Brewery in Derwood. They have created an app called "Miermi," which organizes and automates the ordering/delivery process. One of their partner/investors created it within a day of the initial shutdown and has offered it for free use by the brewing community.

Others are surviving these tough times by putting even greater reliance on their employees. Ben Golueke of Mt. Airy Liquors in Carroll County said he and his staff have been busier than ever. "March ended up like a December," he stated, "which is our busiest month of the year. Other changes have been the amount of cleaning we are doing. It really has become after every single customer. Not to mention the constant wipe downs of carts, hand-trucks, beer box handles, door knobs, phones, etc."


The new Plexiglas now installed at Friendship Wine & Liquors' in Abingdon.

Just the opposite, Marshele Burgess, proprietor of Rip's Country Inn in Bowie, has had to deal with losing a large chunk of her business. She lamented, "The biggest change for us is the restaurant is closed to dine in and I have 104 employees that count on Rip's for a living. We have gone to carry-out only. Daily, we are trying to be more creative with that. Restaurant sales are down 90 percent. We're keeping restaurant staff employed with jobs at the liquor store and maintenance projects in the restaurant -- painting everything, deep cleaning refrigeration, etc. We are also taking the time to work on retraining staff. They are taking online courses with ServSafe to have all up-to-date information."

And still for others, it's been the operational changes that have been among the most challenging to get used to. Just ask Mike Scheuerman of Friendship Wine & Liquor in Harford County. In addition to implementing curbside pickup for the first time, which may become a permanent part of the store's business model after the pandemic is over, he and his staff have reduced store hours. "Specifically closing time, which we have scaled-back by two hours both weeknights and weekend nights," he said. "Also, we have substantially reduced our 'floor service,' but have added a position specifically for replying to e-mails and answering phone calls. We also ceased hosting in-store tastings immediately back when this all began."


Mount Airy Liquors in Mount Airy is offering curbside pick-up and is ensuring all carts are continually cleaned for their customers.

E. Randolph Marriner, chairman and founder of the Victoria Restaurant Group and Manor Hill Brewing, chimed in, "As a brewery that self-distributes in Montgomery County, we've added more delivery days to our weekly calendar. This has two purposes. One, it allows our retail partners in the county to be more flexible and re-stock more quickly. And, two, it allows our driver to take the time to ensure he's being safe on the road and in stores. Fewer deliveries per day means less rushing and making sure all the safety steps of sanitizing and cleaning are being followed."

Of course, more than just packaged goods stores and eating and drinking establishments are having to change in this time of pandemic. Maryland's wineries are scrambling also. Boordy Vineyards has remained open for carryout bottle sales, but has had to close its Tasting Room and postpone all on-site events, private tours, winery rentals, and casual visitation.

Boordy President Rob Deford commented, "The immediate impact is huge, and its ultimate severity will depend upon the duration of the shutdown.  As a result, we've put an indefinite hold on all discretionary expenses and capital projects and have idled all part-time staff who work our events. There does appear to be a mitigating factor, which is that our sales in stores have increased since March 14 when the first restrictions on social interaction were imposed.  Also on the positive side, our Internet sales have increased dramatically -- a by-product of folks being confined to their homes."

Local Help From
National Resources

Another positive is the stepped-up help many of the beverage industry's national trade associations are offering. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) sprang into action on Capitol Hill. Lisa Hawkins, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, pointed out, "We were successful in getting a provision in the recently passed CARES Act to ease tax regulations so that distillers producing hand sanitizer would not have to pay federal excise taxes on the alcohol used."

She added, "There were other important provisions DISCUS lobbied for in the CARES Act to help craft distillers, including Small Business Administration loans and emergency grants. . . . As Congress works to provide additional economic relief to affected businesses, we are reaching out to legislators to underscore the important role of distilleries in boosting their local economies, and their connection to the hospitality, restaurant, and tourism industries.  The closures of craft distilleries in Maryland would be an incredible loss to the state's economy. We are asking Congress for additional stimulus measures including federal excise tax relief; suspension of tariffs on distilled spirits; robust no- and low-interest loan assistance; and the creation of an industry stabilization fund."

The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) has also tried to stay out in front of the crisis for its membership. President and CEO Craig Purser stated, "NBWA has been in constant communication, sharing best practices from across the country with our members. We're getting them the tools they need to be successful during this uncertainty, from the cleaning products to have on hand to the best ways to structure their operations for social distancing. We're also sharing best practices they can tap into to help the community, like donating refrigerated trucks to food drives or giving water and other non-alcoholic drinks to first responders."

Maryland State Licensed
Beverage Association

On the state level, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) has been doing its part. Steve Wise, MSLBA's legal counsel, said the first and most important thing the association is providing its members is "accurate and timely communication. Governor Hogan has issued numerous Executive Orders affecting bars, restaurants, and package stores.  Members have called literally while the Governor is still speaking at press conferences, asking, 'What does this mean for us?!' We're helping members by reading the Orders carefully, verifying our understanding of them with state officials, and then getting concise information out to members quickly."

Wise further noted that the MSLBA is trying to provide as much information on small business loans and grants as it can. It's also sharing recommendations provided by health officials for protecting employees, customers, and the community.

Still, there is no doubt the ongoing pandemic represents the biggest crisis all concerned have ever faced from a business and just a sheer survival standpoint. Everyone interviewed for this article feel they are being tested like never before. Town Center Market, for instance, had just completed a new, $250,000 outdoor patio that was barely open before having to be shut down. "We were also a big lottery retailer, and those commissions have essentially gone to zero," Spiropoulos lamented.

Marriner added, "In an industry that relies on scheduling and planning months down the road, the uncertainty is a big test. But it's compounded by how quickly things are changing, as well. We have an incredible team of hardworking individuals who look to us for answers during this time. And there aren't a lot of answers we can provide. Or, the answers we give are subject to change on a daily basis."

Burgess, meanwhile, was not afraid to admit that the biggest test of her leadership has been "trying to keep the employees calm, positive, and not see the stress that ownership is under! The biggest test is to hold the business together for everyone until this passes."

Association executives are dealing with the pressures in their own way. Ever the proactive organization, DISCUS recently held a virtual #SpiritsUnitedToast to bring industry folks together. More than 400 people joined the toast. Hawkins said, "As part of the virtual event, Justin Cara-Donna, one of D.C.’s top bartenders at the Columbia Room, led a cocktail demonstration featuring tips on how to create the perfect at-home cocktail. During the virtual toast, we raised an additional $10,000 for [the United States Bartenders Guild's] COVID-19 relief fund." 

MSLBA President Aashish Parikh's thoughts turned more inward. He said, "We have duties as officers of the Association, so we have to remain calm and think ahead about how we can respond to not only the immediate needs of our members, but also what will be needed in the months ahead when hopefully we start to recover from this. We have already started thinking of ways to help get on-premise businesses back on their feet as quickly as possible."


Unused seating at Town Center Market's new $250,000 patio in Riverdale Park.

And, yes, for many of the industry professionals interviewed, they do see light at the end of the tunnel. Some of them are planning for when people will once again be crowding bars, stores, restaurants, wine festivals, and other gatherings where social distancing will be just a memory.

NBWA's Purser commented, "Of course, we're looking ahead. In addition to distributors' work helping others, they are also making sure the beer will be fresh and well-stocked when it's finally time to grab a pint together. As the backbone of the beer industry, distributors will be ready to help the entire industry bounce back when this is behind us."

Deford of Boordy Vineyards added, "Our recovery will depend upon the manner in which the restrictions to social interaction are lifted. Will it be incremental, or simply a green light to resume normal life?  We can modify our activities accordingly, but at this point there's no reason to speculate. We are maintaining a nimble approach, and are working with our vendors and other contractual partners to be flexible as well."

Most of the interviewees were like Mt. Airy Liquors' Ben Golueke in their outlooks. He concluded, "I have not thought too far ahead as of now, but I do plan on paying my employees as long as possible if they are still physically working or are staying home. Hopefully this will make for a seamless return to work when all of this is over and we return to our new normal. We as a business are also supporting our local restaurants and bars daily. I order food for our entire staff from a different local place every day. I hope this helps in the long run so our local restaurants will still be here when this is all over." 

Local Distilleries Shift From Liquor to Hand Sanitizer

Distilleries throughout Maryland and elsewhere have been making a product that's become more valuable than liquor.  The need for hand sanitizer became evident as the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in severe shortages of the product locally and nationally.

Among the earliest to make the switchover was Baltimore Spirits Company. Co-founder and CEO Max Lents remarked, "I have a list [of customers] right now that is long enough that we'll probably never make enough hand sanitizer to satisfy demand. So, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in terms of where the next batch is going and whether you give a full volume to one super-important account like Johns Hopkins or whether you divvy it up to numerous other essential businesses that are at risk because they have to stay open and interact with various people like postal offices, UPS drivers, and the like. You want to help them, as well, and some are asking for a lot smaller orders."


Brad Blackwell, owner and founder of Lost Ark Distilling in Columbia, has been making similar decisions. "The requests are so big right now," he marveled. "I'm also Vice President of the Maryland State Distillers Guild. The last message I got from them just a few days ago [this interview was conducted in early April] was they've collected a backlog of requests that totals about 15,000 gallons of hand sanitizer! We have gotten requests from local businesses like a small home pest company to calls from Amazon and BG&E."

Of course, these are good problems to have in such a time of crisis and further proof of how vital the state's beverage business is. No one is complaining Meg (MacWhirter) McNeill of MISCellaneous Distillery in Mt. Airy commented, "As soon as we closed our tasting room, we made the decision to pivot our focus to hand sanitizer. It took a few days to source the additional inputs needed and begin to create the first batch for donation to non-profit partners. Our primary donations have gone to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland . . . though we have been able to help with other requests from local non-profits, as well."

Blackwell said it wasn't a huge changeover in terms of equipment. The biggest change has been the packaging and Lost Ark's supply chain. "That's been a huge challenge, transitioning and figuring out where to buy the specific bottles and caps and have the labels designed in order to be printed," he said.

Lents concurred, adding, "Everybody has a different set-up in the way their distillery works. For us, we don't have an automated bottling line. Even the bottler that we have isn't really equipped to handle the style of bottles we're putting hand sanitizer in. So, we're bottling by hand. We essentially have a spigot on the bottom of a big tank. Once we blend up a new batch of sanitizer, we stick one bottle at a time under there, fill it, cap it, then label it."

Other area distilleries that have followed suit include: Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville, which is using a recipe of ethanol, glycerol, lemongrass oil, Vitamin E oil, and aloe vera gel; McClintock Distilling in Frederick, which is combining the alcohol they normally make with glycerin, and hydrogen peroxide; and Cotton & Reed distillery in Washington, D.C., which has been giving away hand sanitizer with every purchase of rum in addition to giving away sanitizer to local service industry workers.

Lents concluded, "We can all come together and fill the need. We're part of a direct response to a need created by this crisis. We're happy to be part of the Resistance!"

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Apr 2020 09:10:55 -0400
Fishpaws Marketplace Is Off the Hook Fishpaws_0001.jpg

Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold, Md., features a unique tag line both in store and on its website: "It's not a shopping trip … it's an experience!" And that is truth in advertising. This independently owned  business has operated at the same location since before Prohibition. Today, it offers an extensive selection of imported and domestic wines; an assortment of craft, microbrew, imported, and domestic beers; and a broad array of liquors and gourmet cheeses and foods.

Kim Lawson is the proprietor. And she is a firm believer that experiential retail is the way to stand out in today's crowded and intensely competitive market. Touting her store's features, she said, "We have a 12-tap draft system to accommodate crowler and growler fills. We have a Napa Technology Wine Station -- we call it the Wine ATM -- which allows customers to sample one-, two-, and four-ounce pours at any time. And we employ a certified cheese specialist, who will assist you in pairing your cheese or charcuterie course with your beverage of choice."


Fishpaws also offers in-store tastings from all departments. In addition, Lawson and her staff offer special wine, beer, and spirit dinners and classes. "We pick one-of-a-kind single barrel bourbons, whiskeys, and tequilas which our team personally select at distilleries," she added. "We then collaborate with breweries to age private-barrel, aged beers to offer on the growler station. And we participate in many off-site charity events, providing our unique products to offer fundraising opportunities."

But a lot of the fun has been sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic. So far, Lawson and her staff have been up to the challenge. But there have definitely been changes and compromises.

"Our policies are changing daily as new guidelines are put in place by our governor," she stated. "We are social distancing with six-foot tape put down throughout our store. We have limited our hours to let our team deep clean and stock nightly. We have new barriers around our registers to protect our cashiers. We have gloves, wipes, and hand sanitizer at every register, phone, computer, and work area. We also have a table at our entry for customers, offering gloves and a sanitizer liquid for their use." Fishpaws offers delivery service, too. 

Lawson says her biggest challenge since the crisis began has been making decisions for the safety of her employees and just staying open to keep her staff employed and Fishpaws customers served. "We are so looking forward to returning to business as usual!" she said. "This has been extremely stressful, especially for my managers. I plan on doing something special for them … not sure what yet. I'm definitely going to take them out for a relaxing dinner and probably give them some extra time off. We all just want to get back to normal soon."


It helps that she has been active for many years with the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association, and she is also a member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). Lawson remarked, "MSLBA is a great organization. I have learned so much from the other retailers that you interact with from all over the state. That knowledge and idea exchange has been very important for my success. I believe being informed about the industry and the legislative process is important. Our industry is so dependent on the legislative process that we all really need to participate to protect our industry and businesses. I've developed such great personal and professional relationships through my involvement in the MSLBA."

In  turn, Lawson is one of the association's most decorated members. She has twice been named Retailer of The Year by the National Association of Beverage Retailers in 1996 and 2016. And in 2014, Lawson with Fishpaws Marketplace was selected as the Small Business Administration’s Family Owned Small Business for Maryland.

In times of both success and hardship, she remembers the words of wisdom her parents, Brad and Chris Lawson, imparted on her. They were entrepreneurs also, owning gift stores and other retail outlets. She concluded, "They taught me I could accomplish anything if you worked hard and were fair. They also taught me the need to know how to do every job that you ask your staff to do."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2020 Editions Mon, 27 Apr 2020 10:01:46 -0400
B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors BK-Miller_HOME.jpg

Miller Continues to Blaze a Family Trail

There is a special kind of pressure that comes with running a legacy business, a family business, a business that has been in operation in one form or another for over 100 years. Many people aren't able to handle that pressure and cash out. The Millers of Prince George's County are a
different breed!"

In 1913, B.K. Miller Sr. opened a general store in Clinton, Md., across from where B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors is located today. Over the decades, that store sold everything from groceries, meats, and lottery tickets to clothing, building materials, and even coal. At one time, it was a beer distributor.

Current proprietor Blaise Miller III remarked, "My father and my uncle owned the store after my grandfather. My cousins and I have since owned it. I am the third generation. And my son, Colt, has worked here now for 20 years, and he's fourth generation. I actually have my cousin's grandkids working here, and they're fifth generation. We just try to run the business the right way and do right by the community."

He continued, "I'm very proud of our family and what we've done in the town of Clinton. We've changed with the times. We were a grocery store around 1970, and then Giant Foods came to town. My father and my uncle said, 'Hey, we have to change, because we're going to get killed by these chain stores. So we became B.K. Miller's Super Liquors. We just kept a little part of our meat business, which we've grown a lot over the years. But we're still the little store on the corner in Clinton."


Generations of Millers: here's Blaise with his son, Colt Miller and his Aunt, Mary Ann Miller.

So, what's the real secret to staying in business now well past the century mark? Miller was quick to reply: hard work! "It's nothing more complicated than that," he said. "A lot of people might think, 'Blaise, you're third generation. You're very lucky!' But each generation has worked their tail off to keep this store open and a success. What it is is we've had the opportunity to work since we were kids. I worked at the store when we were a grocery store when I was six years old! My son and my daughter both worked here when they were 12 years old. We've all grown up saying, 'Yes, sir' and 'Yes, ma'am.'"

That's not to say there aren't any special challenges to running a business like B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors. There are. "I have 48 employees," Miller said with a slight laugh, then adding, "and that means I have 48 personalities! Fortunately, they're all good. Two of them have been here 60 years and worked for every generation!"


In addition to the service he gets day in and day out from his dedicated staff, Miller has succeeded by being one of the more politically active store owners in the state. A proud member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), he has been at the forefront of both championing and combating legislation that affects Maryland's beer, wine, and spirits trade. He pays especially close attention to any new bills that target small businesses.

At the time of this interview in early March, he declared, "It looks like we've defeated House Bill 291 for the year! That would have allowed beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores. We worked very hard to get that knocked down. Half of my alcohol sales are beer and wine. I'm sure if the chain stores could sell them, that would greatly affect my business in a negative way. But I'm sure the issue is going to come around again. I've been around a long time, and there's so much pressure on legislators from chain stores who say, 'We're not going to make it without beer and wine.' But we all know they're very successful. And most aren't based in Maryland."

He now hopes for calm in Annapolis, at least for a while. "We've all invested our money with the laws the way they are. Things are working. Let's leave 'em alone!"

But there are always challenges to deal with in the state capitol. And that's why MSLBA membership is so important. Miller touts, "Membership in MSLBA keeps us up on what's going on. We send newsletters out that tell you what's going on. MSLBA has a regular crew who show up monthly in Annapolis for meetings. If you're a member, you're going to hear from MSLBA more than anyone else on what's important. Let's just say a lot of this stuff that we deal with? It ain't in the papers every day."

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2020 Editions Tue, 31 Mar 2020 13:47:58 -0400
Town Center Market's Jimmy Spiropoulos Mar20_Town_Center_Market_0001_20200306-170646_1.jpg

"I graduated from Clemson University in 1990. I graduated on Saturday, I drove home Sunday, and went to work
Monday … and I haven't stopped since!"

The Clemson alum is Jimmy Spiropoulos. His home is Maryland. His place of work? Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, a store his father Pete started in 1988 with the purchase of Dumm's Corner Market. The Spiropoulos family moved the business from that 1,700-square-foot location to its current and much bigger address on Queensbury Road in May 2012 and changed the name.

"My father basically signed over the business to [my brother Ted and I] years ago," Spiropoulos recalled. "But he still comes to work every day. He's 81, and you'll see him outside watering his beloved plants or cleaning up. We're here together on a daily basis, and it's been a good run."


Brothers Ted and Jimmy Spiropoulos of Town Center Market in Riverdale Park.


That said, he doesn't miss the old days at the former location. "The fruits of our labor never seemed to show there," Spiorpoulos said. "We were handicapped by space and lack of selection. Ever since we've been at Town Center Market, the hard work has definitely paid off. We've seen the growth. We've seen our customers more thankful for what we do."

He continued, "Town Center Market is unique in that we do so much all under one roof. We go to great lengths to cater to every demographic in Prince George's County. We have 34 taps along with an Austrian-made growler machine. So, there could be a customer getting a 'fill' at one end of the store, while at the opposite end someone could be purchasing a money order or making a bill payment. Typically, those two customers are from two different walks of life. But both are very important to us."


But Spiropoulos and family have seen their fair share of struggle. Four years ago in P.G., liquor stores were open six days a week and closed on Sundays. "At that point in time, Town Center Market was only a beer and wine store," he noted. "We didn't carry liquor, and that meant we were allowed to be open on Sunday."

When the county decided to let liquor stores open on Sundays, Spiropoulos went on what he called a "self-lobbying mission" in the state capital. "Delegate Anne Healey sponsored a bill that allowed stores like mine to be able to upgrade to sell liquor in order to better compete with the liquor stores that would now be open on Sunday," he stated. "The bill failed in subcommittee. That next year, we experienced a 30 percent loss in business on Sundays.  . . . Several of the delegation members who voted against me pulled me aside and said, 'We feel you're trying to get an upgraded license for free, and we think you should do what everybody else has done. Purchase a license if you can find one and petition to move it.'"

He ended up buying such a license for $200,000 three years ago. "Today, I still owe a $100,000 balance on it. And now, just a few weeks ago, a bill was submitted by Del. Wanika Fisher to allow beer and wine sales in all supermarkets countywide. I feel like my family has played by the rules over the years, and we get punished for doing the right thing."

It helps to have colleagues who know their way around state and local politics. One of the biggest allies has been the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). "Typically, the MSLBA doesn't like to get involved in the more local issues," Spiropoulos said. "But clearly they understand the impact of beer and wine in all grocery stores in Prince George's County. If beer and wine becomes available in P.G. grocery stores, it's just a matter of time before it's statewide."

As evidence of the potential dangers he and other store operators face, Spiropoulos pointed to Colorado. Starting in January 2019, beer -- just beer, not wine -- was allowed to be sold in all grocery stores in the state. "Thirteen months removed, the average drop in overall sales in Colorado liquor stores is 20 to 40 percent," he stated, "and 200 stores have gone out of business with more on the cusp of closing."

Spiropoulos plans to continue being vocal in hopes the county and state can avoid Colorado's dark fate. "We once employed four people," he concluded. "Now, we employ over 20. We have a small-group health plan in which I pay for four of my managers' health coverage in full. None of my employees are minimum-wage earners. We are what the county has promoted! The simple fact of the matter is a store like Town Center Market makes its living off selling alcohol. A store like Whole Foods does not."

Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2020 Editions Fri, 06 Mar 2020 12:01:04 -0500
Chuck Ferrar of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits Bay_Ridge_0003.jpg

Chuck Ferrar, proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, turned 77 this past year. And while he says things like, "I still love the interaction with customers, but I'm fading out," there's no doubt his light is going to continue shining in Maryland's beverage business for some time to come.

"I'm retiring," he said in a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "and my son-in-law David [Marberger] is going to run the store every day as he has for the last couple of years. I also have a grandson in college who wants to come in, too. So, we're anticipating three generations."  Then, he added, "because David runs the store now, I can afford to be active in the various associations and spend time with the Legislature when it opens up. Many people hate it, but I thoroughly enjoy it!"


The three generations of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annpolis: Chuck Ferrar; his grandson, James Marberger; and his son-in-law, David Marberger.


The associations he speaks of are the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), American Beverage Licensees (ABL), and the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association. Ferrar currently serves on the boards of all three and is a past president of both MSLBA and ABL. 

He has especially fond memories of his two-year term as MSLBA's head. He is most proud of "expanding the membership, opening up a dialogue with the Indian groups, and bringing in many Asian-American members. They are probably the majority component now."

So, what has compelled him to be active on the political side of the business all these years? "Our business is dependent on regulations and politics," he replied. "We're one of the few independent family-owned small business industries left in this state. To protect ourselves and the future business for my son and grandson, I had to get involved. In fact, more people like me should get involved. It's their lifeline."

Born and raised in Prince George's County, Ferrar was working for Houston-based Sysco in 1989 when he had a heart attack. He decided to come home to Maryland and open up a small business. According to Ferrar, Bay Ridge was a store that was "going downhill" at the time, so he bought it with financing from an aunt. "It was a very tiny store back then," he recalled. "But it was the right place at the right time, and we've been lucky to grow. We're a large store now and well-known."

Over the past 30 years, he has seen numerous changes in the business. The biggest, in his opinion, has been the relationship between the distributors and the retailers. "When I went into business, most of my distributors were Maryland-owned. companies," he said. "Now all of the big distributors are nationally owned companies … and they just don't have the same level of care about what goes on in Maryland as much as they do the big picture. The big picture used to be Maryland."

That leaves guys like Ferrar to fight the good fight on the state and local levels. Looking ahead to 2020, he said he wouldn't be surprised if national encroachment once again became an issue. "I look for pressure for beer and wine in the grocery stores," he stated. "That's going to be a fight at some point, and it would be devastating to our industry. Every place where there is a supermarket or grocery store, there's an independent liquor store next door to it or in the same center. They would be devastated. The Liquor Boards aren't going to be giving two licenses side by side in the same center. And the shopping center owners? Who are they going to side with? The 80,000-square-foot supermarket or the 3,000-square-foot liquor store? They're going to side with that Giant or Safeway."


He added that store operators should continue doing a good job showing legislators and customers why it's better to shop for beer, wine, and spirits at that their neighborhood packaged goods store and not some big chain. "You have to have an educated staff," he declared. "We have sommeliers working in our wine department. We also have trained personnel in our beer department. We have people specially selling spirits. Most places just put the spirits on a shelf, slap prices on them, and walk away. We've spent a lot of time and energy having our people trained on all of our products."

But as much as he plans to continue fighting the good fight, Ferrar also hopes to take it a bit easier in 2020. "To enjoy life more, that's my personal New Year's resolution," he said. "I'm just going to take advantage of what I have, enjoy it … and let my son-in-law do all of the really hard work!"

 Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2020 Editions Wed, 05 Feb 2020 13:26:33 -0500
Harris Crab House: An Enduring Family Legacy Continues HarrisCrab_0001.jpg

Bill Oertel has worked for the family business for 35 years now. He grew up in it. And this year, he is its new, incoming President. That business is Harris Crab House & Seafood Restaurant, which is situated on the Kent Narrows Waterway just four miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Oertel's grandfather, Bill Harris, started the operation -- initially a seafood processing business -- 72 years ago. And for more than seven decades, Oertel said, "we've been in business on the Eastern Shore selling and buying seafood. Around 1980, he wanted a place where all of his grandkids could work. So, he started a little crab shack on the [front dock of the W.H. Harris Seafood Processing House] that had picnic tables and just sold crabs and shrimp. Pretty much all of his grandkids worked there and grew up there. Most of us haven't really left."

The old processing house, which indeed began operations in 1947, is still home to Harris Seafood Company LLC. But when Granddad was ready to retire years ago, Oertel's parents, Karen (Bill's daughter) and Art Oertel, and his aunt and uncle, Jerry and Pat Harris, bought the restaurant. Oertel noted. "In the early '90s, the family built a new, 450-seat restaurant and that's what stands today. We're open year-round, and we serve as much local seafood as we possibly can. It can be tough to get local crabs in the wintertime, but we do our best. Our recipes have been handed down from my grandparents and my great-grandparents, and that's how we operate."


Just because Harris Crab House has an almost total focus on seafood, that doesn't mean there isn't some thought given to the beverage component of the menu. "No surprise. Beer works well for us!" Oertel exclaimed. "Remember, though, we're a family restaurant, so we don't really pride or tout ourselves as, 'Come on down and make us your bar!' As best we can, we offer Maryland beers, and we carry the brands of our local distributors."

For Oertel, it's been more than a family affair. It's also been a love affair. "I met my wife at the restaurant," he said. "We got married there. She was a server, and I [chuckling] was a 'whatever in the kitchen.' . . . This past summer, we opened a coffee shop and dessert bar on the premises. We deal with Rise Up Coffee based out of Easton, and they have some of the best coffee around. We love to pare with local folks as much as possible."

And while Harris Crabhouse prides itself on being as much local as possible -- the business buys its seafood from approximately 350 local watermen and employs nearly 140 people from the community -- its clientele is diverse. "Many of our customers are folks who come across the bridge," Oertel noted. "They love the slower pace of the Eastern Shore. I would say half our customers are from the 'Western Shore.' We also have a lot of local folks, of course, who come to us for birthday parties, anniversaries, and other milestones. We're trying to promote more to Eastern Shore customers, mainly because the bridge is such a hassle right now."

He continued, "My favorite question is, 'Where are you guys from? What brought you over here?' Everybody loves to come over the bridge and just go, 'Ahhhh, I'm out of that rat race for a little bit!' We get so many different bus parties, too. A lot of them are from Baltimore, and a lot are from D.C.  We have people who come down from Philadelphia and from Wilmington. We're the first Maryland seafood crabhouse that you run across when you're coming down from that way."

And as much as family, friends, and customers from far and near keep the business going, Oertel and his staff also get by with a little help from their friends in the business. Chiefly, the family's long-time affiliation with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) has paid dividends.

Oertel concluded, "I love how the MSLBA members stick together and help each other out. There is, of course, the political lobbying component that's good for everybody. My mother [Karen Oertel] was on the board for a long time, and she was very active. Our most recent [officer] would have been my cousin, our outgoing President Michael Harris. As I get my feet wet this year, I very much hope to participate in the administration end of the MSLBA. I look forward to it, in fact! Keeping a voice in Annapolis for the local, one-off type of restaurants … that is a very important thing."

  Click Here to check out the article as it appeared in The Journal.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 14:12:38 -0500