Blogs from Edward "Teddy" Durgin - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/blogger/listings/teddy Sat, 28 May 2022 03:33:34 -0400 en-gb Illusions Bar & Theater https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/illusions-bar-theater https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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!’”

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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.”

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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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2022 Editions Mon, 02 May 2022 11:31:12 -0400
18th & 21st: Stepping Back in Time https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/18th-21st-stepping-back-in-time https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.” 

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

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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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2022 Editions Fri, 01 Apr 2022 13:42:44 -0400
Sykesville Station: Right on Track https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/sykesville-station-right-on-track https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.   

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2022 Editions Wed, 02 Mar 2022 08:23:50 -0500
Old Bay Flavored Vodka https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/old-bay-flavored-vodka https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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. 

QUALITY

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.

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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.”

VERSATILITY

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.

THE BOTTLE

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.”

SOCIAL APPEAL

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.

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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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Mar 2022 13:51:34 -0500
Kaló Hemp Infused Seltzer https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/kalo-hemp-infused-seltzer https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/kalo-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.”

THE PRODUCT

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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 www.drinkkalo.com website featuring such recipes as a Raspberry Refresher, Blood Orange Sparkler, Grapefruit Sunrise, and Kaló Mule.

WHAT SETS IT APART

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.”

THE REWARDS AND CHALLENGES

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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Mar 2022 13:35:07 -0500
Five Iron Golf https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/five-iron-golf https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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. 

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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.’”

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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.

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“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.

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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.” 

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Feb 2022 14:17:42 -0500
Feebs Distilling https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/feebs-distilling https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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 PRODUCT

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.”

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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.”

BATTLE-TESTED -- ALREADY

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.”

THE FUTURE

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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2022 Editions Tue, 01 Feb 2022 13:52:11 -0500
A Beverage Biz Look Ahead ... The 2022 Legislative Session https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/a-beverage-biz-look-ahead-the-2022-legislative-session https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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. 

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2022 Editions Fri, 31 Dec 2021 16:25:51 -0500
Litchfield's Fabulous Baker Boys https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/litchfield-s-fabulous-baker-boys https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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.”

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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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (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 https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/with-workers-scarce-frederick-bars-and-restaurants-stay-open-as-a-labor-of-love https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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. 

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2021 Editions Wed, 24 Nov 2021 09:16:28 -0500
The Barking Dog of Bethesda https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-barking-dog-of-bethesda https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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.”

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"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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2021 Editions Wed, 03 Nov 2021 12:48:09 -0400
It’s No Seacret: Ocean City Roars Back https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/it-s-no-seacret-ocean-city-roars-back https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

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"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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.” 

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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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2021 Editions Wed, 29 Sep 2021 14:55:10 -0400
Pickles Pub: What the Great Reopening Looks Like in Baltimore https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/pickles-pub-what-the-great-reopening-looks-like-in-baltimore https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.’”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2021 Editions Tue, 31 Aug 2021 18:14:57 -0400
The Sun Rises on a New Career for Mike Fratantuono https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-sun-rises-on-a-new-career-for-mike-fratantuono https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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.”

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2021 Editions Tue, 31 Aug 2021 18:09:33 -0400
The Great Reopening https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-great-reopening https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2021 Editions Tue, 27 Jul 2021 10:11:50 -0400
Wells Discount Liquors: A Mother-Daughter Affair https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/wells-discount-liquors-a-mother-daughter-affair https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.”

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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.”

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2021 Editions Wed, 30 Jun 2021 13:45:25 -0400
Peter Frank of Talbert's Ice & Beverage https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/peter-frank-of-talbert-s-ice-beverage https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

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“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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2021 Editions Thu, 27 May 2021 23:23:50 -0400
Links Drinks' Transfusion https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/links-drinks-transfusion https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.  

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THE DRINK

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.”

THE APPEAL

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.

THE PACKAGING

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.

THE FUTURE

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.  


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2021 Editions Thu, 27 May 2021 23:07:28 -0400
Fisher Reels 'Em in at Freeland Wine & Spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/fisher-reels-em-in-at-freeland-wine-spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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." 

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2021 Editions Thu, 22 Apr 2021 15:26:17 -0400
The Famous Fund: Saving Baltimore's Bars & Restaurants https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-famous-fund-saving-baltimore-s-bars-restaurants https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

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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. 

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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.

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"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."

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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 www.gofundme.com/f/help-save-baltimore-restaurants-bars.

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2021 Editions Thu, 25 Mar 2021 08:08:42 -0400
Festival Wine & Spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/festival-wine-spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

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"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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2021 Editions Wed, 24 Mar 2021 23:47:59 -0400
Casa Mia's: A White Marsh Mainstay https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/casa-mia-s-a-white-marsh-mainstay https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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. 

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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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2021 Editions Sun, 28 Feb 2021 14:03:40 -0500
Party Time Liquors: Part of the Community https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/party-time-liquors-part-of-the-community https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2021 Editions Tue, 26 Jan 2021 14:10:07 -0500
Maryland's 2021 Legislative Session https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/maryland-s-2021-legislative-session https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

 Leg_Sess_S-Wise_V2.jpg

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."

 Leg_Sess_J-Milani-V2.jpg

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."

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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.     


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2021 Editions Tue, 29 Dec 2020 11:43:12 -0500
Christos Discount Liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/christos-discount-liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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!"

Christos_John-Madia.jpg

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.

Christos_Trophies.jpg

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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2021 Editions Tue, 29 Dec 2020 10:57:41 -0500
Chartley Liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/chartley-liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2020 Editions Tue, 24 Nov 2020 19:05:49 -0500
Indiana's Starlight Distillery https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/indiana-s-starlight-distillery https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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).  

Starlight-Distillery-Team.jpg

 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.    

 


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2020 Editions Wed, 21 Oct 2020 21:50:26 -0400
The Butlers Did It! https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-butlers-did-it https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2020 Editions Wed, 21 Oct 2020 21:11:16 -0400
Nikita Corn Vodka https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/nikita-corn-vodka https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

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“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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2020 Editions Fri, 25 Sep 2020 11:24:38 -0400
S & W Liquors: Celebrating 50 Years https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/s-w-liquors-celebrating-50-years https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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!"

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2020 Editions Fri, 25 Sep 2020 11:11:00 -0400
Antietam Spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/antietam-spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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.

Chiefly? 

"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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2020 Editions Tue, 25 Aug 2020 11:54:26 -0400
Coronavirus: Chain Reaction https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/coronavirus-chain-reaction https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:59:25 -0400
The COVID-19 Crisis Hasn't Dented Chief's Bar https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-covid-19-crisis-hasn-t-dented-chief-s-bar-s https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-covid-19-crisis-hasn-t-dented-chief-s-bar-s 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."

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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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2020 Editions Wed, 24 Jun 2020 09:39:40 -0400
Reopening: Clearing The Air https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/reopening-clearing-the-air https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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."

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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."

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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!'"

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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.   

 


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2020 Editions Tue, 23 Jun 2020 13:51:32 -0400
Marty Kutlik: A Cut Above the Rest https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/marty-kutlik-a-cut-above-the-rest https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2020 Editions Wed, 03 Jun 2020 14:31:24 -0400
Coronavirus and the Local Market https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/coronavirus-and-the-local-market https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2020 Editions Tue, 28 Apr 2020 09:10:55 -0400
Fishpaws Marketplace Is Off the Hook https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/fishpaws-marketplace-is-off-the-hook https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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."

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2020 Editions Mon, 27 Apr 2020 10:01:46 -0400
B.K. Miller Meats and Liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/b-k-miller-meats-and-liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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!"

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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."

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2020 Editions Tue, 31 Mar 2020 13:47:58 -0400
Town Center Market's Jimmy Spiropoulos https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/town-center-market-s-jimmy-spiropoulos https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

Mar20_Town_Center_Market_0003.jpg

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."

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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."

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2020 Editions Fri, 06 Mar 2020 12:01:04 -0500
Chuck Ferrar of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/chuck-ferrar-of-bay-ridge-wine-spirits https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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!"

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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."

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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.    


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2020 Editions Wed, 05 Feb 2020 13:26:33 -0500
Harris Crab House: An Enduring Family Legacy Continues https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/harris-crab-house-an-enduring-family-legacy-continues https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/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."

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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.   


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 14:12:38 -0500
A Bev Biz Look at the 2020 Legislative Session in Maryland https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/a-bev-biz-look-at-the-2020-legislative-session-in-maryland https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/a-bev-biz-look-at-the-2020-legislative-session-in-maryland 2020-Session_0001.jpg

A year ago at this time, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) and other small business interests were gearing up for a 2019 General Assembly where nearly 30 percent of the members were new. That was a lot of new flesh to press, a lot of new ears to tug, a lot of new hearts and minds to win over to our industry's issues and concerns.

But guys like MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani and attorney and MSLBA lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise were definitely up to the task.  "It was a learning year for a lot of folks," the former conceded, "especially with regards to alcohol legislation. It can be a difficult learning curve, and we know that. So, we did our usual Lobby Day and made sure our members connected with their legislators. All we ever want is an opportunity to explain our side. Sometimes legislators agree with us. Sometimes they don't. At the end of the day, you just want to feel like you were listened to."

Wise agreed, adding, "I think the combination of our Opening Day reception that we do on the first day of session as well as the Lobby Day we do during the session coupled with the regular outreach of our members to legislators helped tremendously. But it's still a full-time job to educate lawmakers on issues that are important to us, because they have a thousand different subject matters to deal with. It's a tough job. So, it's incumbent on our folks to get out there and tell them what's important to retail, to alcoholic beverages, and to small business interests."

This past year, Wise said he and his colleagues spent a lot of time working through some modifications to the brewery law. The law's update was dubbed the "Brewery Modernization Act" and was one of two brewer-backed bills state legislators passed this year and Gov. Hogan signed into law. The second makes it easier for breweries to end or renegotiate their contracts with distributors, beginning Jan. 1. 

"I think that was a success story for the whole industry," Wise said, "because we were able to come together with the brewers, the beer wholesalers, our retailers, and we worked out something that gave craft brewers the predictability they were looking for. But all concerned also recognized there had been significant changes to the structure of the industry.  Many people had entered the industry under a different set of rules. So, the changes had to be done in a measured manner to respect the existing rules of the game, but also reflect that the times have indeed changed. It truly was a compromise in the best sense of the word."

He continued, "We also worked a bit with a legislator this past year, Delegate Steve Arentz, who was trying to make some changes to the alcohol awareness laws to require that someone with alcohol awareness training be on premise at all times. His bill actually went a step further and said that, basically, anybody that serves alcohol on premise or off would need to have alcohol awareness training. We're working through that with him. So, that could be back on the table in 2020, but it's been a cooperative thing. He's been willing to hear what the industry has to say, but he's interested in enhancing those requirements. And we understand.

Now, with 2019 almost in the books, both Wise and Milani are looking forward to the challenges and (hopefully) successes of a new year. Wise noted, "We have been trying for some time to get a bill passed regarding underage sales and IDs. When it comes to underage sales, today's fake IDs are terribly difficult to identify because the technology has gotten SO good at creating them. The moment a state has passed a change in the look of a driver's license, somebody online has figured out how to reproduce a fake one. But the retailer is, of course, still directly held responsible for underage sales. So, we're trying to put scanner technology into the law that would say, 'If a retailer has used a certified technology to check an ID, they should be able to use that as evidence if there is an underage sale.' It would be part of their defense, but not an absolute defense. We haven't been able to get this done, but we're going to keep working on it in 2020."

Of course, MSLBA members are always on guard for any chain store legislation being proposed. As of press time, neither the Beverage Journal nor Milani or Wise had heard a bill is imminent or even in the works. "But I would certainly tell our members to prepare like there is," Milani cautioned.

Marshele Burgess, MSLBA Treasurer and proprietor of Rip's Country Inn in Bowie, remarked, "Each business has different issues that are hot-button issues to them, so it is important to keep tabs on those items. Being part of MSLBA and going to the weekly meetings during legislation really helps you to be able to be up to date."

Perhaps the MSLBA's biggest hot-button issue heading into 2020 is a tax one. Any retailer that collects sales tax gets what is called a vendor allowance. So if, for example, you're sending $1,000 to the state in sales tax, you get to keep $100 for the processing of that and so forth. 

"When our industry's sales tax went up to 9 percent, that amount was not adjusted," Wise noted. "That's been coupled with the fact that all retailers are now experiencing considerable fees when credit cards are used, and consumers are increasingly paying with credit cards. So, our costs per transaction have gone up. At the same time, the amount of the transaction has gone up because of the sales tax. That's causing retailers to have to fork over more dollars to the credit card companies. We're looking at coming in with some legislation that would adjust that vendor allowance to reflect that the higher sale tax is increasing our costs. Right now, we're trying to get a handle on what would be an appropriate adjustment."

It's a concern for Milani, as well. "We're trying to figure it out," Milani, the owner of Monaghan's Pub in Baltimore, said. "It's not easy to talk about any bill that comes with a price tag. We need to key in on, 'Hey, please help us out with that extra 3 percent the average retailer doesn't have to pay.'"

So, does Milani have a New Year's wish for the industry and Annapolis? When asked this question, he had to laugh first. Then, he replied, "Hey, I always have to play defense. I almost never get to play offense! I guess I would just hope that more legislators come to really know that Maryland is set up for the small business folks who work in their communities. When a bill comes in, we'd love for them to consider, 'What will this do to our small retailers?' And weigh that prior to doing anything. We also have to do our part. And when we do call up about something that affects small business, take a couple of minutes and talk to us. Our story is real, and it's getting harder out here in this age where people want total convenience. They want everything to be delivered right to their front door, and they don't think about the cost that may come with that."

There's no doubt that this is a critical time in state politics, especially where alcohol legislation is concerned.  For many reading this, the goings-on in Annapolis can appear overwhelming.  But Burgess, Wise, and Milani all urged Beverage Journal readers -- from packaged-goods store owners to bar and restaurant operators to brewers and winery proprietors -- to get involved.

"They need to be members of MSLBA, because we do employ a full-time lobbyist who looks out for our interests. We also have a legislative committee that meets weekly during the Session to monitor legislation. Anyone who is new to business reading this must reach out and talk to their local officials in their area. Introduce yourself, let him or her know how many people you employ, and what you're doing in the community. Don't wait for an issue to make your first introduction to a delegate or a senator. Make that introduction now, and try and develop a relationship. If nothing else, they may call you and ask you a question about a bill. Be a resource for them."

Burgess concurred, adding, "It is SO important to have relationships with your local politicians! A good place to start is come to the MSLBA Opening Day legislative reception and Lobby Day."

Perhaps Wise summed it up best: "You can never stress enough how much the legislative process matters to small businesses. It's the old saying, 'Get into the politics … or get out of business!'"

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 14:06:43 -0500
Friendship Wine and Liquor https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/friendship-wine-and-liquor https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/friendship-wine-and-liquor FriendshipW-L_Scheuerman.jpg

Mike Scheuerman pictured here with his wife Sheila, his 25-year-old son, Zach; and his 21-year-old daughter, Sara;
all contribute to Friendship Wine and Liquor's success.

Owner Mike Scheuerman on his Store's Success,
"We're Pretty Hard Core!"

Those are the words Mike Scheuerman used to describe his and his staff's dedication to their customers. Scheuerman is the owner of Friendship Wine and Liquor in Abingdon, Md.

Of course, being a fan of the old "Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," this journalist couldn't help but ask, "How … hard core … are you?"

His reply? "We're so hard core, we're open 365 days a year! That's right. We've been at this location for 13 years, and we have never closed a single day. And that includes blizzards and Christmas. Our customers don't ever have to think about, 'Are they open today?' We're open every day!"

That kind of dedication clearly flows from a man who loves the beverage business and loves his store. Scheuerman makes no apologies. "I live and breathe this!" he exclaimed. "Even when I'm on vacation, I go into liquor stores at the beach. Or if my wife and I are heading up the Jersey Turnpike, I'll say, 'Let's go check this place out! Let's see if there's something we don't carry that we can inquire about.'"

Scheuerman was born and raised in Baltimore, graduated from Loch Raven High School, and earned his undergraduate degree from Towson University. The beverage biz bug bit him throughout his college years during which he worked as a bartender. Upon graduation in 1985, he went to work for the Kronheim & Co. Inc. for four years before deciding he wanted to be his own boss.

He opened Friendship Wine and Liquor at a former Harford County location in March 1989, then moved the store to its current address in 2006. Over the years, the business has become a family affair. His wife, Sheila, works at the store full-time as does his 25-year-old son, Zach. His 21-year-old daughter, Sara, is also an employee.

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Then, there are those employees who are like family. "My wine director, Blair Halsey, I've known longer than anyone in my family," Scheuerman declared. "He got hired at Kronheim three weeks before I did. We have a tremendous amount in common. Same age, graduated college the same year. He virtually runs the fine wine department here."

In addition to wine, Friendship also caters to craft beer and bourbon aficionados. "Service is No. 1," Scheuerman stated.  "We have competitive prices, lots of community involvement, and lots of promotions.  We do everything under the sun -- Military Day, Seniors Day, Wine Day, Craft Beer Day. We try to cover it all."

But it's being open on Christmas and Thanksgiving and the 4th of July and every other day of the year that Friendship Wine and Liquor has become known for locally and countywide. So, how does this work from a staffing standpoint? "We pay all of our employees handsomely with regards to holidays," Scheuerman said. "It's basically overtime. But say you want to sign up for Christmas Day. You are then guaranteed off Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas. We're open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Christmas. So, it's not really that hard to get people to pull that shift."

Scheuerman says another reason for his and his store's success is membership in the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). "MSLBA certainly keeps us abreast of the goings-on on both the state and national level," he remarked. "Even if something doesn't look good in the forecast, we're the first to know about it so we can prepare. And when there are conventions and things like that, it's great to meet other retailers within Maryland that aren't your competition. It's great to know other owners in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and Carroll County. You don't have to be guarded. They're like your comrades. It's not the guy across the street."

When asked what his advice was to anyone reading this who used to be like him -- a bartender, a manager, a wholesaler -- and now dreams of opening his/her own business, Scheuerman was quick to reply. "Be ready for the hours. When you're starting out, you had better be there. I knew when I opened that I certainly wanted to be here all the time. Blair and I, we're here Friday and Saturday nights unfailingly every weekend night of the year. Me working the floor Monday morning is not going to get me off the hook for not being here the previous Friday night. If you're going to be the boss, you'd better be there when the store is busy!"

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 11:17:04 -0500
Prestige-Ledroit Celebrates 10 Years https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/prestige-ledroit-celebrates-10-years https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/prestige-ledroit-celebrates-10-years  Prestige-Ledroit-10-years.jpg

It was 10 years ago that the late Joey Smith left a thriving career in Florida commercial real estate to return to his home state of Maryland and form Prestige Beverage Group (PBG). Smith did not live to see this decade milestone. Sadly, he passed away from
lung cancer at the age of 33 in April 2016. But even in his last weeks, he put a plan
into motion that would ensure the long-term viability of his business.

About two years prior to his death, Smith began exploring the possibility of a merger with Ledroit Brands. He and Michael Cherner, who was then a managing partner at Ledroit, realized they had a similar vision. They also recognized the potential for increased market synergy. At the time, PBG was focused on the Maryland, Delaware, and D.C. markets, while Ledroit covered the District of Columbia exclusively. Their belief was that by combining the two firms, it would allow them to more effectively serve their customers and suppliers in all three markets.

After Smith’s death, his father and area beverage legend Jimmy Smith stepped in to help complete the merger and see that the newly formed company launched properly. Smith was determined to cement his son's professional legacy. He still is as Prestige-Ledroit's Chairman. "I had planned to be retired by now," he said, in a recent sit-down interview with the Beverage Journal. "But, instead, I go to work every day, five days a week, and I look forward to it. My goal is to cement Joey's legacy by growing his vision. That's what I'm all about. In a way, it's like I am starting all over again … and I love it!"

For years, Jimmy Smith was the chairman of Breakthru Beverage of Maryland. His father founded Reliable Liquors in 1947, which merged with Churchill Distributors in 2002 to form Reliable Churchill and then with Breakthru Beverage Group 14 years later. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Prestige-Ledroit-10-years_0001.jpgIt's quite the family legacy.

"Joey was always interested in the industry," Jimmy recalled. "He grew up around the business, and he was always reading about wine. He was fascinated by the personalities in the industry, but he never expressed a desire to work in the industry. He just liked to read about it and so forth. In early 2009, he got a call from the guy who was running what was then Chesapeake Beverage. That man used to work for me, and he asked me, 'I think the company's going to be sold. Do you think Joey would be interested?' Joey was in Florida at the time and working in real estate. But he was on a plane the next day, and he bought the business"

He continued, "He got his own financing. He did everything on his own. It was like his passion for this business was locked up inside of him and got let out. Even when he was sick and he was getting treatment, his energy was through the roof. It was contagious! To be honest, he revitalized my interest in the business. He'd call me at the end of most days and talk about his work. And he would be so excited talking about the industry. He'd go on and on and on."

Joey Smith, who was a 2001 graduate of Boys Latin High School and a 2005 graduate of Tulane University, clearly learned firsthand from his father and grandfather about customer service and professional camaraderie in the distribution business. His whole operational philosophy became centered around matching customers with products that fit their needs.

According to his father, "he believed his No. 1 asset was people. He treated every account as an individual account. He always preferred focusing on the people over the product. It had to be a good fit. What was good for one account might not be good for another. He would try to individualize every account and their needs, and he never wavered from that philosophy. Even with suppliers, whether they sold him $1,000 worth of product or $10,000 worth, he treated everyone with the same amount of respect and gave them as much time as they needed."

His belief was when salespeople focus on the needs of the people they are selling products to rather than on the products themselves, everyone ends up benefiting. "There wasn't a product that came in the door that Joey didn't hold educational seminars about and made sure the staff knew the story, that they knew the history of the supplier, so that when they went out they could impart that knowledge to the customer."

And then there are the successful products that Prestige-Ledroit represents. Instead of zeroing in on a particular style of winemaking or focusing on niche producers, Prestige-Ledroit represents a wide array of styles and regions from around the globe, focusing on wine, spirit, and beer producers -- everyone from Four Roses Bourbon in Kentucky to Heitz Wine Cellars in Napa Valley to Singha in Bangkok.

"He knew what was coming with the craft spirits," Jimmy Smith said. "We all in the business could see it, but Joey had a real vision. He would say, 'This is where the next chapter of the business is going.' He wanted to develop the spirits along with the wines, and our portfolio reflects that now. It's a very well-balanced portfolio."

Prestige-Ledroit is based in Elkridge, Md., and also boasts offices and warehouses in Newark, Del., and in the nation's capital. In total, Prestige-Ledroit represents more than 750 products from over four dozen suppliers. And by making smaller, more frequent shipments to its on- and off-premise accounts coupled with pairing new products with specific buyers who have a market for them, Prestige-Ledroit has proven it can move bottles more efficiently for all concerned.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Prestige-Ledroit-10-years_0003.jpgSmith believes his son would be proud of what his dad, Cherner, and their combined staffs have been able to accomplish. "Joey was my hero," Smith stated. "He started a business, he got married to a wonderful woman named Natalie, all while he was getting cancer treatment for many years. And he never complained and never asked 'Why me?' He just did his business. He'd get up when he felt well and be here. Even if he didn't feel well, he would be at work. People didn't really know how sick he was during that period from 2009 to 2016. But he overcame that."

The elder Smith went on, "He was a great people person, too. He had a presence about him when he walked in a room. And he was always in control. Highs or lows, you could never tell. That's what they say about the great athletes. Winning or losing, you can't tell. Joey was also about giving back to the community. He tried to raise money for lung cancer research. And he never missed a family event. Besides the business, he was driven by a sense of family, service, and community. And he picked suppliers that were family-owned. He wanted that sense of family that sold products that reflected his values."

And to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the younger Smith making his triumphant debut in the beverage business, his father and colleagues have a couple of special events coming up in late November. "On Friday, Nov. 22," he said, "we are going to have at a private restaurant club in Baltimore a celebration with senior management. And then on the 24th of November at the warehouse, we're having an open house for every employee and their families. There will be moon bounces for the kids, food, it's going to be a lot of fun and we're hoping everybody will be there celebrating."

Those who knew Joey Smith best almost uniformly express confidence that he would have loved how his company has grown and flourished, especially post-merger with Ledroit. No one is more confident of this sentiment than his dad. "I didn't meet Mike Cherner until after my son's funeral," he concluded. "But I told him that Joey's wish was to put the two companies together, which we did in August 2016. Every day since, I know Joey has been here in spirit and I know he's been smiling, because we have been fortunate to grow his business, adding more people, and I know he's just smiling and loving it. I don't think there is a day that goes by where I don't talk to a supplier who says, 'I knew your son, and I hope you don't mind me talking about him.' And I just smile and answer, 'No, I don't mind. I love to hear all the stories!'"

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:45:10 -0500
The Wine and Cheer Cart https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-wine-and-cheer-cart https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/the-wine-and-cheer-cart WineCheerCart.jpg

The Next Great Retail Invention?

What's been the most important invention in grocery retail over the decades? The cash register? Sure. And it's been updated frequently over the years with the latest computer and barcode technology. Security cameras? Certainly, such tech has significantly cut down on shoplifting. But many believe a more basic invention is what built grocery and packaged-goods retail into what it is today. The shopping cart!

The shopping cart was invented in 1937 by Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Humpty Dumpty grocery chain. He realized that once people's hands were full, they left his stores. So, he invented the shopping cart, which ultimately compelled people to stay in stores longer and buy more goods.

Today, all sorts of innovations are impacting retail, from self checkouts to digital coupons.  But Tom and Charlotte Santolli believe the shopping cart will once again trump them all. Together, this husband-and-wife duo out of New Jersey have invented and patented The Wine & Cheer Cart specifically for beer, wine, and liquor stores.

The cart is designed to hold bottles of varying sizes upright while shopping. The secret is the Santollis' patented mesh of "safety rings" built into each cart. Preventing breakage and near-constant bottle clanking is the most obvious benefit. But that's just one of the cart's pluses. Based on multiple principles of human behavioral science, the Santollis believe customers will naturally feel compelled to fill more rings than leave unfilled -- i.e., more sales for the retailer!

Tom Santolli, an insurance broker for over three decades, said, "There was a study done in the early 19th century by a psychiatrist, and it had to do with a person's desire to complete a project. When you see those holes. people are going to want to fill them simply because they're there. We knew we couldn't have 50 rings because that would kill the effect. This one has 16, and we might have one that has eight or 12 for smaller, liquor stores."

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Charlotte came up with the basic idea. A stay-at-home mom who raised their two daughters, she was shopping at a liquor store one day. When she got home with her purchases, she expressed how annoying it was that every time she shopped in that store, she had to do so with "this big, stupid cart. No matter how I would position the bottles, they'd always roll around!"

She continued, "What I said next was, 'I have an idea! Those cup holders they use in carts so you can go around the store with a cup of coffee or drink, that's just one holder. They should do a grid of them. Then, you could put the bottles in and they'd all be secure.' And Tom immediately jumped up and was like, 'That's a great idea! We have to run with this!' 

Tom recalled "I went upstairs, got on the computer, and Googled every shopping cart manufacturer in the world. You could see all of their product lines, all their accessories. I looked everywhere. I couldn't find it, and I just knew it didn't exist." They contacted a lawyer, started an official search, realized nothing like what the cart they were looking to invent existed, and went from there. 

Both agreed that securing a patent has been the toughest part of making The Wine & Cheer Cart a reality. Charlotte said, "Everything we'd heard was, 'Strap in for the long run! It's going to take a dozen years!' Well, we got it in three and a half."

Tom chimed in, "We had a couple of challenges in the back-and-forths with the patent examiner in Washington. But not nearly as many as most people. He even conceded when I was on my conference call with him and my attorney, he said, 'Two things. First of all, the simplest inventions are always the best. And second, I've never seen anything like this!' So, I knew we had a good shot."

Now, the Santollis believe they have a good shot at making their cart a major success with retailers. A physical challenge was to get it to "nest," the industry term for stacking. One cart has to push in to another when storing them. They overcame that with simple engineering. The fun since has been showing the carts to prospective clients. 

Tom remarked, "I've taken it to a lot of liquor stores. I love getting the automatic, 'Aha!'  I don't even have to explain the benefits. They're pretty obvious when you see it."

Charlotte concluded, "We take the cart to liquor stores and put it with the other carts. And customers of every age love it, especially older people and people with bad backs. Because with the grid, you don't have to bend down into the cart and lift things out for the cashier. And just being able to operate and navigate the cart and not hear the clinking of bottles? 'Aha!' indeed!"

For more information, contact CFS Inventions, LLC at 201-264-1223.

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:21:53 -0500
Burgess Is on a Tear at Rip's Country Inn https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/burgess-is-on-a-tear-at-rip-s-country-inn https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/burgess-is-on-a-tear-at-rip-s-country-inn RIPS_MSLBA_0001.jpg

Marshele Burgess is proprietor of Rip's Country Inn in Bowie, a business that's been around for more than 65 years. I write "business" because Rip's is really four concepts in one -- a restaurant, a bar, a deli, and a wine and spirits store. In a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, Burgess talked about the challenges of overseeing such a complex operation and living up to a decades-old legacy. "What makes Rip's special is indeed our size and the combination of things we offer," she said. "We have over 100 employees. So, it's a challenge keeping everyone happy and them doing what you want them to do."

Burgess continued, "The fact that it has been here so long at this location has been an asset. We've seen the area grow around us. We are right on 301, a mile south of Route 50, and right at the edge of  197. Those are all major arteries. We get a lot of customers from our area who are regulars, and then we get a lot who are traveling through our area. It's quite a customer base."

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Rip's has remained a base for customers over the years by staying focused on pleasing the paying public. Burgess and her staff are constantly working on customer service. "On the liquor store side," she stated, "it's knowledge. I've worked hard at hiring people that have a lot of knowledge in the field. I have a liquor buyer, a wine buyer, and a beer buyer, and they all cross over. I'm very blessed to have employees who are so willing to share their knowledge with the customers and help them find products they want to try."

Burgess' first job out of college was working for a national retailer. But after a year in that sector, she went to work for the family business-- a wholesale food distributorship. Soon after, her parents bought Rip's Country Inn at a public auction. "The liquor store had been closed, so we had to start from scratch," she recalled. "Rip's was built in 1952 and was also a family-owned business. We've had it since the late '70s. We actually took over the restaurant before it went to public auction. And then, when it went to auction, we bought the whole she-bang."

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Her father was friends with the founder, Rip, whose real name was Armstead. When Armstead played baseball as a young man, he would slide into the bases and often rip his pants, hence the nickname. Burgess learned a lot from her dad and gradually took the reins. Over the years, she's had to adapt to a changing playing field in the state, the county, and the town. "Running a business these days is more challenging with all of the new laws imposed on us," she lamented. "It keeps me and my staff quite busy making sure we're up on all of the regulations, that we're paying everybody right, that we're not breaking any of the new liquor laws. With the restaurant, there's the new Styrofoam law. Even straws may eventually become an issue."

Burgess credits her affiliation with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) with helping her navigate the often choppy legislative waters. "MSLBA is this great resource to go to and ask, 'OK, where are we on this law? How does it affect me? How do I make sure I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing?'' With the new Sick Leave Act that got put in a little over a year ago, if we hadn't had MSLBA to help us through that, I wouldn't have nearly as much confidence that I'm doing everything correct by the law. The association gets our plans across to the legislators. To have your voice heard? That's a great thing."

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And being friends with so many MSLBA members, it's only reinforced her beliefs on what it takes to be successful in this business. When asked what advice she'd have for any new owners or operators reading this, she was quick to reply. "You're in for a lot of hard work," she said. " It's all-encompassing of your life. I've raised children, and my husband and I work here together. And it didn't dawn on me how much our children have absorbed what we do until one day when we were sitting in the restaurant, my daughter who was eight years old at the time said, 'Mom, you have to talk to that busboy who's touching the silverware! He can't touch the silverware before he puts it down on the table!' And I'm thinking, 'You're eight?' So, yes, when you make that choice to become a business owner, you make that choice for the whole family!"

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:50:22 -0500
New Vodka Looks to Win the GAME https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/new-vodka-looks-to-win-the-game https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/new-vodka-looks-to-win-the-game Game_Vodka_0001.jpg

It's GAME on for partners Tilford Brockett and Bruce Caughman.  GAME Vodka, to be precise.  The duo is hoping their new product will become the vodka of choice for sports enthusiast throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor and ultimately beyond.

And the two entrepreneurs are willing to get a little "in yo' face" if it means winning in this particular niche. For one, GAME is being marketed as a "vodka with balls."  Now, of course, Brockett and Caughman are cheekily referring to GAME's bottle art, with five different bottles each featuring a separate graphic of a football, baseball, basketball, tennis ball, or soccer ball.  But theirs is not a drink for winners of a participation trophy. They're hoping GAME Vodka will become known as "the taste of victory" whether you're a spectator or a player.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Game_Vodka_0002.jpg"It's a really crowded market," Brockett declared. "There are a hundred different vodkas. You really have to have the balls to be different, excuse the pun. We figured what brings a lot of folks together and what people celebrate outside of holidays is sports. There are a lot of vodkas available that are marketed pretty much along the same avenues. We're geared for sports. We want to capture that arena."

To be sure, Brockett comes from outside the beverage arena. A pharmacist by trade, he has used his chemistry background to distill a product that he and Caughman feel will be on the top end of the category. "It's eight times distilled," Brockett said, "five times filtered, made from sweet corn, and is gluten free."

Caughman, a 22-year U.S. Air Force veteran who currently works for the federal government, also comes from outside the industry. He is hoping to put his MBA to good use in this new venture. "We wanted to develop a vodka that tastes good and that was priced to sell," he remarked. "We've done that. Also, instead of marketing it wide, we wanted to keep it within this region first to get some traction before going outside of the area."

Consequently, that means appealing to Redskins, Ravens, Nationals, Orioles, and Wizards fans alike. "It's a great working class market overall," said Brockett. "And we feel that based on our price point below $20, we fit right into that sweet spot. Washington, D.C., in particular, is a big sports market with D.C. United [and the other teams].  It's a town that's very up on sports, sports radio is really big here, and there are a tremendous number of sports bars."

b2ap3_thumbnail_Game_Vodka_0003.jpgThis isn't Brockett and Caughman's first foray into the spirits biz. They were previously part owners in AnestasiA Vodka, which was known for its exquisite packaging. But the product never quite gained traction. Brockett recalled, "Customers would buy it once and just hold it as a novelty item. They wouldn't drink it! You can't run a business if you don't get the repeat buyer."

He continued, "I got some great advice from Guillaume Cuvelier, creator of Svedka Vodka.  I met him at a beverage show about seven years ago. We were campaigning with AnestasiA. And he walked up to me and said, 'GREAT packaging … it's not gonna sell!' And I was like, 'Who in the hell is this guy?! ' But he handed me his card and we started talking. He said, 'Listen, I sold Svedka for $384 million. Vodkas above $20 don't sell.'  So, I ended up using him as my point of reference through this whole new journey. He's been very supportive."

One lesson learned is the GAME Vodka bottle is more streamlined and geared specifically for its target customer. "We strategically made the bottle so that it kind of feels athletic," Brockett noted. "It's very comfortable in the hand for bartenders. And you won' t mind throwing it away after drinking it, then buying another. Our game plan is to sit on the shelves of every sports bar. To sit in every stadium, whether it's Oriole Park at Camden Yards or Capital One Arena. This is a passion we have. Bruce and I have been friends for a lot of years. And most of the times Bruce and I've really spent time together have been at sporting events. Sports bring people together."

Looking ahead, the partners intend to open a distillery later in the year "to control our own distribution and production," Caughman said. "To better control the game."

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:39:28 -0500
Success at Mt. Airy Liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/success-at-mt-airy-liquors https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/success-at-mt-airy-liquors BenGolueke-HOME.jpg

Ben Golueke (pronounced Go-leck-e) started in the beverage business when he was just 15, working at his father's packaged goods store in Cockeysville Md. He worked there throughout high school and on breaks from college. After graduating from Radford University in 1996 with a degree in Business Management, he didn't have to wait long for the opportunity to run his own store.

"I've been owning and operating Mt. Airy Liquors since August 1997," he stated during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. Back then, the store was a 3,200-square-foot operation. He and his staff moved the business within the same shopping center in 2011 to its current 5,400-square-foot space. But it's not the size of the store that matters. "Mt. Airy Liquors stands out because of our customer service," he remarked. "The Mt. Airy Liquors crew is like one big family, too, which helps with the morale of the store. When I hire good employees, I make sure to keep them. I have employees that have been here from six months to 17 years!"

Another thing that distinguishes Mt. Airy Liquors is the growler station Golueke put in three years ago.  "Not every store has invested in this," he noted, "and it does set us apart from others around the area. We also added a crowler machine this year, which allows people to fill our Mt. Airy Liquors-designed disposable 32-ounce can. It's great for when someone forgets to bring in their growler."

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With two teenage daughters, Golueke has naturally kept up with the latest trends in technology. In recent years, for instance, he has built his store's following on social media. "Social media has enhanced the way we can interact with all of our customers," Golueke stated. "It's a great tool when we want people to know about monthly sales; events;  tastings; odd and obscure beer, wine, and liquors that we receive; and, of course, all of the hard-to-get bourbons these days. We use e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Untappd."

Mt. Airy Liquors also does event planning. In fact, this aspect of the business has really taken off in the last five years. "Weddings are big events in people's lives," Golueke noted, "and I enjoy helping make that day one they'll never forget. Our website has an events page that people can fill out and e-mail in directly to me. It has our policies for events on it and basic party/event guides to help with the decisions that must be made. We take great pride in these services."

For the most part, though, Golueke is there front and center for the day-in, day-out challenges and even drudgery of running a small business. He states, "I still enjoy the daily grind at Mt. Airy Liquors. Coming up with new ideas and new events is fun. We always try to keep it fresh and never let it become boring for our customers or employees. I enjoy the strategy of pricing, too. Maryland’s quantity discounts have become frustrating and overwhelming at times, but it's still intriguing setting up our pricing to pass on the best deals possible to our customers and still remain profitable."

He also enjoys his affiliation with the Maryland State License Beverage Association (MSLBA), even serving as one of its directors for Carroll County. "The MSLBA has kept the playing field even for all of us that own liquor stores in Maryland," he remarked. "MSLBA is always tracking everything that happens in our industry from county to county. I've been fortunate enough to meet many great people in the industry at MSLBA events. too, and I call many of them friends."

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Golueke added, "Being a director in the MSLBA means I need to be present and aware of political issues in my county and the entire state. Every year, bills are presented to our legislators that could change the face of our industry. It's important that I stay involved with my senators and representatives [regarding] all of the industry issues and news."

And whenever times do get tough, he remembers the advice of his father, Steve Golueke. He concluded, "When I worked at his store, he always told me to get out from behind the counter and ask people if they need help. As a teenager, it bothered me because it was more work for me. Needless to say, I now know how important it is in what we do as a retail store. Talk to people, make them feel welcome. It's really simple, but so many just don't do it anymore. Something else I remember from those early days is always take product out to people's cars for them.  Two things that are easy to do and SO important for being successful!"

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2019 Editions Fri, 04 Oct 2019 09:49:02 -0400
R.I.P. Joe Stanley: A Winner in Life and in the Beverage Business https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/r-i-p-joe-stanley-a-winner-in-life-and-in-the-beverage-business https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/r-i-p-joe-stanley-a-winner-in-life-and-in-the-beverage-business JoePamStanley.jpg

Joseph "Joe" Stanley, the former Vice President of Sales and Marketing at F.P. Winner, passed away July 18, just four days shy of his 71st birthday. And everyone I talked to who knew him told this journalist the same thing, "Don't make your tribute article a sad one. Joe would HATE that!".

So, I'm not. This article will only briefly mention his stroke in 2008 that forced him into early retirement. Instead, it's going to focus more on the people he touched, the careers he shaped … and the time he nearly ate 50 pot stickers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

Throughout the 1990s, Stanley and his longtime friend and colleague Larry Brookman would go to every Orioles' Opening Day. One particular Opening Day, they and a group of F.P. Winner employees sat around talking old movies. Guys being guys, they discovered a mutual admiration for "Cool Hand Luke," specifically the scene where Paul Newman's title character was dared to eat 50 hard-boiled eggs.

Brookman recalled, "So, we finish lunch at the Camden Club and Joe calls over the waitress and tells her, 'Bring me 50 pot stickers!' We'd been [there] all day, and we start making bets as to whether or not Joe can finish 50. Joe gets his first plate of pot stickers and downs 10 in no time at all. He gets down 20 with no sign of stopping. At 25, he starts to slow a bit. Some of us are doing our best George Kennedy, rubbing his stomach and jaw to help get more down. I remember the number. He got to 38, and he said, 'That's it! I can't do anymore … but, uh, could you bring me two large Guinnesses to wash these things down?!' The Camden Club went crazy. He was larger than life!"

Stanley's brother-in-law, Kenny Irwin, used that same term when describing the man. "He had a larger-than-life persona," said Irwin, who's also been in the business most of his adult life. "His heart was in the on-premise side of the business. That's where he cut his teeth, and that's what he taught me when I came in. I spent my whole life on the on-premise side, and he sure opened doors for me. I've had a pretty successful life, and I attribute that to him."

Stanley started at Milton S. Kronheim in Washington, D.C., as a salesman in the early 1970s, eventually working his way up to vice president status. His ambitions brought him to F.P. Winner where he was given even more responsibility. One of those who worked closest with him was Amedeo "Emery" Coccia. "I was Joe's Spirit Brand Manager at F.P. Winner," he said. "We had three brand managers, a spirits manager, a wine manager, and a beer manager."

He continued, "Some of my favorites memories were Joe and I getting together once or twice a week in his office after hours  We'd just pick each other's brains and come up with strategies for different brands. He and I had the same thought process. We'd get a LOT accomplished."

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Of course, Joe Stanley's greatest collaborator was his wife, Pam. In speaking with her, she had more insight into Joe away from the job. One of his passions was coaching basketball, football, and Little League baseball. "He loved coaching kids," she said. "There were so many stories at Joe's funeral about how he got some of his former players into the business. You'd hear about this once-cocky kid that Joe saw something in at 18, and that kid would go on to have this great career." 

So, how would Joe Stanley like to best be remembered. Each of those interviewed had their thoughts. Coccia remarked, "I think he'd like to be remembered as the kind of guy who worked hard and put 100 percent effort into the brands we represented being successful."

Irwin stated, "He'd want to be remembered as the type of person who supported his workforce. Joe thought of this industry as a fraternity, a brotherhood. When people would get let go from a wine company or a distributor, he'd tell them, 'This business will not let you down. It will recycle you and keep you in the fraternity.'"

"He'd like to be remembered for always making a difference," added Brookman, who grew up with Stanley and knew him the longest. "Joe didn't have quit in him. He was a great athlete. He was always the guy that wanted the ball for the final basket or to run that last play as the QB. He knew the game was best in his hands."

But Pam Stanley summed up her husband best: "I put this on his prayer card. He would like to be remembered as an 'afterglow.' He welcomed everybody, and he would always want everybody to have one last drink with him … and one last drink for him. So, cheers, Joe!"

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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Mon, 16 Sep 2019 08:35:46 -0400
Boordy Uses Special Events to Create Special Customers https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/boordy-uses-special-events-to-create-special-customers https://www.beveragejournalinc.com/new/easyblog/entry/boordy-uses-special-events-to-create-special-customers Boordy-Vineyard-SIGN.jpg

Throughout Maryland and elsewhere, more and more vineyards, wineries, breweries, and distilleries are hosting special events on-site.  In some cases, they're putting on shows -- quite literally -- to get people to come out and taste their products. For instance, the Fiore Winery and Distillery in Pylesville, Md., offers its Music in the Vineyard series every Saturday night through mid-September.

Among the most active, though, is Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Md., nestled in the heart of Baltimore County's Long Green Valley. Every Saturday evening during the warm months, the property hosts a Summer Concert Series that features a diverse array of local bands and performers. And every Thursday afternoon/evening in the summer and well into the cooler months, Boordy offers its "Good Life Farmers Market."  

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For visitors, it's a chance to come to a working winery, enjoy some good food and drink, and just unwind "in the country." For Boordy, it's a chance to promote the brand.  "These events are powerful marketing tools," declared Boordy Vineyards President Rob Deford, "and they have a broad impact since we have visitors from all over Maryland and from neighboring states.  When people enjoy a beautiful, festive afternoon or evening at Boordy, it builds a familial bond between us that translates into brand loyalty.  I can say this with confidence, because when we started our concert series over two decades ago, sales in our regional stores picked up in direct relationship to the growing popularity of our events."

Bruce Wills, Boordy's National Sales Director, concurred. He pointed to the last Farmers Market Boordy put on just prior to our interview in late June. The 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. event drew nearly 1,000 people.  "And most probably drank a glass of Boordy at some point," he remarked.  "So, there is a 1,000-person group who will go back into their communities and hopefully go to their local wine store and buy additional Boordy wines.  And, yes, these folks come from all over the place.  They come from southern Pennsylvania and Delaware.  I've met folks here from Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.  Boordy has become a destination place for nice wine, nice people, music, and food.  That impression seems to travel out into the community and throughout the mid-Atlantic region."

The Retailers' Perspective

Skeptical at first, store owners and operators are beginning to acknowledge that events like the ones Boordy, Fiore, and others put on around the state create new customers for them. Among them is Larry Dean, proprietor of Bel Air Liquors. "It's helpful, because they really do drive people to the local stores," he said. "If they're going there for a specific event, whether it's a band they want to see or to buy things at a farmers' market, they also get exposed to the product line. I think it not only drives them to us in the retail market, but it also gets people to ask for the wines or beers or what-have-you when they go to restaurants."

He continued, "We're just far enough away that I would say our customer base will buy, say, Boordy's wines here as opposed to making the trek and going all the way back to the vineyard. And, yes, we do hear, 'We went to this concert at Boordy last weekend, and we loved their wines!"

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Wills and Deford insist that store owners and operators like Dean should never feel their sales are threatened by such on-site events. The former commented, "There is no conflict in pricing.  We might actually be a little bit higher by design here at the winery than at a local wine shop.  And it's not unusual for people to stop at any of the wine shops in this Baltimore County area and buy Boordy wine before they come to the concert.  The local wine shops should know they will get residual business from the visitors to Boordy.  Hopefully, the people who visit here have such an enjoyable experience that they go back to their homes in York, Pa., or Mt. Airy, Md., and buy Boordy."

Deford added, "It is often at a farmers market or a concert that people are first introduced to our wines.  However, since Boordy is not located on a convenient route for routine purchases of our wines, repeat sales are made more in retail wine shops and restaurants around the state.  When I wear a shirt with the Boordy logo, I encounter people in all walks of life and all over our state who stop me to say that they have enjoyed an afternoon or evening at the winery and cherish the memory."

Longevity is Key

The Boordy events have been going on for so long and are so well-known that Deford, Wills, and Co. have to do very little promoting at this point. "We no longer have to aggressively advertise," Wills confirmed. "It's on our website, Boordy.com. It's on our Facebook page. We sell out to capacity just about every week. We know we're going to get 1,700 people for the Mahoney Brothers or 1,500 for Mood Swings. People go on the website, see who's playing next, buy the tickets, and it all just seems to come together."

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So for any other winery or brewery operator reading this who is interested in putting on similar events, do Wills and Deford have any advice? Wills, who has been with Boordy since September 2015, was the first to respond. "It's a handful," he acknowledged, with a slight chuckle. "It is crowd control-plus!  You have to have a really crack team of people who just do the concerts, and we do.  We have security.  We sell tickets.  It's all very well orchestrated, organized, and monitored.  And it's not an easy thing to do until you get a lot of experience.  So, my advice would be to start small, take baby steps, and learn what's involved in growing into a larger event and venue."

Deford agreed, adding, "I have two recommendations for anyone considering hosting events at their facility.  One, remember that the quality of your product is your most important asset.  So, don't let events distract you from this primary focus.  And, two, be a good neighbor!  Do not over crowd your events.  Keep them in proportion to the size of your property and to the capacity of public access roads, and be sensitive to noise levels.  We have taken many steps to mitigate the impact of our events so that we are in harmony with our community, and this ensures a positive and sustainable relationship well into the future."

Deford concluded, "I have attended so many concerts and farmers markets over the years here that it would be impossible to single out one memory, but I do have a favorite composite memory: it's of a clear summer evening with dusk just settling in, a good band is playing, people are dancing, enjoying our wine, food, and good company, and a general air of happiness and joy is prevailing.  Wine and the celebration of life have belonged together for thousands of years.  We are simply continuing that wonderful tradition!"

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


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teddy@beveragejournalinc.com (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Mon, 09 Sep 2019 12:48:37 -0400