Blogs from Edward "Teddy" Durgin - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Sat, 30 May 2020 01:23:02 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Coronavirus and the Local Market COVID-local_0001.jpg

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Local Help From
National Resources

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

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

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

Maryland State Licensed
Beverage Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Local Distilleries Shift From Liquor to Hand Sanitizer

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Miller Continues to Blaze a Family Trail

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2020 Editions Mon, 06 Jan 2020 14:06:43 -0500
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.


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.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 11:17:04 -0500
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!'"

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:45:10 -0500
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."


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.

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2019 Editions Tue, 03 Dec 2019 10:21:53 -0500
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."


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."


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."


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.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:50:22 -0500
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.    

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2019 Editions Mon, 04 Nov 2019 11:39:28 -0500
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."


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."


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.    

Read more]]> (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 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."


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!"

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Mon, 16 Sep 2019 08:35:46 -0400
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."  


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!"


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, 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."


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.   

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Mon, 09 Sep 2019 12:48:37 -0400
J. Scott Ridgell: Busy at Buzzy's Natalie-Grace-Photos-37.jpg

Unlike most packaged goods stores, Buzzy's Country Store in St. Mary's County doesn't have to do much to generate … well … buzz. It's been around in one form or another for decades. The current proprietor, J. Scott Ridgell, has been a part of the store since he was a child as his father, Clarence, and mother, Jean, bought the business from Jean's dad in 1954. Clarence operated the store until his death in 2007, passing the torch to J. Scott.

One of the first questions Ridgell fielded 12 years ago from locals was: "Are you going to change the name?" It wasn't even a consideration. "Buzzy was my dad," Ridgell said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "My mom still refers to him as 'Bussy.' When he was a boy, he was the third youngest of 12, and he was always 'busy.' But he preferred Buzzy. So, when I took over in 2007, everyone wanted to know, 'Are you gonna change the name?' And I'd answer, 'Why?' Everyone knows us as 'Buzzy's!'"


Clarence and Jean lived at and operated the store. So, it was truly J. Scott's home throughout his childhood and adolescence. He recalled. "It was a general store, and we didn't sell liquor or wine. It was strictly beer. Back in those days, these places were known as 'gro-bars' -- combination grocery stores and bars. You could actually come in, drink a beer on premise, give the grocer your list, and he would fill your order. Through the years, gro-bars gave way to 7-11's and the like. Very few of us are left. We're technically a store. But, in reality, we're a bar. The law grandfathered us in, having transferred the license from dad's name to mine." 


Having been at the reins now for more than a decade, Ridgell has come to love the people aspect of the business the most. He left a six-figure job with management responsibilities to become the store's operator. But, for him, the intangibles ultimately outweighed money and position.

"It's been very much a homecoming," he stated. "I get to hang out with all of my old running mates, people I used to hang out with and party with. Some of my old friends, I see three or four times a week. [laughing] I forgot how much I liked some of them!" 

On the downside, Ridgell wishes the administrative side of the business wasn't so demanding. "You're always juggling paperwork!" he lamented. "I knew the business from the customer service side -- stocking the shelves, sweeping the floors, and so forth. But as far as the paperwork and filing the sales taxes monthly and having to file your employee withholdings, that's pretty hard."

He continued, "When I run into some young buck who's wanting to start his own business, I tell him, 'You may be good with people and you may be good with sales, but there is a whole paperwork side you're going to need some help with. If you don't know how to do it, you're either going to have to learn or pay somebody to do it."


Even his long-time friends don't quite grasp how hard Ridgell works. "Some of my buddies are like, 'Wow, you have it great! You get to 'shoot the sh*t' with people all day and laugh," he remarked, shaking his head at their misconception. "But I tell them, 'You don't see the underbelly. You don't see me down here at 7 a.m. having to meet the beer guy, who wants to work from my end of the county up.'"

Fortunately, Ridgell had a great role model in his father, whose "Clarence-isms" often resonate in his head as he goes about the business of running the business today. "Dad always treated people fairly," Ridgell recalled. "One of his favorite sayings was, ''Don't rip people off.' It's tempting and you can do it. But my dad was always stressing two things, 'Treat people the way you want to be treated' and 'You get what you give.'" 


Ridgell has found new counsel as a member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA). "I like seeing the big picture," he concluded. "[Membership] has helped me keep an eye on the issues going on. And I really enjoy talking to my fellow members here in the county. Many of these guys have been in the business all their lives. And it's always good joining up with them and going to the meetings. You can't beat the camaraderie!"

Photography Credit: Natalie Grace Photography

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2019 Editions Wed, 04 Sep 2019 13:34:32 -0400
When Julianne Came Home to Bella's Bellas_Liquors-HOME.jpg

Julianne Sullivan's life story up until this point reads almost like one of those Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas TV-movies that permeate both networks each year from Thanksgiving on. She grew up and graduated from high school in scenic, small-town Cape St. Claire, Md.; moved away and established a thriving career in real estate, working in such major markets as Los Angeles and New York City; only to return home to Cape St. Claire to run the charming, small business that's been in her family for decades.

The business?  Bella's Liquors, which was started by her grandmother and grandfather -- a Navy man and Pearl Harbor survivor who put himself through night school and eventually earned an accounting degree -- with financial help from Sullivan's great-grandmother. "They started it as a bar and restaurant, and they had a license to sell on and off," she recalled. "That was 1964, and my grandfather saw that the off-premise business was really picking up. So, he expanded that. Around 1974, he moved to the location we're at right now … and we've been here ever since."

Sullivan has been at the helm as Bella's proprietor since December 2017, having left a cushy executive's post in the Big Apple. What's been the big difference? "Retail never ends!" she exclaimed, with a laugh. "I was in apartment management specifically. When I left, I was at the very high corporate level. I had paid holidays and weekends off. But retail? Retail is all day, every day. You get your orders in, then you make a new order. And over and over again. It's never-ending. It's been a huge learning experience for me these 18 months-plus. It's been like being fresh out of college and learning a brand new job."


But it's been the Hallmark/Lifetime moments that have made the lifestyle change worth it. "I do love meeting people," she said. "We're a small community. Cape St. Claire has that old town feel. We have a 4th of July parade. We have a big strawberry festival each June. You can walk to your local grocery store or to where you get your hair done or to the Ace Hardware store. I did graduate high school from here. So, I came back to something that was familiar."

She also came back to a lot of relatives. "Pretty much everybody in the family has worked here!" she noted. "My mother works here now. My Aunt Christine, my sister, my nephew, and my stepdaughter all work here. Of course, I work here."

Sullivan was set to become the full owner of Bella's Liquors on July 10 (this interview was conducted nearly a week prior).  "The Liquor Board has to approve me buying everybody else out," she noted. "I'll basically be buying out my mother and aunt." Moving forward, she hopes to do her grandfather -- who passed away in May 2018 at the age of 99 -- and his memory proud. 

She also hopes to take a little of what she learned in real estate and apply it to packaged goods. "In apartments, customer service is key," she remarked. "If your customers aren't happy, they're not coming back. So, whether it's happy with their apartment or happy with the wine selection you're offering, it's all about the service you provide. We may not carry everything, because we're a small store. But we're happy to order whatever you want or refer you to another local store in the neighborhood."

She especially loves pointing customers to Maryland brands. "We're a big Navy area being so close to Annapolis, so we get a lot of out-of-town people here. If they're driving, they're like, 'What can I take home that's 'Maryland?' And we'll tell them, 'This is from Baltimore, this is from Dundalk, this is a Boordy wine.' Whatever the case may be."

Finally, she hopes to continue gaining insights and assistance from the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA), of which she is a proud member.  "For the last year, I've been attending the meetings and learning all of the different laws. It's also been good to network with the owners of different businesses that are very much like your own. It's been especially interesting to learn the intricate nature of how legislation affects us, affects small businesses. For someone like me who came from the corporate world where I didn't realize how such laws can affect you, it's been a real eye-opener!"

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 219 editions Wed, 31 Jul 2019 11:45:24 -0400
It's Miller's Time … with National Premium Beer National_Premium_0001.jpg

Tim Miller has gone from being a successful oilman to the owner of National Premium Beer. But he doesn't really see it as that big of a leap. During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, he remarked, "I tell people, 'It's the same thing!  We're using the same kind of practices we used in the oil business, and I'm still delivering liquid. It's just in a can or a bottle and not in a truck'"

Miller was indeed the third generation to head his family's oil business, joining right after college and running it until 2001.  Working at his grandfather’s company over the years, he developed an appreciation for vintage advertising, signage, and fuel pumps.  After Miller sold the company, he became a Realtor with Benson & Mangold in Easton, Md. But his interest in antiques and old signs persisted. One day in 2002, he saw some vintage beer signs in an antique store and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to bring back an old beer brand?'"

But it wasn't until eight years later, when a Wall Street Journal ad touted an old brand auction in New York City, that he decided to climb that particular mountain.  One of several beer brands up for bid was National Premium, an old Maryland beer originally marketed as the upscale version of National Bohemian (i.e., "Natty Bo").  What he purchased that day were basically the words "National Premium Beer." He would soon add the trademark, then the original formula with help from brewer Ray Klimovitz.

Miller then connected with Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company in Dover, Del. After speaking with CEO Jim Lutz, he contracted with the company as his brewery, Jack Ehmann as his brewmaster, and together they relaunched National Premium Beer just prior to Memorial Day in 2012.

b2ap3_thumbnail_National_Premium_0003.jpgNearly seven years later, Miller is in the early stages of self distributing. "We've been doing self distribution now for about two months," he confirmed, during our chat in mid-January, "and we've really been connecting with our customers, the stores, the restaurants.  We still have distributors in some parts of the state, and we're very, very happy with them.  And, sure, I could always go out and talk to a store operator or owner all I wanted.  But I couldn't really sell them anything.  I'd just hope that everything went through after I left, which it usually did.  But it's just nice to have direct sales feedback from what you're doing."

Along the way, the former oilman has come to learn a lot about the beverage some call "suds," others call "brewskie," and still others call a "cold one."  He remarked, "People love beer!  They love talking about it.  They love drinking it.  They love hearing stories about it.  I've found they want to know everything they can about National Premium.  The questions and stories keep coming, too.  I'll get, 'Oh, my grandfather was a pipe fitter at the original brewery.' There's always some kind of connection."

He remembers being immediately attracted to the colors of the National Premium label, specifically purple for the Baltimore Ravens and orange for the Orioles. "There's a lot of heritage with that crest and the classic look of it," he said.  "And there is the nostalgia factor. We have the classic beer taste (Pilsener) that might remind you of a beer you stole a sip from your dad or your grandfather.  It's crisp, clean, and satisfying."

b2ap3_thumbnail_National_Premium_0002.jpgOver the years, he has expanded his company with the addition of the old "Wild Goose Brewery" assets and subsequently re-released Wild Goose Snow Goose and Wild Goose IPA.  But it's his re-launch of National Premium that continues to garner the most attention. 

He stated, "At its peak, the Wild Goose brands were in 13 states, and National Premium was a global brand.  I think it was everywhere except the Middle East.  We've been out for seven years in May.  We've done Delaware and some other areas, but for now we're focused on Maryland."

Looking ahead, in addition to stepping up self-distribution, Miller is eagerly anticipating the new canned version of National Premium beer becoming available.  He concluded, "The brewery in Dover that makes National Premium just got a canning line.  They've done a couple runs of it.  So, maybe by mid- to late April, it'll all be ready.  We're really excited about getting cans.  Pools, boats, golf carts -- National Premium will become even more of a warm weather, summertime kind of beer."

For more info, call 410-310-3553 or email

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2019 Editions Wed, 06 Mar 2019 15:33:24 -0500
Maryland's 2019 Legislative Session StateHouse_Jan19.jpg

A Beverage Biz Look Ahead at the 2019 Session

The 2019 General Assembly Session is just around the corner, and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is once again gearing up to play a big role in looking out for the beverage industry's interests.  This means guys like MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani and lawyer and MSLBA lobbyist J. Steven "Steve" Wise are expected to step up and drive the discussions.

So, what's different about this coming year?  For one … legislator turnover!  "We just had statewide elections back in November," Wise observed, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Somewhere between 25 percent and roughly 30 percent of the General Assembly will be new.  So, it will be even more of an ongoing effort to educate legislators as to how our industry works, the issues that are important to us, the small businesses that are affected by everything that is done with alcohol in Annapolis, and so forth. This will be the most important thing MSLBA and the other industry associations will do in 2019!"

Milani concurred, adding, "This year, with so many new faces, it's really important for our members to know their legislators, reach out to them, and educate them a little bit.  If people really care about their businesses, it's not too much to ask them to take a little more time out to contact these people who represent you in your district and to get involved.  A lot of times, it's just a matter of reaching out, having lunch with them, or just going to see them at their office.  There, you can explain to them the things that are most important to our industry."

He continued, "We've found that most legislators are more than willing to talk with you about the issues.  If nothing else, it opens up a dialogue.  So, if there is a bill that will obviously affect us and our interests, they now know people in the industry and will hopefully reach out and get our feedback."

As for the issues that will matter most in the months to come, Wise was quick to answer. "There will certainly be continued discussion about whether beer and wine should be offered in chain stores and supermarkets," he said.  "This won't be new to the General Assembly, but it will be new to the new members and it will come up."

Both men agreed that "dram shop" liability is another issue that will likely generate some dialogue in the new year.  If it is ever adopted, this legal doctrine would permit vendors of alcohol to be sued by individuals who have suffered injury at the hands of a patron of that vendor.  Consequently, the owner of a bar or tavern where a customer unwisely opts to drink and then drive and hits another vehicle could be sued by the occupants of the other vehicle.

Wise also advises Beverage Journal readers to keep a close eye on the Supreme Court and the case of Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Clayton Bird (Tenn. v. Byrd).  He stated, "It deals with whether states can require residency for purposes of retail alcohol licenses. It's another case where the Court is going to have to weigh the 21st Amendment versus the Commerce Clause, and it will have implications for every state including Maryland.  I have no idea which way it will go.  It's not in my wheelhouse to predict what the Supreme Court is going to do.  Whatever their decision will be, we'll have to read it carefully."

Wise, an attorney with the law firm of Schwartz, Metz, and Wise in Annapolis, went on to describe Tenn. v. Byrd as the "most significant Supreme Court case since Granholm v. Heald" in 2005. The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision ruled that laws in Michigan and New York that allowed in-state wineries to ship wine directly to consumers, but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing the same, were unconstitutional.  

Another thing Milani and Wise agreed on was how Governor Larry Hogan's recent re-election would be good for the state's beverage interests.  "I think the governor's re-election is good for all small businesses, not just those in our industry," remarked Milani, who has co-owned Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn since 1990.  "Gov. Hogan has taken the time to really emphasize small business.  His cabinet and his people have been pretty easy to work with, too.  It's been nice to have a governor who actually appreciates us!  The guy has certainly proven that he listens to people's thoughts and proposals and their considerations.  Even if you don't agree with him, you can't fault him for listening to ideas."

Wise was equally positive.  He called the Hogan administration "super" and added, "They know that the alcohol industry is made up of Maryland businesses.  Thus far, they've been very helpful, have had an open door, and we don't have any reason to believe that won't continue for the next four years."

This is certainly a critical time in both state and national politics.  For many reading this, the goings-on in Annapolis and Washington can appear overwhelming.  But Wise and Milani both urged Beverage Journal readers -- from bar and restaurant operators to packaged-goods store owners to brewers and winery proprietors -- to get involved.

"You have to be aware of what's going on," Wise advised.  "The best way to do that is through the industry's trade associations.  There's the MSLBA at the retail level and on up the chain to the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association.  More than most industries, what's done at the state level on alcohol regulation has an immediate and recognizable impact on your business.  That should be reason alone for folks to sit up and pay attention."

Milani concluded, "If you're going to be in this industry, you should really take the time to understand the rules, regulations, and laws.  And I can't imagine why you wouldn't be a member of a trade association.  MSLBA has a full-time lobbyist in Annapolis.  We have legislative committees.  We need you to be involved.  It's foolish to make such a big investment and then not know what's going on around you." n

[Note: MSLBA President Darren Barnes was unavailable to comment for this article.]

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2019 Editions Wed, 26 Dec 2018 14:04:21 -0500
Building Success: on the restaurant scene BuildingSuccess_0001.jpg

What happens when a noted property developer and one of Maryland's most reliable plumbers team up? They're hoping the end result will be "two new great places to eat and drink!" 
John Roe has partnered with Len Bush (a.k.a. "Len the Plumber") and are hoping a building they own and are renovating at 37 W. Cross St. in Baltimore's Federal Hill will be 2019's newest hotspot for wining and dining.

Roe, who began his professional career managing his father's tavern in Laurel before transitioning into commercial real estate brokerage in Baltimore during the late 1990s, had ironically been trying to reach the owner of this particular building for a couple years. But he could never get a return call from him. "It appeared to be vacant, and it was one of the larger buildings in Federal Hill," he recalled. "Finally, an agent we knew asked if we'd like to take a look at 'some building in Federal Hill.' When she drove us up to it, I couldn't believe it! It wasn't formally on the market, but she was good friends with the owner so she arranged a tour. After that, we knew we had to have it."

Bush described the structure as "love at first sight." He added, "This property had all the character and charm of an old industrial building that I knew we could breathe new life into. Sitting in the heart of Federal Hill, it's one the last remaining historic properties left undeveloped in the area."

So, what makes it ideal for restaurant/brewpub use? First and foremost, Roe noted, there are numerous food and beverage establishments in the Federal Hill submarket that are operating successfully in converted rowhomes. They tend to be long and narrow – anywhere from 12 to 14 feet wide, which can present its own challenges. Roe noted, "Our two spaces are much more conducive to modern food and beverage operations in that they are much more open – roughly 50 x 90 and 50 x 120. Location is another great advantage for us. Cross Street Market is currently being redeveloped one block to our east, and the Stadium Square development, comprising 300 new luxury apartment units and over 300,000 square feet of Class A office space, is directly behind us."

Roe and Bush are actually developing a mixed-use project on the site, with the two restaurant spaces (6,080 sq. ft. and 4,446 sq. ft.) on the ground floor, and 23,000 sq. ft. of offices on the second and third floors. Their team includes such local pros as Chris DeLuca (project manager) of McHenry Project Consultants, interior designer Kelly Ennis of The Verve Partnership, and FH Harvey Construction as general contractor. 


Chris DeLuca of McHenry Project Consultants is but one of the many local professionals John Roe (pictured right) and Len Bush have on the team.

The partners are hoping to secure restaurant tenants that will complement each other in some way. At the same time, two very different food and beverage concepts would likely work just as well.  Roe remarked, "In a perfect world, we don't necessarily want two restaurants with the same, or at least similar, concept. There are a number of different food and beverage concepts currently enjoying great success. We feel confident we can secure two restaurant tenants that can feed off of each other's success."

Roe and Bush have secured both Federal and State Historic Tax Credits for the project, which was a challenge. "There are very strict guidelines with regard to renovations on the existing building, and so the challenge has been trying to create a modern office and retail project out of a 1930s-era industrial building," stated Roe, who spent 10 years of his career brokering commercial property transactions on behalf of buyers, sellers, tenants, and landlords.

Bush chimed in, "The biggest reward will be realizing the energy at the property that has been envisioned from the outset. I've always been passionate about rebuilding an older property, particularly industrial, and breathing new modern life to it." 

Through the process, both men have kept a steady head and "had each other's backs." In addition, both relied on past counsel. Roe stated, "I'd say the most important deal-making advice I've tried to follow is simply making certain I understand how the other side views a proposed transaction. If I understand what the critical components of the deal are, I can better manage expectations on both sides."

Bush, who started Len the Plumber in 1996 at the age of 30, agreed.  He added, "I think it’s the same philosophy that has guided me through my business career. Be passionate about details and deliver the best product possible."

Roe and Bush are aiming to deliver the base building in March 2019. 

For more info visit You can reach John Roe at or 410-960-9554. 

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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2018 Editions Thu, 29 Nov 2018 05:07:56 -0500
Riggs Liquors Fans the Flames of Reopening JohnYoo_0001.jpg

Riggs Liquors in Northeast Washington, D.C., has risen from the ashes like the Phoenix of lore.  That mythological bird lived in the desert, consumed itself by fire, then later rose renewed from its own ashes. By most accounts, the phoenix lived for 500 years before rebirth. Riggs was only down for 18 months.  But don't say "only" to owner John Yoo.  He thought he'd be back up and running in six months after an accidental blaze destroyed his store in December 2016.  It wouldn't be until June of this year.

So what happened?  In late 2016, Yoo was having some work done on the front overhang of his store's roof section in preparation of a new awning.  The workers had stripped it all down to the bare metal.  But because the metal itself was heavy, they opted to do the work on a Sunday because there would be no people interfering with the job.  

"They decided to remove the awning with blowtorches to cut through the metal," Yoo recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Unfortunately, that caused a spark on the inside of the building, and that caused the fire.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.  The people doing the work called the Fire Department when they saw smoke coming out of the building.  But by that point, it was too late."

"There were so many aspects of [reopening] that were SO difficult!" he exclaimed.  "Dealing with insurance, dealing with general contractors.  It just took so long.  Everything takes it time.  Insurance needed to run its course.  Unfortunately, with the general contractor … let's just say, I wasn't his only client!"

Yoo continued, "I had never been through a situation like this.  Had I had someone I could reach out to a little more, who maybe had gone through this, that would have been helpful in navigating the finer aspects of what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.  I'm not going to say I'm an expert now, but I learned a LOT!"

What did he learn?  "I learned that when you find a general contractor, make sure you sign a timed contract with them.  'This needs to be done by then, that needs to be done by this date.'  Unfortunately, I didn't put any of that in my contract."


On a positive note, rebuilding Riggs Liquors gave Yoo the opportunity to make improvements that were not possible before.  The difference between the old store and the new is quite remarkable.  Yoo said, "Truth be told, back when I purchased this store in 2002, it was not a good-looking store.  I made some improvements over the years, but it was nowhere near where I wanted it to be.  Every cloud has a several lining, so I took this opportunity to totally redo the store.  My customers who were with me 'before,' their jaws dropped when they came in for the first time and saw the 'after.'"

The biggest improvement, according to Yoo, is the flow of the store.  Before, Riggs Liquors was very cluttered.  "I now have just as much, if not more, product on the floor," he stated.  "But it's now shelved and displayed in such a cleaner manner.  People can now walk more comfortably down the aisles.  It's no longer one person having to wait for another person, because they couldn't be in the same aisle at the same time.  Just the overall beauty of the store is so much better than what it used to be."

Yoo has also taken the opportunity to upgrade his store's product selection.  Before the fire, Riggs Liquors was a big beer store.  "I was known as the biggest beer retailer in the city," Yoo said.  "I think I am on my way back to that.  But now I am focusing more on craft beers and expanding my imports to more than just Corona and Heineken.  I had a decent selection of wines before.  But now I have it laid out to where customers can find the Cabernets, the Merlots, there's a French section.  I'm trying to become more of a general market store."

Yoo intends to stay out ahead of the curve moving forward.  Chiefly, he plans to bolster his store's presence online and via social media to appeal more to 21st century customers. "I'm not old, but I'm not necessarily young," he concluded.  "I'll be 48 later this year.  The social media stuff doesn't come easy to me.  I want to be more outgoing in that way to my customers.  I want to post about upcoming wine tastings, get people excited about new products that are coming … get people excited about Riggs Liquors!" 

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2018 Editions Fri, 26 Oct 2018 08:18:12 -0400
Retirees Return Retirees_0001.jpg

Retirees Honor Past Breakthroughs and the Current Breakthru at Twice-Yearly Gatherings

Twice a year in March and September, three dozen or more beverage industry retirees meet for a special breakfast or lunch to reconnect, share old "war stories," and find out the latest goings-on in the business they dedicated most of their adult professional lives to.  The group is comprised almost exclusively of retirees from Breakthru Beverage Group LLC … or rather Charmer Sunbelt, which merged with Wirtz Beverage Group in 2015 to create Breakthru Beverage Group.

William "Bill" Morawski, a 30-year company veteran, heads the group and puts together the various gatherings.  He recalled, "Bob Bireley was the salesman who started this in 1996.  He ran this twice a year as a biannual breakfast event from 1996 through 2011.  In 2011, his health was failing, and Bob asked me to take the reins.  I reluctantly did, but I'm glad I did and I've been doing it ever since.  Bob passed away in 2012."

Morawski continued, "The people who come are retirees.  I think we have about 90 active people on the roll.  Traditionally, we get somewhere between 35 and 40 who show up for each event as some of those 90 are out of state now.  I think we had 38 at our last luncheon.  So, that was a pretty decent turnout.  We have a friends list as well, and they are some suppliers that we have dealt with over the years who have been close to a lot of the salespeople and office people. So, they're on our list as friends, and they're invited also.  There might be two or three out of that who show up."

"In the early years, we had it all over the place," Paul McDaniel, a former sales representative who retired in 2006, recalled.  "Wherever we could find a place that would take us!  The Holiday Inn in Timonium was a big one.  They'd cater for us.  Eventually, we started doing more luncheons."


Retirees Carmen Meo and Mel Mazer are pictured here with Breakthru Beverage East Region President Kevin Dunn and former President Joe Davolio, who remains on the company’s Board of Directors.

So what are the highlights of attending?  It's pretty uniform for each industry pro.  Laurence "Larry" Zabriske, former Vice President of Spirits, stated, "The highlight of these luncheons has remained constant over the years, and that is getting to see the other retirees and find out how they are doing. The company was known for the longevity of service by many of its employees.  So, in many cases we spent 20, 25, or 30 years working for and with each other.  This length of time created strong bonds and friendships that have lasted beyond our employment."

McDaniel agreed, adding, "The highlight is seeing all of the salesmen that I haven't seen in six months and learning about what the company is doing now as opposed to what it used to do.  It's nice to hear what's going on.  And most of us think, 'Oh, I'm SO glad I'm not there now!' As you would imagine, a lot of us are technologically challenged.  So, we'd have a problem.  But I guess they'd teach us and we would learn."

Morawski often refers to McDaniel as the retiree group's "acting secretary."  But McDaniel bristles at the suggestion.  "I don't have a title," he insisted.  "I just help out as best I can, keeping a spreadsheet on all of the retirees, their addresses, their phone numbers, their spouses' names.  We pass them out at each meeting so everybody knows how to get in touch with everybody.  But it's Bill who does most of the hard work."

It helps that one of the group's main members is still active at Breakthru Beverage Group. Former President Joe Davolio remains on the company's board of directors.  "So, I'm asked by Bill Morawski to give some comments about what's going on now," he said, "like with our negotiations regarding possibly merging with RNDC and where that stands.  It is a privilege for me to do that and to field questions from the folks."


Here are Dave Berzellini, J.J. Parker, Rick Hackett, and Frank Frick.

The retirees' most recent get-together was at company headquarters.  A luncheon took place on Sept. 12 that indeed drew 38 members of the group.  Most agreed, it was one of the best gatherings yet.  Zabriske recalled, "The event on Sept. 12 went extremely well.  In addition to a core of retirees that are regulars at these events, a number of others who reside outside the Baltimore metro area were in attendance, which added to the fun and excitement of the day.  The key takeaway for me, and a very obvious one, is that time doesn’t stand still, and we should take advantage of these get-togethers and enjoy each other while the circumstances of our lives permit."

Davolio added, "I think it was great to have it at the company and everyone seeing what they were a part of building over the years, what the company has become now.  Its size and scope.  It gives all of us a good feeling.  I've suggested offering a formal tour at a future get-together.  No more than maybe a half-hour, because some of us old-timers can't walk around a warehouse that big!"

A larger-size warehouse is, of course, not the only big change the business has undergone since many of these folks retired.  Perhaps the biggest difference in the industry today is the consolidation of business, first at the supplier level, which has in turn led to a consolidation of business at the wholesaler level. "Thirty five or forty years ago," Zabriske pointed out, "suppliers looked at their business in the U.S. on a state-by-state basis.  One supplier might have different brands in three or four wholesalers within a state.  Today, it's looked at nationally.  As a result of this change, suppliers are looking for a wholesale company who can drive their strategic vision and represent their lines from coast to coast and not state by state.  Ideally, they would like to deal with one cost-effective company that can guarantee identical and effective implementation of their programs in every market."


Retirees Carmen Meo and Susan Wellman.

Davolio shares this assessment.  He went one step further in reporting, "The business has shifted away from personal relationships and more towards performance contracts.  It's still important to build trust between suppliers and distributors, and distributors and our customers.  But the performance contract rules everything now.  That's a big change."

With so many things different, it's good to maintain some sense of history and connectivity.  And the twice-yearly get-togethers for company retirees fits that bill. Zabriske stated, "The group sort of represents a collective memory. We each remember different things, which when taken together provide a rich history of the lives we spent together."

Morawski wistfully concluded, "Maybe we worked for one another sometimes.  But we all became friends.  And now I think everyone just enjoys getting together, seeing how each other's health is, and what everyone is doing in their spare time."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2018 Editions Fri, 26 Oct 2018 08:08:25 -0400
Phil Prichard: Distilling Good Stories and Great Rum Phil_Prichard_0001.jpg

"I enjoy being the dog in this dog and pony show!" exclaimed Phil Prichard, founder, president, and master distiller of Prichard's Distillery in Tennessee.

The dog and pony show he is referring to is his recent visit to Maryland to press the flesh with customers, sales personnel, and anyone else who will be associated with moving his products here in the years to come.  He made several key account calls, touring Total Wine & More locations in Laurel and Towson, Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, Wine World Beer & Spirits in Abingdon, Ronnie's Beverage Warehouse in Forest Hill, Wells Discoutn Liquors in Baltimore, and more. 

"I'm doing what I enjoy the most," he stated, "and that's getting out on the road, meeting people, and introducing them to our products.  At one time in my life, I ventured into the restaurant business.  And I found that people always wanted to meet the guy who was cooking their food.  The same is true of the guy who distills the spirits.  People want to meet me.  It just gives the folks a good and comforting feeling to meet the actual guy who makes their whiskey or their rum or whatever they're drinking."

Prichard has a folksy way about him.  But he's a driven man, for sure.  Talking with him for just a few minutes makes you want to roll up your sleeves, help him serve his tasty spirits, and listen to the stories he spins about his experiences in the industry.  One of his favorite tales is the decision he made years earlier to move from a career as a dental technician and into the beverage business (after a brief stint raising and breeding Norwegian Fjord horses in upstate New York).

"I started this distillery better than 20 years ago," he recalled.  "I walked into my banker, I looked at him, and I said, 'Mike, I want to build the first distillery in Tennessee in almost 50 years … and I'm going to make rum!'  I can still hear the laughter as I walked out the door.  I didn't get any financing from my bank!  And I found that building a distillery is very, very capital intensive.  But we've managed, by hook or by crook, to build a very substantial distribution network all based on the quality of our products. I'm not going to tell you we're in every state, but we are in every major market throughout the United States."

Among Prichard's Distillery's top products are seven signature rums: Prichard's Fine Rum, Cranberry Rum, Crystal Rum, Key Lime Rum, Peach Mango Rum, Private Stock Rum, and Spiced  Rum. "Rum is my passion," stated Prichard.  "If I can't sell rum in Maryland, I'll just stay away [laughing]!"

He stated that the Peach Mango Rum is his "go-to."  But as summer gives way to fall and apple season comes into play, Prichard expects his company's Spiced Rum will pick up in sales.  "With either a hot apple cider or a cold apple cider, it's just a really nice and refreshing treat as a cocktail for the autumn season," he said.  "Then, as the holiday season kicks in, we find people's tastes migrate to our Cranberry Rum.  Someone told me the other day they love to baste their hams in Prichard's Cranberry Rum.  That's some expensive basting, but it's a mighty good use!"

Prichard's Distillery's product portfolio also includes five liqueurs and a half-dozen whiskeys.  The former includes two of Prichard's best-known offerings, Sweet Lucy and Sweet Lucy Cream.  The latter includes a Doubled Barreled Bourbon and a Double Chocolate Bourbon. But don't mistake that second one for a dessert drink. "Bourbon by its very nature is sweet," Prichard noted.  "People who like bourbon like it because of its sweetness.  But when we add chocolate, it actually tempers that sweetness down and brings in a little bitterness.  The chocolate notes in our Double Chocolate Bourbon are so subtle that a lot of people don't even realize there's chocolate in there.  The chocolate note comes in on the back end, very quietly."

Phil Prichard didn't come to Maryland quietly.  He definitely made some noise while he was here in late August.  And he hopes to visit the state again, concluding, "I think Maryland will be a good place for us to focus our products, especially our rum portfolio. It's a pretty diverse market with diverse tastes.  And that plays well into where our focus is." 


At the Baltimore offices of Bacchus Importers are Jason Lockerman, Phoenix Rising Group; Lou Zwirlein and Tomas van den Boomgaard, both with Bacchus Importers; Phil Prichard; Todd Schneider, Bacchus Importers; and Scott Folkins, Phoenix Rising Group.


At Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore are Diana Abbott and Joann Hyatt, both with Wells; Phil Prichard; and Susan Olson, Phoenix Rising Group.


Phil Prichard at Ronnie’s Beverage Warehouse in Forest Hill is with managers Adam Dorsch, Megan Hunter and Jeremy Abshire, all with Ronnie’s.

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2018 Editions Tue, 25 Sep 2018 12:40:50 -0400
Hardened Watermen Enjoy the Smooth Touch of SeaGlass Seaglass_HOME.jpg

On the evening of July 12, Town Center Market in Riverdale Park, Md., played host to a special wine tasting event in which customers came and sampled all of Trinchero Family Estates' SeaGlass wines from the Central Coast in California's Santa Barbara County.  They included SeaGlass Rose, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  For every bottle of SeaGlass that was sold that night, the Trinchero family donated a portion of the proceeds to the Maryland Waterman's Association (MWA).

Among those in attendance was Nicole Crews, Trinchero Family Estates' District Manager for Maryland and Washington, D.C.  She remarked, "This was a featured event at Town Center Market to introduce their customers to SeaGlass Wines and how they could help out a great local nonprofit organization. The account really wanted to take it to the next level, so we decided it would be fun and educational to incorporate a seafood element."

And did they ever!  The event featured an oyster tasting complete with a local professional oyster shucker in attendance.  "So you could have a few oysters, drink some great wine, and give back to our local watermen," remarked Crews.

She noted that the proprietors of Town Center Market, formerly known as Dumm's Corner Market, were eager to do their part in helping improve the health of Maryland's waterways, which includes the Chesapeake Bay in its watershed.  Founded in 1973, the MWA is a non-profit organization that represents the interest of commercial fishermen, seafood processors, wholesalers, and ancillary businesses in the seafood industry across the Old Line State.  For more than four decades, the association has worked to ensure a future for independent watermen and seafood businesses statewide.  Since its inception, the organization has collaborated with local and state legislatures and the state's agencies to ensure that regulations and laws are fair to the industry.

Crews noted that the Trincheros were drawn to the MWA for three reasons: one, the association's true dedication to the seafood industry; two, its efforts to preserve Maryland's beloved coastline; and, three, an eagerness to help protect marine wildlife for generations to come.  In addition to the special tasting event that evening at Town Center Market, Crews said $1 per case from every case of SeaGlass wine that is sold from March until August 2018 throughout Maryland is being donated to the Maryland Waterman's Association from Trinchero Family Estates.


She stated, "As one of the leading wine companies in the United States, Trinchero Family Estates has remained a family-owned Napa Valley-based company since the Trinchero family purchased the Sutter Home winery in 1948.  Now, with over 1,000 employees, approximately 10,000 acres of vineyards, more than 40 brands, and millions of customers, we are the custodians of our environment and our communities."

Crews continued, "As an agriculturally-based company, we have a responsibility to our community and our roots -- the land and the people behind the growth of our business and our brands.  We strive to set the standard and be an example of environmental stewardship, charitable giving, and responsibility. Trinchero Family Estates has been committed to corporate social responsibility for decades, from sustainable farming and innovative philanthropic initiatives to the way in which we run our business and live our lives. The Trinchero family and management team is dedicated to not only creating quality products for consumers, but ensuring they are produced sustainably and enjoyed responsibly. The company strives to uphold the values established over 65 years ago."

And those values mean more events like the one at Town Center Market.  Crews played a key role in putting together the evening and was kind enough to share some of the keys to putting on a good wine tasting event?  Number one is find the right account to partner with.  Two, there must be great communications when organizing such an event. Advertising through social media has also become a must, she added.  And in this particular case, having the proper people from the account -- Trinchero Family Estates, Republic National Distributing Company, and the Maryland Waterman’s Association -- all in attendance for the event was a big key.  "It was a very successful evening," she concluded, "one that told the story of the wine and the partnership with the organization."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2018 Editions Mon, 27 Aug 2018 14:32:14 -0400
Dragon Distillery: Breathing Fire into Canned Cocktails Dragon_Dist_HOME.jpg

In Frederick, Md., here be dragons!  Well, actually, here be the Dragon Distillery.  It's the brainchild of founder Mark Lambert, a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan who wanted a beverage business that would specialize in small batch artisan spirits made from the finest locally sourced ingredients.  He and his staff have breathed fire into this niche with such colorfully named products as Medieval Mint Flavored Vodka, Basilisk Bourbon, and Joust Gin.

Dragon Distillery's latest line is a series of canned cocktails that are appealing to a wide range of drinkers.  Lambert, in a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, explained why: "The product is easy.  You just grab it, you go!  It's easy to take to parties, or when you're going out on your boat, or at the pool.  It's a can, so there's no glass that can break.  It's quick to chill, and it's ready to drink."

There are three canned cocktails in the current line-up, all lightly carbonated.  The first is Dragon's Draft, a bourbon and cream soda.  "At 38 proof, it's a little strong," Lambert conceded.  "But it's delicious."  The second is the Dragon Mule, which is Dragon Distillery's take on the classic Moscow Mule.  It's vodka with Barritt's ginger beer and lime in a faux copper can.  Third, there is the Golden Dragon, which is based on Dragon Distillery's Longbow Lemon Citrus Flavored Vodka.  "We take that and add in a small-batch tonic made in Washington, D.C., by [True Syrups & Garnishes], along with a lemon-lime soda," noted Lambert.  "Both the Dragon Mule and Golden Dragon are 20 proof."

As with all the company's bottled spirits, each canned cocktail features a dragon drinking in some way.  Lambert remarked, "We don't take ourselves too seriously, and our can designs reflect that.  Like our Dragon Mule  has a dragon holding a copper mug drinking a Moscow Mule.  One of the reasons we're doing the canned cocktails is because we're trying to push the envelope of what people can get here locally.  We have a pretty large product portfolio, in general.  But we're always looking to add to it."

One example of that envelope pushing is the Dragon Dog Frederick Rye.  "We love our collaborations, in particular," Lambert said.  "Dragon Dog Frederick Rye is a rye whiskey we do with Flying Dog.  Flying Dog brews the rye mash, sends it over, and we ferment it, distill it, and barrel it."

In addition to such collaborations, Lambert's business has benefited from being a member of the Maryland Distillers Guild.  "The Guild is fantastic!" he beamed.  "It's a very collaborative group of peers.  In other industries, there's a lot of competition.  But I find in the distillery business, especially through the Guild, everybody's willing to help and everybody's willing to share when you have a problem or need information."

As far as the secret of Dragon Distillery's success, Lambert acknowledged that the answer isn't anything revelatory.  "We just listen to our customers," he replied, "and we generally create products based on their feedback.  A lot of distilleries vow only to make one product.  'I'm going to do whiskey, and that's all I'm going to do!'  Well, that's great.  But as a small craft distillery, we find that many people come in who have a wide range in interests.  They'll say, 'Oh, I don't drink whiskey' or 'I don't drink vodka.'  We try to have something for everybody."

He continued, "The canned cocktails grew out of that.  We get a lot of people who come in with their significant other, and one is a spirits drinker and the other is not.  With the canned cocktails, we can say, 'Why don't you try this bourbon and cream soda?'  They've been amazingly popular."

To date, Dragon Distillery hasn't pushed its canned cocktails out to a lot of liquor stores, because Lambert didn't want to get ahead of production.  "We're addressing those concerns and slowly offering them up to more liquor stores around the state," he concluded.  "A year from now, I'd like to have six to eight canned cocktails, and I'd like to be in the majority of liquor stores in Maryland."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2018 Editions Mon, 27 Aug 2018 14:26:36 -0400
Ellicott City's Second Devastating Flood Ellicott_HOME.jpg

Industry Again Unites after Second Devastating Flood

On the afternoon of May 27, 2018, Ellicott City's historic Main Street flooded again after the region got more than eight inches of rain in the span of two hours.  Businesses, including numerous bars and restaurants, were heavily damaged.  And National Guard member Eddison Hermond Jr. lost his life trying to help people.  The town was still recovering from a July 30, 2016, storm that dropped six inches of rain on the community, produced massive flooding, killed two people, and damaged and destroyed businesses and homes.

Maureen Smith, Executive Director of the Ellicott City Partnership (ECP) echoed what many interviewed for this article had said: "This time around has been very different from 2016!" she exclaimed.  "With this latest flood event, the Ellicott City community has an understanding that parts of town may need to be envisioned anew to ensure long-term sustainability.  The ECP is working closely with all stakeholders, including county, state, and federal entities to significantly increase the resilience of Ellicott City."

She noted that, so far, all but one of the members of Old Ellicott City's bar and restaurant family have decided to stay.  June indeed saw the reopening of the Manor Hill Tavern, The Wine Bin, Judge's Bench Pub, La Palapa Grill & Cantina, the Matcha Time Cafe, and the Syriana Cafe.  "They will be joined in July by Pure Wine Café, and the second floor of The Phoenix Emporium will be open to welcome guests," she noted.  "It's also worthy to note that The Trolley Stop, located just across the Main St bridge in Baltimore County, took no damage and never closed its doors.  Sadly, one of our local coffee shops, Bean Hollow, has decided to relocate." 

Some of the businesses were prepared this time, having already gone through disaster two years earlier.  Among them was E. Randolph "Randy" Marriner, President and CEO of the Victoria Restaurant Group and proprietor of Manor Hill Brewing.  He said, "Fortunately for us, after the 2016 flood, we rebuilt the back sides of our buildings and raised the foundation walls with 18 inches of reinforced concrete … in essence, creating our own storm water management system that collects and channels all the rain water to the side alley.  It worked.  The only damage we sustained was food and beer spoilage from three days without power."  

He added, "After our power was restored, we were ready to reopen on June 1.  However, the town was closed due to the State of Emergency.  So we decided to 'open' from Noon to 5 p.m. every day to feed, provide air conditioning, and clean bathrooms to anyone that was credentialed to be there, be it the first responders, Public Works employees, business owners, or residents.  All for free, and to be that beacon of hope for everyone else.  We were the first restaurant to reopen to the public on June 16."


Another operator on the verge of re-opening when we chatted just before the July 4 holiday was Timothy Kendzierski, owner of Ellicott Mills Brewing Co.  He said, "We should be open next week.  We're doing better, and part of it is because of some of the things we did structurally to our building.  It also helped that the county was so responsive this time.  We got the water on quick.  We got the electricity on within a day.  We were able to save the beer.  We couldn't have saved the food, of course.  I think it's definitely been important that everyone at the top of the hill where we are is opening up and their lights are on.  Once Main Street is open, that will breathe a lot of life into the town."

Businesses and other stakeholders in Old Ellicott City once again benefited greatly from an outpouring of support from their fellow bar owners, restaurant operators, breweries, and other related businesses in Howard County and statewide who banded together to hold multiple fundraisers.  One of the first to mobilize was Hysteria Brewing, holding a fundraiser on Memorial Day, May 28, donating 50 percent of all proceeds from the day's sales.  

Event and Marketing Director Gina Mattera stated, "We reached out to local businesses such as Bullhead Pit Beef and Giggy's BBQ to serve food, both of which also donated a portion of their sales. A mother of a local 7-year-old reached out who wanted to host a lemonade stand, which raised over $300!  Our neighbors Lost Ark Distilling opened up for their doors for the day and also donated 50 percent of their proceeds."

In addition to announcing the event on various social media platforms, Mattera and her colleagues relied on word of mouth and various local news and media sources to spread the word so soon after the tragedy.  "Our fundraiser raised about $5,000," she said, "Our customers were overwhelmingly supportive.  Some arrived early to offer to help set up. Others offered pop-up tents and folding tables when we needed more due to the weather.  And, of course, many showed their support by attending the event!"

On June 7, Heavy Seas Beer donated 50 percent of all revenue for the evening in their tap room to the Ellicott City Partnership.  Amanda Zivkovic, associate brand manager handles Heavy Seas' tap room charitable events.  "Back in 2016 when the first flooding happened in Ellicott City," she recalled, " we held a fundraiser here at the brewery to help raise money and to collect items to help clean up Ellicott City. Because the past fundraiser was so successful, we knew we had to do it again."


In addition to Heavy Seas' donations from the event, the Pieces of Eight onsite food truck donated 10 percent.  Like Fisher, Zivkovic promoted the event mainly through social media. "Our Facebook event for the fundraiser had over 4,000 folks interested," she said.  "The event was definitely a success.  We were able to raise over $4,000 for the EC Partnership in one night.  We had folks coming up to us all night, clearly moved by the amount of people coming together for a cause.  It is humbling to be a part of a community that is so dedicated to its people. At the end of the day, that’s what beer is all about -- coming together."

The proprietors of Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse hosted a fundraiser at their Columbia location on Tuesday, June 19 from 7 p.m. to close, where 25 percent of all sales were donated to the Ellicott City Partnership to help the residents and businesses in Old Ellicott City rebuild.  Caitlin Fisher, Marketing Manager for Pub Dog, remarked, "I mainly promoted the event on social media and created a Facebook event that generated a lot of interest in the weeks before the event.  The fundraiser was a huge success, and we were able to donate $1,384 to the Partnership.  All of our customers were in high spirits for the event, and it was amazing to see so many people come together for a great cause.

One of the more recent events as this article approached press time was the June 23 one hosted by Jailbreak Brewing.  Becca Newell, Director of Marketing for Jailbreak, declared it a huge success.  "We had six Main Street vendors -- businesses that lost their storefronts in the flood -- that set up pop-up stores in the brewery, selling goods, such as women's accessories, T-shirts, house wares, records, freshly made beignets, and handcrafted chocolates. We also had bar staff from The Phoenix Emporium at a pop-up bar in the brewery, crafting 'beertails,' including a Feed the Monkey Orange Crush and an Infinite Old Fashioned.  Fifty percent of that Saturday's beer sales, along with proceeds from a basket auction, were donated directly to those businesses. More than $5,000 was raised."

She continued, "The most rewarding part was seeing everyone at the fundraiser having a good time, whether it was drinking a beer and sharing food with friends, or purchasing something from one of the vendors, or hanging outside in our pop-up beer garden with their dogs. The support from those who attended was amazing! The challenging part was making enough room in the brewery for each vendor.  The original plan was to host the entire event outside, but due to the unfortunate weather forecast, we had to move everyone inside. It was a rush to get it done, but it all worked out in the end."


Other Maryland tavern and restaurant businesses that held special benefits included: Laurel's Tampico Grill, which donated 50 percent of all alcohol and food proceeds -- including to-go meals -- from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on June; The Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House in Relay, which donated half of all sales in its Test Taproom on June 9 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Armand's Chicago Pizzeria in Silver Spring, which donated 20 percent of all sales on June 10 from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Not to be outdone, Paulie Gee's and Baltimore Whiskey Co. teamed up for A Drink for Ellicott City.  Held on June 8 from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. at Paulie Gee's, the entire bar tab for the evening was donated to the Ellicott City Partnership.

Kendzierski and his neighbors played key roles in putting together the July 15 Resurrect Festival at Game Baltimore in the city.  Running from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., it was a day of music and comedy, food and drink that benefited the Ellicott City Partnership and displaced restaurant employees.  "The Resurrect Festival has gotten our minds off of things a little bit," Kendzierski said in his early July interview. "It's allowed us to all do something positive together while we've all been waiting to open.  Just the collective 'watching people come together' has been a pretty amazing thing."

The human factor hasn't been forgotten either.  Restaurants and other businesses across the Baltimore metro area quickly responded with an outpouring of job offers for flood-affected employees.  "Keep Ellicott City Working," a Facebook page created after the 2016 flood to connect people with jobs, listed well over 50 opportunities immediately after being revived in late May.

Even non-industry players got involved this time around.  The sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy fans that run Galactic Comic Con sent all proceeds from the June 16 event's auctions, raffles, and special Lego sales to Ellicott City.  The event was held at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship.  The Woodstock Maryland Music Festival on June 24 sent part of its proceeds to the Ellicott City Partnership.  St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City hosted its Banjos, Blue Jeans & BBQ event on July 1, with all proceeds donated to relief efforts.  Tickets were $15 per person.

Still to come is the 2018 ECStrong 5K, an event that began in remembrance of the 2016 flood.  This year's event will support relief efforts for the damage sustained this year, as all proceeds from the $35 registration fee and additional donations will go to the Ellicott City Partnership.  The course will wind its way near downtown Ellicott City.

Smith of the Partnership remarked, "Old Ellicott City's strength is community.  From the local who pours the perfect cocktail to the patron who enjoys it, we're all family.  Our family has faced more than its share of hard times but it has pulled everyone together.  Area establishments have given displaced Ellicott City staff jobs for as long as they need them.  Restaurant and bar regulars go out of their way to attend as many fundraisers as possible.  They've even answered the call to help their favorite businesses dig out of the destruction.  We stand united and #ECStronger together."

Jailbreak's Newell added, "In short, we believe in supporting our local community. The longer version: We love our Ellicott City neighbors and were devastated to hear about the flooding. Over the last couple of years, we've been part of the Ellicott City SpringFest and the Main Street Music Fest, where we've become friends with many of the local business owners.  So, we knew whatever fundraising we did, we wanted to ensure it supported them directly!"

But the future doesn't seem quite as rosy and optimistic this time around as it was in 2016.  Two devastating storms and floods in as many years will do that.  Kendzierski lamented, "It was sort of like experiencing the same death twice in a row.  People are saying it's worse this time because the damage was more widespread.  It wasn't just our little town.  It was Elkridge and Catonsville and Baltimore City.  It was all over the place this time.  Also, it's an election year, so people want to blame politicians who have been there two years for 40 years of bad planning.  The narrative in the media has changed somewhat, too, from ECStrong and 'Rebuild!' to 'Why are you even bothering?'  Hey, we own our building.  We've been here for 21 years.  Some people have been here for generations.  It's like asking people to kill an entire community."

Marriner echoed this journalist's exit question back to him.  "So now what? " he parroted. "Some have said 'Give up, don’t rebuild, walk, no run away before it happens again.'  Others have said, 'Fix the problem before you rebuild.'  There is no easy solution.  Some very hard decisions need to be made about potentially removing some of the hardest hit buildings on lower Main St. to widen the river channel to better manage and control the flood waters and eliminate future opportunities for loss of life.  In six years, Ellicott City will celebrate 250 years since its founding.  I plan to be here!"

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2018 Editions Wed, 25 Jul 2018 19:54:49 -0400
City Slickers Toast The Urban Winery Urban_Winery_HOME.jpg
The Urban Winery in Silver Spring, Md., not only bills itself as the closest winery to the nation's capital, its proprietors also tout their business as the first winery in the overall D.C.-Maryland-Northern Virginia region to be located in an urban environment.  
The Urban Winery proprietors are husband-and-wife team Damon and Georgia Callis, and their passion for the grape has proven infectious.

"Georgia is the winemaker, and I'm basically her business partner," said Damon Callis, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We'd been making wine together as amateurs for 18 years.  But we started to see a lot of the opportunity that arose in Silver Spring and in Maryland, in general."

He continued, "The concept of an urban winery is not new.  It's actually been around for a long time.  Even before Prohibition, much of America's wine industry was created in an urban environment and was distributed.  It was only after Prohibition where players like the Mondavis started to create this farm-style wine approach in the U.S.  In reading up and studying the history, there really wasn't an urban winery in the Mid-Atlantic.  The closest one was New York.  We fell in love with the [idea].  Making wine is fun.  But sharing it with others and then them coming back and sharing it with people they know is what keeps us going every day."

Callis made it clear that he and his wife are not farmers.  They get grapes from such far-flung locales as California, New York, and Pennsylvania.  They've also developed relationships with various farmers throughout Maryland, from the Eastern Shore to Carroll County. "Contributing to our local economy and our local agriculture is very important to us," he said.  "But what's really important is knowing the palettes of our customers and giving them a very different experience when they come to our tasting room. The Urban Winery experience is Taste … Learn … Create.  Our wines range from Merlots from Maryland to Zinfandels from California.  We make dry, white wines.  But we also make some semi-sweet white wines that are fabulous, and we're also making white wines with hops.  VidalPA is one of our newest products that we're releasing in cans.  We also have a Bourbon Barrel Merlot."


Other popular favorites now being served include their Silver Spring Red 2015 - Vinter's Blend, the Silver Spring White 2015 - Vinter's Blend, and the Bole Legacy Zinfandel 2014.  The Urban Winery is a good place to get a bite to eat, too, with a menu that includes such tasty dishes as Greek meatballs, lamb lollipops, and spiced chicken wings.  Customers are urged to pair the food with an array of wine tasting flights.  

Georgia started making wines at a young age, learning the trade from her Greek immigrant father, Anthony "Bole."  When Damon met Georgia, he soon learned that to impress Dad, he had to make wines with them.  The rite of passage became more than just a way to get in good with his girlfriend's old man.  Winemaking became his passion, too.

But he had no idea it would become a career.  He was a Marine and eventually became a financial planner.  Georgia, meanwhile, was a registered operating room nurse.  Their backgrounds have only served to make them better business operators.  

Damon especially leans on his military experience, living and working by the Golden Rule: "Prior planning prevents poor performance.  My training has given me the perseverance to say, 'I'm going to charge that hill.  I'm going to climb it, reach the top, plant my flag there, and proclaim it mine..'  That's the attitude you have to have.  You have to have a chip on your shoulder, because there's so much competition in this industry.  You have to accept and embrace challenges each and every day. "

He added, "Making wine in an urban environment is extremely challenging, more so than in a rural environment with the time restrictions, the amount of space, the cost per production in space.  We're bringing the wine to the people versus bringing the people to the wine, and that's very rewarding."

Also  rewarding has been the wine education the Urban Winery has been able to provide the general public. Classes are offered on a regular basis in the Winery's barrel room.  There is a limit of 10 people per class, during which three wines are explored each with a specific regional focus.  "Wine Ambassadors" talk about the differences of each wine in sight, nose, and palette and then invite their students to sample small bite pairings created just for the class.

Callis concluded, "We have an environment where people can challenge themselves, challenge their palette, get out of their box, and enjoy wine as it should be … amongst friends.  We aren't trying to be the Mondavis.  We just want to be Damon and Georgia Callis of Maryland, producing awesome wines."

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


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2018 Editions Mon, 25 Jun 2018 21:14:10 -0400
Belle Isle Spirits Shines BelleIsleSpirits_HOME.jpg
When mentioning the word moonshine to many, images of a low-quality, home-brewed, bootlegged concoction immediately come to mind.  Much of it has to do with how moonshine has been portrayed for decades in mostly Southern-themed pop culture.  
Granny from the 1960s TV series, "The Beverly Hillbillies," ran a moonshine still by the Clampett family swimming pool.
In the video game, "Redneck Rampage," moonshine is used as a power-up that increases fighting ability (like Popeye's spinach).

And then there are the references in countless songs over the years.  And not just country favorites like George Jones ("White Lightning") and Florida Georgia Line ("Get Your Shine On").  But crossover artists like Aerosmith (who were "gettin' crazy on the moonshine" in their 1989 rock hit "Rag Doll") and funk band Parliament (their classic "Moonshine Heather").

Enter Richmond, Va.-based Belle Isle Spirits, whose stated mission has been to revive the art of moonshine. So far, they've been very successful at doing so.  The Beverage Journal recently asked Belle Isle co-founder and CEO Vince Riggi how he and his colleagues have managed to convince so many people to give their products a try.  "For the consumer," he said, "people inherently want to experience something new and exciting.  Belle Isle helps facilitate that journey by providing a unique product that's not quite like anything they’ve ever experienced before.  There is something that sticks about our product.  On the bartender side, we're another tool for their toolbox that provides them with a canvas to create delicious cocktails, and again, provide that unique experience for their clientele."

At tastings, Riggi has recorded a very common response among first-time drinkers: "Utter surprise!" he exclaimed.  "'This tastes better than my favorite vodka' is probably the most frequent comment we receive.  That's soon followed by 'Where the heck can I buy this?!'"

Belle Isle recently entered the Maryland-Washington, D.C. market.  Eager for distribution, the company partnered with Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits midway through 2017.  "Partnerships are extremely important to us at Belle Isle," stated Riggi, "and so far we couldn’t be happier with the working relationship we've established with Southern in the Maryland/D.C. market. Maryland specifically, has become our second largest market by volume, trailing only our home state of Virginia. We are on pace to sell roughly 12,500 cases in 2018, and the Maryland/D.C. markets will play a large role in that success."


He continued, "We have a rock-star team in the Maryland and Washington markets that work hand in hand with our distributor on a daily basis, while also receiving support from our team at headquarters.  It always takes a village."

It also takes a plan and, in Belle Isle Spirits' case, some high-quality ingredients.  For Gregg Brooks, the company's Director of Production, that means using such things as organic corn.  "Every batch of our product starts with corn grown between three family farms," he stated, "all grown organically without pesticides or GMOs.  We distill our spirit lower than vodka yet higher than whiskey, which allows the characteristics of the corn to really shine [and] makes this a very approachable and 'sippable' premium spirit. Using nothing but real ingredients in the infusions is also of the utmost importance to us."

Some of the company's infusions have really taken off.  Honey Habanero, for instance, has proven especially successful.  Brooks said, "We’re very lucky to have some great partnerships in sourcing these ingredients, most of them Virginia companies.  Our honey comes from the Shenandoah Valley provided by Bubba’s Sweet Nectar.  Our habanero peppers are from Old Dominion Organic Farms in Southwest Virginia. The coffee beans we use in our Cold Brew product are Fair Trade Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified, sourced from our good friends at Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.  The grapefruits for our Ruby Red product are organic and sourced from Texas and California." 

Looking ahead to the second half of 2018 and beyond, Riggi and his colleagues are eager to roll out the company's Blood Orange infusion starting July 1.  Belle Isle will also be participating in its first-ever Tails of the Cocktail in New Orleans July 17.  The company will host the opening night pool party at Hotel Monteleone.

Riggi concluded, "We’re big believers in drilling an inch wide and a mile deep.  Rather than just scratching the surface of a market, we want to become the local craft option for all our touch points. This time next year, if you were to contact our distributors, our network of retail/restaurant partners, along with the nonprofits we work with, and all of them have continued to have an amazing experience dealing with Belle Isle, that's about as good as it gets right there."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) July 2018 Editions Mon, 25 Jun 2018 20:59:28 -0400
Black Panther at Red Lounge black-panther.jpg

When DC's Red Lounge Caught the 'Black Panther' 

The whole world has gone Marvel Comics crazy.  The latest "Avengers" sequel smashed opening day and weekend records at the box office.  Before that, "Black Panther" shocked the world by becoming the third-highest grossing film of all time in North America, appealing to a wider demographic than ever before for a "comic-book film."

Not everyone was surprised, though.  Back in February, Jason Kelley and Greg Jackson Jr. sensed a pop-culture phenomenon was about to happen and sprang into action.  Their Washington, D.C.-based event production company, The Wave, put together a "Black Panther"-themed pop-up bar that was hosted at the Red Lounge on U Street in the nation's capital.  It was only supposed to run one weekend.  Interest was so high in the event, dubbed Enter Wakanda DC, that Kelley and Jackson extended it a second weekend the following Friday-through-Sunday.

"We realized very quickly that it was far bigger than our original intention," Kelley recalled, during a late April interview with the Beverage Journal.  "Some people stayed at the pop-up bar for five, six hours.  It definitely celebrated the moment, the movie, and our culture."


Jackson concurred, adding, "Pop-up bars are great because they invite people to experience entertainment, not just watch it. You can be in it and socialize in it. I knew how big 'Black Panther' was going to be for me and for Jason and, frankly, for the entire black community as well as for comic-book enthusiasts.  So, we started with the basic idea of 'We need to get together and celebrate this moment.'  It started as just a Happy Hour.  We were going to have a Happy Hour and then go to the movie afterwards.  But there was a huge amount of interest around the Happy Hour … more so than seeing the movie.  So, that's when I called Jason and said, 'Hey, why don't we just run with this thing and try to make it a full-out pop-up bar.'  I'd been to so many that I knew the format from a customer side."

Enter Wakanda DC, which featured DJs playing hip-hop and Afrobeat on two floors of the Red Lounge, themed food and drink specials (the M'Baku shot, named after Winston Duke's heroic character in the movie, was especially popular), and art from local painters.  Pages from the original "Black Panther" comic lined the walls.  Additionally, there was a photo booth that gave fans an opportunity to take selfies with set props from the movie.  Attendees were also able to get their faces painted like the Wakandan warriors from the film

Kelley remarked, "With every event, we try to give our friends and people in our community a platform to do the things they love.  The pop-up bar manifested that in literally every aspect.  Even down to the bar menu and the bar staffing.  The staff we used was not the staff that was traditionally at Red Lounge.  The actual staff was there on site.  They cooked the food and worked with us throughout the process.  But from the different drinks to the art itself, that was all locally sourced."

The story of The Wave is almost as interesting as the saga of the Black Panther.  It was started two years ago in D.C. as a group chat.  Kelley recalled, "It was a way to tell our friends where to go to brunch, to Happy Hour, and so forth.  We first had 13 people in the course of a week.  That went to 100 people, which went to 400.  Now, we have over 25,000 users in about 25 different cities."

A George Mason University alum, Kelley spent five years working at CNN.  He gave tours of the cable news network's Atlanta studios by day and worked in nightclubs in the evenings.  While pulling that double duty, he developed the desire to create events connecting high-caliber people.  He moved back to the Washington area in January 2015. For his part, Jackson's talents have previously been put to use as a community organizer and campaign strategist.  After surviving an act of gun violence in 2013, he served as Mayor Muriel Bowser's Director of Community Relations & Services.  He and Jackson connected at a brunch in March 2016 and hatched the idea for The Wave.


The Wave has gone on to host a number of black bar crawls in around the District of Columbia.  The next event they'll be involved in is Freedom Day on June 16.  The Wave will help present a new spin on the annual Juneteenth Barcrawl, with the entire U Street corridor taken over for the day.  Multiple DJs will be placed up and down U Street, with drink specials all along the way.

Kelley concluded, "The challenge is gaining the trust of others to believe in your vision and be willing to take a risk on creating different experiences.  When they do, it's very exciting."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2018 Editions Wed, 30 May 2018 11:04:02 -0400
Sovereign Brands' Dave Hochrein The new Mid-Atlantic Region Manager for Sovereign Brands has made the jump from a long tenure in spirits to a heavily focused wine supplier with a newly focused attention on spirits


Dave Hochrein is the new Mid-Atlantic Region Manager for Sovereign Brands, a family company of fine wines and spirits owned and operated by the Berish brothers.  Hochrein previously served as Proximo Spirits' Regional Director for Maryland and Washington, D.C., from September 2014 to March of this year.

"It was great to be recognized by this family-owned company that has taken an interest in what I have been able to do in the mid-Atlantic," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "I am able to expand into a bigger region now, covering Delaware to Virginia as well as West Virginia. The Maryland and D.C. markets are integral to Luc Belaire’s footprint. But this also gives me a chance to expand into a control state market of Virginia with wine and call on chain stores.  Being the only employee in the mid-Atlantic, I’ll be using my experience to hit the trade and distributors as much as I can as we grow."

Having big brand experience with Bacardi and Proximo over a 22-year career, Hochrein stated that it has been an immediate excitement that every sales call he has made in the early going has had an impact on his new company. "With red hot growth in sparkling and rose wine, our brands Luc Belaire and Cloud Chaser Rose are really good items within what is happening," he remarked. "The company has a knack for developing good tasting products within the segment they want to attack. Take Bumbu Rum, for example. This product is like nothing I have ever tasted, and we can’t keep it in stock!"

Even though it's only been a couple of months, Hochrein is already putting his personal stamp on the job. He prefers the personal approach. "I have really valued some of my relationships through the years from distributor managers, sales reps and really good on- and off-premise retailers," he stated. "These folks help you make brands move. At this level, you need partners to foster growth. I always work to find more true partners, whether it’s a retail partner helping you with sell-through or a sales partner helping you drive your message and plan."

  Asked to describe his work and leadership style, two words came immediately to mind: inclusivity and positivity. In Hochrein's view, information in this business is power. "Half of the problems with execution is not being informed and prepared to act," he explained. "If you can keep your teams informed and make them part of the plan, they tend to 'own' the process more.  I like input before, during, and after things are done. And it's not just negative input that can make a program better. Momentum can also lead to more momentum with brands. We catch lightning in a bottle all the time with brands and consumers. I love trying to catch lighting, but sometimes it stings you and that’s OK, too. Leading is a lost art but one I take seriously."   

Hochrein has never left the beverage business since starting as a merchandiser for Churchill Distributors, now Breakthru Beverage Group. Along the way it's been the people and the variety of work that has kept him going. "If you invest yourself in it, the rewards are everywhere," he said. "From being able to see the world with educational trips  and incentives to finding lifelong friends who are also business associates and competitors. In the beverage business, you can 'Live to Work and Work to Live.' I’ve been doing both for a while! A former boss used to call me the 'happiest man on the planet' as I tend to have a sarcastic quip or a smile during tough meetings, I think it’s because I’ve always loved the business and its rewards."

So, does this veteran of both sides of the biz have any advice for newbies entering our industry today? For sure, he was ready with a couple of quips that he delivered with a smile. "My advice revolves around eating!" he exclaimed. "When faced with a massive task, ask yourself, 'How do you eat an elephant?' One bite at a time!"

He added, "Also, you aren’t entering the beverage industry. You are becoming a lawyer and a firefighter! Every day will find its way to putting out a fire or defending your case. Honestly, don’t fall into the laziness of hiding behind other people to do your work. Own your business, show up and follow up, and the rewards are everywhere."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2018 Editions Wed, 25 Apr 2018 10:27:58 -0400
MISC. Distillery ... by your own rules Misc_May18_HOME.jpg

MISCellaneous Distillery opened in December 2016, selling its Risky Rum product via a tasting room on Main Street in Mount Airy.  The brainchild of Dan McNeil and Meg MacWhirter, the business has taken off since then.  Wholesale sales began in mid-2017.  Before long, MISCellaneous Distillery had launched four more products -- Dew Point Rum, Diametric Whisky, Restless Rye Whisky, and Virtuous Vodka -- with more on the way.

One of the things that distinguishes the operation is MISCellaneous Distillery sources 100 percent of its Rye from a Carroll County farm and all of its sugar products from Domino Sugar in Baltimore. MacWhirter says the local partnerships are very important.  "We find these Maryland connections are an important part of our story," she stated, during a recent interview, "and they help us connect with our customers and accounts even if they haven’t been able to see us at the distillery.  We have great partnerships with both Hickory Hollow Farm and Gravel Springs Farms for grain, allowing us to grow and distill our products in the same county. We then send protein-rich spent mash back to Hickory Hollow for them to feed their cattle."

She continued, "Since Maryland is too far north to grow sugar cane, it was very appealing to work with Domino Sugar to source our molasses and sugar for our rums to make sure we are keeping Marylanders employed. As we grow into new categories, we are continuing to look for local inputs and ingredients wherever possible."


MISCellaneous Distillery currently self-distributes its entire line of products. MacWhirter concedes there are challenges and rewards with going this route.  "We located our distillery in a very central location to help aid our self-distribution efforts," she stated.  "But, being small and new, we have to spend a significant amount of time and attention getting our name out to consumers and introducing bars, liquor stores, and restaurants to our products and our brand.  Getting to meet the consumers, owners, and buyers has been very fun and rewarding. We feel that our products are different from anything else on the shelves or behind the bar, but the only chance we’ll get to introduce them to the public is one sale at a time. It’s always a thrill to share our products with a new potential account and get a 'Wow!' reaction."

McNeil and MacWhirter have been saying "Wow!" a lot since getting into the beverage business.  Both came from outside the industry.  The former hails from the political world, having run campaigns and events.  For her part, MacWhirter worked on international development efforts including a stint in the Peace Corps.

She believes her time with that organization informs her work today. "As a Peace Corps volunteer," she said, "I worked with an amazing group of women in Grenada.  They modeled resilience and creativity in the face of big challenges, and they did so with a lighthearted and playful attitude.  I know their influence shapes my work style today."

MacWhirter still craves being associated with larger groups and organizations today.  For instance, MISCellanous Distillery is a member of the Maryland Distillers Guild, an affiliation that has greatly benefited the business's bottom line.  "As part of this community of distillers," she explained, "we benefit from having a forum to learn from each other and we can combine forces in working to improve laws that constrain our growth. Plus, the Guild has a great series of festivals scheduled in 2018 where we can all share our products with customers who enjoy drinking and learning about local spirits."

She and McNeil work well together, because they both enjoy different parts of the business.  McNeil is a production man through and through.  MacWhirter says it's not uncommon for him to spend 12- to 16-hour days back-to-back "making as much as he can to fill barrels and fill shelves."  By contrast, she enjoys the interaction with customers and serving their needs.

She has especially enjoyed connecting with the public via MISCellanous Distillery's tours and tastings.  "It’s an opportunity to create a personal connection with our consumers, hear their questions, and show them the process of how spirits are made," she concluded.  "We are proud to make every drop of our spirits on site from raw ingredients.  Having people come visit is a great way to share with them what we are about.  That said, as we grow, we know we won’t have the luxury of meeting most of our customers in person.  So, we created unique and engaging packaging and branding that represents us well and helps serve as a proxy for a trip to our town and distillery."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) May 2018 Editions Wed, 25 Apr 2018 10:17:06 -0400
WhiskyFest Washington, DC WhiskyFest_HOME_02.jpg

Whisky lovers are set to gather on April 17 in Washington, D.C., to sample some of the world's best whiskies.  The event is WhiskyFest. Presented by Whisky Advocate magazine, the festival is returning to the nation's capital for the third consecutive year, offering the chance for attendees to sample almost 300 whiskies from around the globe and attend seminars hosted by industry experts.

Among those attendees will be numerous bar, restaurant, and packaged-goods store operators. Whisky Advocate Executive Editor Jeffery Lindenmuth comments, "WhiskyFest is certainly a place for local whisky sellers to sample whiskies they are considering [serving/stocking] and to discover new ones. Attendees who taste a whisky and meet the distiller leave motivated to buy that bottle. In that way, whisky experience and whisky education boost whisky sales."

b2ap3_thumbnail_JefferyLindenmuth.jpgHe continued, "Whisky lovers are a passionate bunch and respect first-hand advice. It’s a powerful sales tool when you can say to customers with authority, 'I tasted this at WhiskyFest, and I highly recommend it.' The more you know, the more vital you become to your whisky customers."

This year, Lindenmuth expects between 20 percent and 25 percent of attendees will be members of the beverage alcohol trade in some way. And he definitely recommends to each going in with a plan. "The WhiskyFest app is very useful for evaluating the whiskies being poured and locating them on the floor plan," he stated. "If you spend the first hour checking off your top ten whiskies, you’ll have a real sense of accomplishment. Then, go enjoy yourself."

The 300 whiskies from around the world will include single malt and blended Irish, Scotch, bourbon, rye, Tennessee, Canadian, Japanese, and craft-distilled whiskies. Also available for tasting will be high-end cognac, rum, and other spirits. The highlight for many will be the various speakers and seminars.

One of the sessions Lindenmuth is most excited about is the bourbon blending seminar that will be conducted by Heaven Hill Master Distiller Denny Potter, where attendees can try their hand at blending their own Elijah Craig using samples from eight to 12 years of age. He said, "It's a rare opportunity to get hands on and really gain an appreciation for the skill required to make such superb whisky."

Lindenmuth added, "Really all the seminars are tremendous.  There will be exciting opportunities everywhere. For instance, Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell has attended every single WhiskyFest for 25 years. He is such a talented, warm, and generous person. To share a few moments with a living legend like Jimmy is among the greatest experiences a whisky lover will have in a lifetime."

WhiskyFest will be held at the Washington, D.C. Marriott Marquis. It will start with a VIP Entrance at 5:30 p.m.; feature tastings from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; with seminar times at 7 p.m., 7:45 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.

Lindenmuth stated, "The whiskies are always dynamic and delicious. But the evolution that excites me the most is the audience itself.  Last year in D.C., I was delighted to see the diversity, the enthusiasm of young consumers, and all of the couples who share a passion for whisky. It’s very different from 25 years ago when WhiskyFest started, and this is all very promising for the future growth of the category." 

Of course, putting together such an event is a massive undertaking for Lindenmuth and his staff.  To this end, he credits WhiskyFest Events Director Joan McGinley for being a master of detail. "She coordinates with distillers from around the world, previews the food with the chef, and keeps the app up to date to ensure guests have a flawless experience," he raved.

Regular admission tickets were still available online as of press time at Early Bird prices for $275. The tickets include: a commemorative crystal glass; entrance to all seminars on a first-come, first-served basis; a gourmet buffet throughout the evening; a one-year subscription to Whisky Advocate; a gift bag; an event program and pen; and, of course, the 300 whiskies to sample.   

For Lindenmuth, WhiskyFest is one of those yearly events that stokes his ongoing passion for the product. He concluded, "I had an editor at Maxim magazine who told me I needed to expand, to write other stuff. 'Why don’t you write about music or men’s fashion.  All you do is wine, beer, and whisky.' Like most people in this business, I just thought, 'Why would I possibly want to do anything else?!' The beverage business is full of great people!"

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2018 Editions Thu, 22 Mar 2018 21:57:26 -0400
Local Beverage Pros React to the New Tax Law Mar18_MDProsReact_HOME.jpg

There's really no other way to put it.  In December, the White House signed a historic tax bill into law that was absolutely loaded with "goodies" for the beer, wine, and spirits business.  A number of the Maryland-D.C. area's top beverage industry professionals weighed in on the changes, and their enthusiasm was obvious.

Jaime Windon, owner and co-founder of St. Michaels-based Lyon Distilling Co., declared during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "The tiered changes create a more competitive and equitable tax system, which significantly benefits smaller distilleries and every distillery in Maryland. Historically, the high federal excise tax rate on distilled spirits has been a huge barrier to growth. The largest tax savings apply to distilleries producing less than 100,000 gallons of spirits each year, indeed reducing the rate from $13.50 per proof gallon to $2.70 per proof gallon. To put that in perspective, in our first year [2012], Lyon made less than 1,000 gallons. In 2018, we plan to make 10,000 gallons. That represents a potential savings of $108,000 in federal excise tax under the new law."

She continued, "Obviously, we and all of our fellow distillers in Maryland and beyond are thrilled with the tax cuts, and I believe it will certainly spur growth and benefit the craft sector significantly. In fact, all Maryland distillers will benefit from the massive [80 percent] deduction for the first 100,000 gallons, as to my knowledge no distillery in the state is currently producing over that amount annually."

JAIME-WINDON_WEB.jpgTucked away in the new legislation is the so-called "Craft Beverage Modernization" provision, which has cut federal excise taxes on alcohol producers, particularly small brewers. Heavy Seas Beer founder and owner Hugh Sisson comments, "The primary positives of the new tax law is it saves us some overall cash. There's about a 50 percent reduction in the amount of federal excise taxes that we pay. We're in a capital-intensive business, and this gives us the ability to either hire more people or invest in more equipment. In our case, it'll probably be a little of both."

Hugh_Sisson_WEB.jpgWindon agrees.  She expects her business will follow Sisson's lead, stating, "As a genuine start-up operation, relying on steady and organic growth, we will reinvest every dollar saved in growing our company, expanding production, and continuing to create the best possible spirits, while investing in our employees and community. For many of our fellow distilleries, this savings will enable them to hire their first employee -- a crucial step for owner-operators of any business."

Boordy Vineyards President and co-owner Rob Deford has similar plans. "What it's going to do is free up money for investment," he said. "This business is constantly hungry for capital. It involves a lot of risk on the agricultural side, and it involves a lot of support for the marketing side. Any free change that's rattling around as a result of this bill WILL be deployed! It won't go into my pocket or any of the other family members who own Boordy. It's going right into the business."

The new law also reduces the beer tax from $7 to $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels and $18 to $16 per barrel on the first six million barrels. In addition, it extends wine tax credits to all domestic wineries whereas the credits currently are limited to small producers. The tax credit ranges between $0.54 to $1.00 per gallon. Wines that are made with a higher percentage of alcohol by volume, 14 percent to 16 percent, will now be taxed as others at $1.07 a gallon -- down from $1.57.  And such low-alcohol wines as mead that are made with higher carbonation will not be taxed at a higher rate than still wines.Rob_Deford_Boordy_WEB.jpg

Among those most pleased is Deford.  He commented, "There is an immediate benefit in that there is some tax relief at the lower end. It will save our company $3,000 right out of the gate, which is great. I like the bill because it is fair.  I've never liked carve-outs specifically for small wineries. Although I feel at the lower end of production, tax relief is necessary because we don't have the economies of scale. But I've never felt that the reduced tax should be limited to some arbitrary number of small producers. I like the fact that this bill is extended to all wineries. And that once you get up to a certain size, it's like a graduated tax. I can't imagine in my lifetime or my son's that we'll ever break the limit of this tax. It's quite high."

KevinAtticksPic_WEB.jpgKevin Atticks, Executive Director of the Maryland Wineries Association, is similarly enthused. "The law extends credits for a certain level of production for all producers," he pointed out.  "This becomes a stimulus to the industry, allowing for early reinvestment back into producers’ businesses.  We are already hearing of plans by our in-state producers to hire more staff or purchase more equipment or build production capacity." 

Atticks is also founder and CEO of Grow & Fortify. The Baltimore-based management firm supports businesses and organizations in the fields of agriculture, tourism, and food policy.  So was he or any of the other beverage pros interviewed for this article surprised that beer, wine, and spirits got so much care and attention at the federal level?  After all, Congress rarely debates alcohol excise taxes. They are one of the oldest levies the federal government imposes, with the first dating back to 1791 after Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton had pushed for them. The last time Capitol Hill lawmakers touched alcohol taxes was in 1991, when they increased them.

Atticks replied, "The collective industry had been advocating for small producer tax reductions for the last decade. The various bills had been widely sponsored by prominent members of Congress, so I wasn’t surprised to see it in the tax bill."

Windon wasn't surprised either.  "[I'm] rather relieved actually that the alcohol industry received so much attention in the new tax law. Small, craft distillers like myself have worked tirelessly to achieve tax parity with craft brewers and small winemakers for years, and we are thrilled about the changes."

She added, "This is the first time I’ve experienced any federal change that truly and immediately provides relief to help small businesses grow and thrive.  We are incredibly proud to be part of a vibrant, American spirits revolution."

Deford was just a touch more cynical than the rest.  "I don't actually credit attention for the passage," he half-joked. "I credit distraction. It is a tax relief of sorts. But it's been rattling around for quite some time, and I think that this was a vehicle to get it through that was so big that it was able to bury itself into it."

The only potential negatives to the new tax law were voiced by Sisson and Windon. "The excise tax reduction is currently scheduled for only two years [to 2019 when it will be up for renewal]," Sisson cautioned. "I hope that most of us realize that!"

Windon echoed Sisson's warning, adding, "The only thing that worries me is that this is only a short-term reduction in alcohol excise taxes, and notably the first time alcohol excise taxes have been lowered in centuries. To ensure that the craft industry truly thrives, this tiered system must become permanent, which will continue to generate local economic growth. With every new distillery comes increased tourism, renewed relationships with agricultural producers, and increased demand for other locally-produced goods. The industry in Maryland was all but extinct until just a few years ago.  Now, we boast 19 operating distilleries, with many more in the works located in every corner of the state."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2018 Editions Sun, 25 Feb 2018 16:41:06 -0500
James 'Andy' Anderson: Leaving a Legacy that Exceeds Expectations Mar18_AndyAnderson_HOME.jpg

Apologies ahead of time to anyone I didn't get to talk to for this tribute feature on long-time Maryland beverage salesman James "Andy" Anderson.  I know I missed quite a few of you.  Because every time I would talk to a former co-worker, boss, or relative of his, that person would inevitably end the interview with, "Hey, did you also speak to so-and-so?  No?  Oh, you absolutely HAVE to get some quotes from him!  He knew him best!" Maybe that was Anderson's secret magic.  He made so many people in his professional and personal life feel like they knew him best.  Anderson died on Jan. 31 after a battle with cancer.  He was 75.  Anderson grew up in the College Park/Greenbelt area and graduated from High Point High School in 1960.  He first worked for the local telephone company as a lineman before getting involved in beverage sales.

He worked for Standard, retired from Reliable Churchill, then came out of retirement to sell for Prestige Beverage Group.  His work ethic was practically legendary.  But it was his ability to work with others and help them that really distinguished him.

His daughter, Kim Hanke, recalled, "He was known for being a mentor.  Since his passing, I've heard so many stories from various individuals in the industry.  And over and over again, I can't tell you how many people have said to me, 'I learned SO much from him!'  I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't met him.'  That's huge when you think about it."

Mar18_AndyAnderson_WEB_3.jpgSome of the people he mentored are among the biggest names in our business.  James "Jimmy" Smith Jr. of the Smith/Reliable Churchill dynasty recalled, "I learned the business from Andy.  I was 22 years old when I started at Reliable Liquors in 1973.  He had started in 1971, but he already knew so much.  He made me come out and see his trunk.  I asked, 'Andy, why do I need to see your trunk?'  And he said, 'Every salesman should have this in their trunk.'  It looked like a miniature Staples!  He had markers and cardboard and stuff to do what a salesman does … to merchandise product."

Retired Reliable Churchill salesman Eddie Gardiner was one of his best friends, having met him in 1986.  He also had a funny anecdote to tell about Anderson.  "We introduced Wyndham Estates' Australian wines into the Maryland market," he recalled, "and it was around the time 'Crocodile Dundee' was popular.  So, he and I had this bright idea of dressing me up in a bush jacket, a drover's hat, and a knife, and we'd pretend Andy brought me in from the winery Down Under.  I developed an Australian accent and spoke like this all day.  'G'day mate!  That's not a knife!'"

Gardiner continued, "The month before that, we had Jameson Irish whiskey at the time.  So, I pretended I was from Ireland and the distillery brought me over, and I did a whole accent for that all day while Andy was my straight man.  And I'll never forget.  At the Wyndham event, this old retired officer walked up to Andy and said, 'Hey, you know that guy you got here from Australia.  He looks an awful lot like that guy from Ireland last month!'  Andy said, 'Excuse me, sir.'  And he went to a back room and you could just hear him belly laughing!"Mar18_AndyAnderson_WEB_2.jpg

Even Hamke had a humorous story to tell of her father on the job.  "One of the bosses, I can't remember his name, told me he went with one of his salesman on a call to a particular store.  That salesman took off his coat, laid it down, and looked at the boss and said, 'Sir, you gotta take your coat off!'  And he said, 'Why?'  And the salesman replied, 'Because Andy said so!  It's what you do!'  My father always preached that when you go into a store, you take your coat off, you find a place for your own things, because they then know you're there to stay.  You're committed to their success."

Most had a favorite personal memory of Anderson, too.  For Smith, it was the time Andy got him on Air Force One parked at Andrews Air Force Base.  "Andy had contacts, and he said 'Would you like to go on Air Force One?'  I said, 'Oh, come on, Andy!'  Whatever it took, he got us on.  It was during Ronald Reagan's term, so we saw the famous jar of jellybeans on the plane.  I still have the Presidential matchbox cover I took from the plane!"

Mar18_AndyAnderson_WEB_1.jpgBill Burrill, Director of Republic National's Severn Division, had known Anderson since 1997.  In fact, when Burrill helped Jimmy Smith's late son, Joey, start Prestige Beverage Group in 2013, it was Burrill who proved instrumental in convincing Anderson to un-retire and help with sales.  "My favorite memory of Andy?!" he exclaimed.  "I heard he'd retired, and I heard he was bored.  So, I had lunch with him and convinced him to come work for me part-time.  A while later, my wife and I were having dinner with Andy, and he said to her, 'Your husband is the best salesman I have ever met!'  And she asked, 'How is that?'  And he said, 'He convinced me to come to work for him part-time … and now I'm working 50 hours a week!'  But to Andy that was part-time."

All agreed that saying farewell to someone so special has been hard.  But Anderson left behind a legacy, in ways both big and small, that people can take comfort in for the rest of their days.  Smith fondly remembered, "My son, Joey, was the owner of Prestige Beverage and he passed away in 2016.  I remember Andy telling me before that, 'Jimmy, my greatest thrill is now working for the third generation of Smiths.  I worked for your father.  I worked for you.  And now I work for Joey.  It's my honor.'  I just lost it."

Prestige Beverage Group COO Alex Thompson concluded, "Andy hand-made a sign that hangs in my office.  It reads 'Let's Exceed Expectations.'  That was Andy.  He kept rewriting and raising his own expectations for himself, and he never stopped exceeding them."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2018 Editions Sun, 25 Feb 2018 15:09:55 -0500
Els Iced Coffee: Iced Coffee With a Kick Els_Iced_HOME_20180124-135853_1.jpg

Cayce Kerr, Caddie to The PGA's Ernie Els, is Helping Retailers Make a Hole in One

As a caddie to such golfing greats as Fuzzy Zoeller, Fred Couples, and Ernie Els, Cayce Kerr has been all over the world.  But it's his foray into the beverage business that brought him back to his home state of Maryland this winter.

Together with PGA Professional Golfer Ernie Els, Kerr has launched Els Iced Coffee.   Available in three flavors: original, chocolate, and mint chocolate, the new line boasts its key ingredients as fresh cream from a dairy in Wisconsin, chocolate from Hershey Pennsylvania and … (wait for it) … alcohol.  In fact, Els Iced Coffee is the first such product available in this country with a 12.5 percent alcohol by volume (or ABV) content.  Kerr was back in the Old Line State to introduce the product and offer tastings at various locales.


He had been raised in Clinton, Md., and held several jobs in the packaged goods and tavern businesses as a younger man.  "I worked at Branch Avenue Liquors," he recalled, "and I worked at Bar 51.  Bar 51 was on Suitland Parkway and Nailor Road, and I was the nighttime manager there making $7.50 an hour.  So, I got familiar with the beverage alcohol business at a young age, and I definitely got familiar with Maryland."

Els_Iced_HOME-3.jpgKerr recalls how this venture all came about.  Early in 2017, Els was in a meeting in Florida with his management team.  On the side, Kerr had dabbled in chocolate wine and had been creating samples of an iced coffee drink that he was eager to show off.  So, he decided to have the meeting attendees give it a try.  Els loved it so much that he eagerly put his name on it.

With Els Iced Coffee, Kerr is bringing to market a product that has appeal to a broad spectrum of customers.  Kerr has been convincing retailer after retailer of the diverse reach his product has with his in-store tastings. “In every store I’ve been to, I break records of number of bottles sold,” he explains, citing examples of stores where many hundreds of Els Iced Coffee bottles will sell in several hours’ time. “When people try it, they buy it. When I’m in a store, I’m a monster.”

Beverage Journal publisher, Steve Patten concurs, “I visited Cayce at two of his tastings in late December and early January.  He is electric.  I watched bottle after bottle head to the register after customers would have a small taste and a brief conversation with Cayce.”

The product debuted in Wisconsin and has since expanded to 21 states as of the first quarter of this year.  Kerr remarks, "I wanted to be the first to bring iced coffee with a kick to the industry.  I handle procurement, distribution, sales, marketing, and depletion.  I go into the retailer.  That's my favorite thing to do.  Last Saturday, I was at a Wegmans in Fairfax, Va., and sold 21 cases and three bottles."

While Kerr loves to take the product out into the market, he acknowledges it can be a bit of a nerve-racking experience.  "When you're doing a sampling at a store," he stated, "you have maybe eight seconds to grab their attention.  So, you better be good.  I love it when a person takes a sip and rolls their eyes back.  They don't have to say anything at that point.  Their expression says it all.  Then, they look at you and ask, 'How much is this?!'  The next thing you know, they're leaving in another direction with your product."

He continued, "I get a lot of 'Oh my goshes!'  But it's not really what they say.  It's the voice inflection.  They're pleasantly surprised.  And my most common response to them is, 'How many would you like?'  When you can provide happiness and a smile in a short period of time and introduce them to a product they never anticipated leaving the store with, that's cool!"

He added that one of the most common questions he gets when showing off Els Iced Coffee is: "When do you drink it?"  He remarked, "Customers have told me they drink it in the morning.  They love it for brunch.  I've also heard of it being served after dinner for dessert.  And some like it as a nightcap."

Looking ahead, Kerr is hopeful the brand will continue to grow.  He concluded, "My vision is to try and continue growing the brand in 2018, expand distribution, and get as many people as I can aware of the product, the flavor profile, and the price."

Visit for more information.

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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2018 Editions Wed, 24 Jan 2018 08:54:46 -0500
David "Merf" Merfeld Continues to Be a Rising Star Merf_Wine_Tasting_HOME.jpg

In various professions, the truly great ones become known by just one name or even nickname.  In the sports world, there's been Tiger, Peyton, and "Shaq."  In entertainment, there's been Beyonce, Cher, and Arnold.  In wine?  There's now Merf.

David "Merf" Merfeld is head winemaker for Northstar.  "The umbrella company is Ste. Michelle Wine Estates," he remarked.  "Northstar is one of a string of pearls.  It was created in 1994 to focus on ultra-premium wines, specifically Merlot.  It all starts in the vineyards.  We've been working closely with growers at specific sites where we source our fruit from since the '90s. That sets us apart."

Whether it's his good looks, his encyclopedic knowledge of the grape, or his personable way with the public, Merf has become one of those winemakers who not only gets to travel the country and conduct tastings.  He also signs bottles and poses for photos.  He was in Maryland in early December, making several appearances to tout his proudest achievement to date, the Merf Project.

He stated, "2018 is going to be a big year for the Merf Project, because that will be the main nationwide launch.  Right now, we have a bit of a soft launch in the Northwest, in Maryland and the Midwest.  The project opens up a new audience for me, selling every-day, luxury-priced wine.  I'm going to reach a lot more people.  These wines are very approachable and easy to drink.  They pair with different foods, even bar foods.  They're the kind of wines you drink while hanging out with friends."


So how did this all come about?  "I was approached by our company to do a namesake wine," he replied.  "My nickname is indeed 'Merf.'  Everyone calls me that.  So, the Merf Project was born.  We've come out with a Cabernet Sauvignon and also a Chardonnary.  Don't hold me to this, but I think they're going to retail for $12 for the Cab and $10.99 for the Chardonnay.  It allows me to use the whole art and science of blending to create these wines by sourcing different vineyard sites throughout Washington state that I get to work with through our company. I actually get to pull out which lots I like.  We've already had a couple of launches, and they've gone very well."

David Merfeld grew up on a farm in Iowa and moved out on his own in the early 1990s to Seattle.  During that time, the craft beer movement was taking off and he knew he wanted to be a part of it.  He got a job brewing beer for a company that was owned at the time by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.  "When Ste. Michelle Wine Estates decided it was time to sell that brewery, they asked me if I wanted to stay onboard.  I knew it would be a great opportunity, and I knew I was going to be working for winemaker Gordie Hill.  So, I jumped on the chance to work on the Northstar project, and my wife and I moved to Walla Walla in 2002." 

He was eventually promoted to assistant winemaker, then to head winemaker in 2006.  At the same time, he went back to school to Washington State University and got a degree in Horticulture.  "I've been doing this for a long time," he proudly declared.  "I know how to treat the fruit just right.  I love our barrel-aging here and the fact that we're not in a hurry to get our wines out into the market."


At the same time, he's always happy to tout the pluses of Washington as a wine-growing state.  "This is one of the greatest places in the world to grow grapes," he said.  "It's the amount of sunshine we get, the free-draining soils that we have that allow the root systems to go deep and allow the irrigation to drip down deep into the soil.  Also, the fact that we're pretty much a desert is important.  Where I live, we get maybe 10 inches of rain a year.  But we have the Columbia River coming through, we have wells, we have irrigation.  Grapes don't take a lot of water.  It all allows us to farm and control our grapes, because we determine when the water goes to the plant."

Merf was determined to follow his passion.  In doing so, he hopes to inspire others to consider the wine business their profession.  For him, it's not been about the destination, but the journey.  "Follow your dreams," he concluded.  "If you love what you're doing, it's not work.  I started out in beer.  And that meant scrubbing tanks and doing whatever, because I flat-out loved it."


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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2018 Editions Wed, 27 Dec 2017 14:54:36 -0500
The 2018 Legislative Session: What's on Tap for MD's Beverage Alcohol Businesses 2018_Leg_Sess_HOME.jpg

I've been writing this annual Maryland state legislative preview article for five years in a row now.  And normally, this feature is filled with quotes of hope and a bit of apprehension for the year ahead from various figures in our industry.  This year, there is more apprehension than hope from members of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA).

Most of it is centered around Comptroller Peter Franchot's unveiling of a legislative package that would make sweeping changes to the state’s regulation of craft breweries.  Franchot’s 12-point "Reform on Tap Act of 2018" seeks to eliminate limits on sales from taprooms and for take-home consumption for the state’s breweries.  In addition, it would eliminate limits on beer production for breweries that faced caps and let localities set their own taproom hours.  The goal of the proposal is to do away with regulations Franchot says have stifled one of Maryland's most promising economic engines.

The proposal would follow legislation approved earlier in 2017 that quadrupled the amount of beer breweries can serve -- up to 2,000 barrels, or nearly 500,000 pints. That legislation was designed to pave the way for a new Guinness brewery and taproom in Baltimore County.  It also stipulated that breweries could serve an additional 1,000 barrels if they sold the beer to a wholesaler, then purchased it back, and limited operating hours for new taprooms. For their part, micro-breweries attached to restaurants can now serve up to 4,000 barrels on-site.

In short, Franchot’s proposal could set up state legislators for another lengthy debate about breweries for a second year in a row.  One person who is somewhat baffled is MSLBA legal counsel J. Steven "Steve" Wise of Schwartz, Metz & Wise P.A.  During an interview in late November, he commented, "The Comptroller took up this effort with a special task force and he's made recommendations that we're still digesting.  But in our view, we had just reached an agreement on most of these topics less than seven months ago.  The law became effective July 1.  It hasn't even been law six months, and so we'll be looking at it in that light."

MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani is equally perplexed.  "It was a pretty tough session," he recalled.  A lot of negotiating went on, and I think everyone left the session feeling like they didn't get what they needed.  We were all unhappy, which is usually the sign of a pretty good bill!  Or at least a fair bill.  I never dreamt we'd be addressing it the very next session."

Having served as a member of Franchot's task force, Milani believes the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 will indeed dominate this next session.  "I think Peter's intentions are certainly to promote Maryland beers," the proprietor of Monaghan's Pub in Baltimore acknowledged.  "Obviously, there are a lot of ways to do that.  For me personally, I think I'd spend most of my time promoting people trying the products and making sure people understand that when they buy those products, this is money that stays in Maryland.  This supports Maryland families.  At the end of the day, we all need each other.  The more successful brewers in Maryland are the ones who are getting their stuff out into the stores."  

Wise added, " On several of the points -- the operating hours, the taproom consumption limits -- those were all a product of the agreement that we had already reached in the 2017 session.  So, we'll have to see why that agreement isn't still valid after such a short time having passed."

Of course, there are other issues out there that the MSLBA and other beverage industry interests will be paying attention to in 2018.  MSLBA President David Dent of Chief's Bar in Tall Timbers, Md., noted, "There is an initiative for paid sick leave.  And that not only affects the alcohol industry, but a lot of small businesses.  It will be interesting to find out what goes on with that.  I agree with the concept where they're trying to protect employees in allowing them to have paid sick leave.  Part of the problem I saw as a business owner was they were affecting small businesses with very few employees in mandating paid sick leave.  That could put a hardship on a lot of the very small businesses.  There's also an accounting process that has to be in place where you have to accrue the hours and things like that. I think last year the Governor that set the threshold at 50 employees or more, and I think that might be a bit more realistic." 

All three men interviewed for this article urged readers to get more active in Maryland's political scene to improve things for everyone.  Dent stated, "Our state representatives want and need input from small business owners, especially from our industry.  We do serve our local communities.  We're in a pretty unique position to offer insight and advice about our industry and the issues affect us and all small businesses."

Both Wise and Milani touted the importance of joining one of the industry groups or associations representing beverage interests around the state.  Wise remarked, "You have to get active and be tuned into what's going on.  Everything we deal with in the General Assembly and through regulation is a pocketbook issue."

Milani concluded with an MSLBA tout specifically.  "You need to be a member of the association," he declared.  "That gets you informed as to what's going on. You've gone and made a hefty investment in your business.  You should also invest in protecting your business and making sure you are aware of what's going on.  Every bill that affects our industry is tracked.  We take positions, we testify, and we work with other business groups." 

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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2018 Editions Wed, 27 Dec 2017 14:43:29 -0500
Zinburger at Arundel Mills: Finally Bringing Together Burgers … and Wine?! HOME_1_ZinBurger.jpg

For years, people have either classified themselves as a "beer and burger" kind of person or a "wine and steak" guy or gal. But a newly opened concept at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, Md., is challenging those long-held generalizations. The Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar served its first customers on Oct. 17. Recently named to Full Service Restaurant Magazine's "Top 50 Emerging Restaurant Chains" because of its brand expansion and menu innovation, this marks the chain's first location in Maryland and 15th overall.

As the name suggests, the Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar offers cooked-to-order, gourmet burgers combined with perfectly paired wine selections. As with locations in Atlanta, Boca Raton, Durham, and elsewhere, the new eatery offers a full bar with a wine menu that includes 25 varieties; two dozen beers, including 16 on tap and several local and regional craft ales; and a cocktail menu. On Wednesdays, customers can enjoy half-price bottles of wine. And there are Happy Hour specials, weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring discount beer and cocktails and $5 Plain and Simple Burgers. That's in addition to the usual soft drinks and milkshakes.

The 187-seat, 5,500-square-foot restaurant, which boasts a patio with a fire pit, comes as Arundel Mills is remodeling its food court. Gene Condon, general manager of Arundel Mills, commented, "Arundel Mills is committed to constantly reinvigorating the look, feel, and offerings at our property, and Zinburger is a great update to complement our new dining pavilion which we will debut this month [November]. Not only are we home to their first location in Maryland, but it’s also a tremendous dining addition to add to our center’s dining and entertainment roster."

He continued, "Our visitors have been eager to experience Zinburger ever since we announced the opening. So far, it has been the ideal spot for both shoppers and visitors looking for a meal and an experience. Our patrons always appreciate the new concepts we introduce, and Zinburger is no exception. The concept has developed an almost fanatical customer following."

In terms of food, Zinburger prides itself on grinding the Angus and American-style Kobe beef for its burgers in-house twice a day. These burgers generally cost in the $10 to $12 range. Customers can build their own burger or choose from such signature offerings as the Zinburger (featuring Manchego Cheese and Zinfandel Braised Onions) and the Kobe Burger (with Vermont Cheddar and Wild Mushrooms). The menu also offers a turkey burger, veggie burger, chicken sandwiches, entrée salads, and more.

Condon remarked, "I have eaten there several times already, but it’s too early for a favorite! I've enjoyed the prime rib burger blend, the ahi tuna burger, and the farm-fresh salad with ahi tuna. The wasabi coleslaw and truffle fries are also outstanding."

The chain is civic-minded, too. For instance, during its grand opening week at Arundel Mills, Zinburger sold VIP Gold Cards for $100 each with proceeds going to the Fort Meade Alliance Foundation. The nonprofit organization manages charitable initiatives designed to support the Fort Meade installation, military personnel and their families, and the broader Fort Meade community. The VIP card is providing customers with top of the wait-list status along with half-price bottles of wine through Jan. 31.

Zinburger is part of The Briad Group, a New Jersey-based hospitality company that operates more than 100 Wendy's fast-food eateries nationwide, 57 TGI Friday's locations, and is presently developing hotels in three states -- Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar is the latest jewel in the company's crown. Currently, though, there are no immediate plans for additional locations in the Baltimore-Washington market.

 NOTE: Citing company policy, the general manager of the Arundel Mills location deferred comment for this article to Briad Group President Rick Barbrick, who was unable to respond to a request for a phone interview or an e-mail questionnaire by the editorial deadline for this article.

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Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) December 2017 Editions Mon, 20 Nov 2017 11:15:06 -0500
Ranazul Celebrates 10 Years Ranazul_HOME.jpg

In 2007, some didn't give much of a chance to Ranazul -- a then-new eatery in the then- new Maple Lawn mixed-use development near Fulton, Md.  First, there was the name.  Ranazul?  It sounded like an ancient demon the Ghostbusters might have once fought off to save Manhattan.  Then, people who didn't speak Spanish found out what the name meant.  Blue frog.  Blue frog?!  It didn't exactly have the same ring as, say, the Capital Grille.

Then, folks took notice of the full name.  Ranazul Tapas and Wine Bistro.  The place started coming together in the potentially hot location just off of Routes 216 and 29 in Howard County.  And, finally, Ranazul opened its doors, and customers were quickly wowed by the small plates menu and the outstanding selection of wine and cocktails.

Ten years later, Ranazul's management, staff, and now long-time clientele are still glowing after the bistro celebrated its 10th anniversary with a mid-September gala.  Hal Kenny was there at the beginning as general manager, left in 2009, and returned this past January when a possible partnership opportunity was presented to him.   

During a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, he recalled, "That opening in 2007 couldn't have gone any better.  We had a great team in place, a great concept, a great menu.  We were blessed with positive write-ups.  One of the main objectives early on was to establish a local clientele. They would be the ones who would continue frequenting Ranazul and referring us.  We had to have them."

And have the locals stayed with Ranazul?  In a big way!  Kenny stated, "When I returned in late January, it was like déjà vu!  I came back and saw many of the exact same people from 2009. And that local clientele had since brought new friends and guests with them.  They did a double take looking at me!  They were like, 'Wow, you're back!  Did you go away?  Wait, you have returned, right?'  It was really flattering to be so welcomed back by all of those regular customers we had established years earlier.  Many of them now refer to Ranazul as their 'Go-to Place.'"

Kenny says there have been two main ingredients that has made Ranazul a decade-long success.  Consistency and quality.  "We concentrate heavily on making sure every guest, every day, has a positive experience at Ranazul," he commented.  "Chad Price, one of the owners, managed Ranazul for the eight years I was away and continued to deliver that consistent, quality experience."

Kenny continued, "In many cases, it's not difficult to become a champion.  But it's VERY difficult to stay a champion.  That's our challenge now.  How do we stay a success?  I think if we can continue to fine-tune and innovate the systems in place, we'll continue to be successful for another ten years.  We have to always be good at trouble-shooting.  When something's not right, give us an opportunity to make it right.  That's an opportunity!  And always ask new guests, 'How did you find out about us?  Give me a highlight and a lowlight of your first experience with Ranazul.'  That gives you feedback on what you're doing right and how we can improve."

Since Kenny has returned, he's tried to foster an even greater camaraderie among the staff.  He illustrated, "We had this sort of pre-meal shift meeting in which we discussed specials and reservations and so forth.  I guess this is the teacher in me.  But we also did this activity on one Friday in which I asked staff to identify the keys to Ranazul's 10 years.  I had each staff member rattle off what they thought have been the keys to Ranazul's success and what they should be.  Then, on Saturday night, we identified what our strengths and weaknesses were.  So, when the staff members mentioned a weakness, they also had to have a solution.  'How can we resolve that?'  The most interesting part was when we identified our strengths.  What it did was made them realize who we are and what our niche is.  The staff left that meeting with a sense of identity and pride.  It was wonderful to experience that."

One thing that has distinguished Ranazul this past decade has been its approach to beverage service. The eatery's wine list offers more than 150 labels with 25 by the glass. Food pairings, meanwhile, have been especially important. Ranazul's menu doesn't just consist of tapas from Spain.  Chef Jaime Ayala has infused ingredients from all around the world to deliver an eclectic and diverse menu.

"Now we have a little something for everyone," Kenny said, "and we've wanted to make sure our beverages complement that.  We have a wide range of wine and spirits.  We've recently launched a new wine list that we're so proud of, because we sat down, did three months of research, tastings, and achieved everything we set out to accomplish.  That was: one, have a very eclectic wine list; two, take our guests on an adventure throughout the world; and, three, get our guests just a little out of their comfort zones of the typical Cabernets and Chardonnays.  Now, we're delving into small wineries from South Africa, Australia, Italy, and Spain.  We also have seasonal cocktail specials we've developed and have done some promotions where we've paired wines with different menu items.  Our staff is not just order takers.  They're people who are genuinely excited to introduce new beverage choices to their guests."

Meanwhile, the accolades keep pouring in.  The Washington Post recently touted Ranazul as "undoubtedly the most stylish gathering spot in the Maryland suburbs."  So, with success, might expansion finally be on the horizon?  Kenny doesn't rule it out.  He concluded, "We must first make sure that Ranazul is a fine-tuned machine and well-established before we even consider a second location.  But I do think we have a good opportunity with this concept to do just that!"  

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2017 Editions Wed, 25 Oct 2017 11:22:53 -0400
Sandy Bottom Sparkling Rum Cocktails Sandy_1_HOME_20171025-143107_1.jpg

Sandy Mazza is certainly excited about her new product, Sandy Bottom Sparkling Rum Cocktails.  Interviewing her recently, she would often start answers to my questions with, "Oooh, now please make sure you get this in the article!" and "This is one of the best things about Sandy Bottom, and I hope you can include it."  Well, we do have a word limit.  But the most important thing to make sure readers know is Mazza has come up with a product that Marylanders will want to drink and Maryland-based establishments will want to serve.

Sandy Bottom Sparking Rum Cocktails is a premium, pre-mixed, sparkling rum-based cocktail brand with natural flavors of coconut, lemonade, and lime. The company’s history is rooted in the nautical culture of the Chesapeake Bay. As an entrepreneur from the Annapolis area, Mazza would serve her homemade cocktails to friends while cruising the Bay.  Those closest to her loved it so much that they encouraged her to provide for a broader audience.

She chose to self-distribute, obtaining a wholesaler's license, and was able to start selling on June 23rd of this year.  "I'm happy with that decision," she stated, "because I wanted to have the contact with the customers myself first."  As of press time, the single-serve product was available in 28 retailers across Maryland, as well as such hotels as the MGM National Harbor, the Hollywood Casino Perryville, and the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore.

Mazza actually started selling her first rum-based cocktail in 2010, getting it in stores in Maryland and five other states. The founder and CEO of Sandy Bottom Enterprises LLC concedes she was a "wide-eyed entrepreneur" back then.  For her latest concoction, she's narrowed the focus greatly and is selling just in Maryland to begin with.  She remarked, "Our target market is mostly women, later-age Millennials through early Baby Boomers."

Mazza tries to do a dozen or more tastings a month.  "I just need to get the brand out there!" she said.  "When I started, I went back to accounts previously, and they either said, 'We wondered where you were!' or "So good to see you back!'  We've tried to do consistent tastings, and one of the most common responses we get is: 'Very refreshing!'  And because it is coconut with citrus, which is a sweet and a tart, they also say, 'Ooh, I wasn't expecting that!  I like it!' They also like the pink color."

In addition, the bottle itself has gotten high marks.  The aluminum container makes the drink portable, lightweight, and unbreakable.  "There's also the chill factor," she added.  "It stays colder longer.  And people love the screw-off cap."

In addition to tastings, Mazza is hoping to reach customers via technology. At the time of this interview in early October, she was in the process of a launching a website.  Sandy Bottom Sparking Rum Cocktails also has a presence on Facebook and Instagram.  "Social media is how we live now," she noted.  "You have to be on it."

So, where would Mazza like to be with the product if we were to revisit her a year from now.  Ever ambitious, she said she definitely wants to double sales by next fall.  "That would probably mean doubling the number of accounts.  I would like to tap into more on-premise, particularly waterfront bars and restaurants.  I want to also get into more golf [settings] with the tagline: 'Get Trapped by This Sandy Bottom.'"

She concluded, "What I really need to do is keep summer alive.  People that do enjoy coconut with their rum, I think they'll drink it all year round.  Like at Christmas, we'll have the tagline: 'Put a Little Sandy at the Bottom of Your Stocking!'"

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) November 2017 Editions Wed, 25 Oct 2017 10:19:20 -0400
Ol' Glory Beverages: Feel Free to Stand and Salute OlGlory_HOME.jpg

Our military fight to have our flag flying high above free lands. Beverage entrepreneur Don Sessions fought to have the American flag on the bottles of his Ol' Glory-brand vodka, spiced rum, and five other spirits that are taking the Maryland-D.C. markets by storm thanks to a recent distribution deal with Atlantic Wine & Spirits.

The battle waged by Sessions, owner of an Oklahoma-based energy drink company, dates back to 2010 when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau denied his request to design a can of beer with the flag and Pledge of Allegiance on it.  Sessions contended the design was protected by the First Amendment and decided to sue the agency for millions. Fox News caught wind of his crusade and put Sessions' story on TV.

The broadcast brought more attention than Sessions could've dreamed.  When he agreed to modify the label to include the disclaimer "Not endorsed by or affiliated with the U.S. or any other government," federal regulators signed off on the design.  Seven years later, Sessions and his colleagues are using the label as the main marketing hook for seven promising new spirits. 

The eighty-something Sessions was in ill health at the time of this interview. But his Executive Vice President Dave Pergl, who's worked with Sessions since Ol' Glory's inception, was happy to comment. So far, he has been most impressed with people's emotional reaction to the product line.

"We have an Ol' Glory bus that I've been privileged to go out in with Don," he stated. "And literally when you go down the highway, you have people waving and truck drivers blasting their horns.  When we step out of our hotel in the morning and we've parked the bus outside, there's always people taking pictures of themselves in front of the bus.  You can't help but catch your breath and say, 'Wow, this IS kind of neat!' It's also been a great feeling seeing all the different kinds of people take to Ol' Glory. One thing we've learned is 'Don't question who's patriotic!'  It can be a guy in a Brooks Brothers suit.  It can be a veteran.  Or it can be a guy on the street who's 'tatted up' and with dreadlocks. You just can't judge who is patriotic."

Ol' Glory Beverages President Jim Parisi concurs.  "The grass-roots American consumer is going to make this product, I have no doubt," the 35-year industry veteran said. "It's been exciting for both Dave and me to get involved, because we were able to develop the products, put together the packaging, craft a marketing program, and then try and secure distribution throughout the U.S. of our seven items."

While the two men anticipate strong sales of their Victory Vodka, America's Whiskey, and R&R Red and White Wines, it's Grandpa's Moonshine that is generating perhaps the most buzz. Pergl and Parisi can't help smiling when talking about it. The former stated, "We've been amazed with the moonshine. It's basically like a 70-proof liqueur. From 22-year-olds to 72-year-olds, we pour it for them over the rocks and we get back, 'Oh my god, this is the best booze I ever had in my life!'"

Parisi added, "It's a moonshine with a honey cinnamon flavor.  We've tested expert drinkers to people on the street, and everybody just seems to be drawn to it."

Ol' Glory Beverages has been generating buzz in the industry ever since its successful booth appearance at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America convention in Florida this past April. Its distributors now range from Maryland to Minnesota to California. "We're getting a great cross-section of everybody that believe in this project," Parisi said.

And the duo is working hard to have Ol' Glory be more than just a cool bottle to have on the shelf or to serve on patriotic holidays. "There have been some really bad products over the years that use the symbol of the flag or the red, white, and blue colors," Pergl conceded. "But, historically, they do it wrong.  They try and take a product that's not very good and throw red, white, and blue on it and think the consumer will buy it. You may have the sizzle. But, at the end of the day, you have to have a good steak."

Parisi concluded, "We have the steak AND the sizzle.  Our products are excellent.  I'd match them up to anybody's.  You have to have products that people will not just buy once, but will buy again and again."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) October 2017 Editions Tue, 26 Sep 2017 12:55:23 -0400
HOPS to It New Partnership Between The University of Maryland and
Flying Dog Brewery Hopes to Grow High-Quality Hops in
The Old Line State


The vast majority of hops in North America come from the Pacific Northwest, primarily the Yakima Valley.  Maryland is hoping to be the next great fertile region for these flowers, which are used inthe flavoring and production of beers and craft beers. To this end, Frederick-based Flying Dog Brewery has formed a partnership with the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to study the potential for high-quality hops grown in the Old Line State.

The partnership has launched a trial of two dozen varieties of hops planted at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Washington County. The first 12 varieties were planted after having been chosen from discussions with both industry and academic experts on what might perform well. The second 12 varieties were picked based on an informal poll of Maryland-based growers and brewers to establish what might be most marketable.

Hop_Butler.jpgBryan Butler, extension agent for the University of Maryland and the de facto point man on this project, remarks, "I've approached this in a very critical way.  I'm really only looking at this from the horticulture and test management side.  I'm not going to promote something that's going to cause people harm down the road in that they invest and lose money in something just because they think it'll be cool and fun.  We're in the business of providing growing information and then harvest handling information to give brewers a stable product."

Hop_Brophy.jpgFlying Dog COO Matt Brophy agreed, adding, "The last thing I want to do is create an environment where people think they can just go and plant hops, grow hops, and then process hops and have them of high enough quality to where brewers will want to use them. We really need to educate and prevent an irrational exuberance of small farmers saying, 'Well, I'm going to convert 10 acres to hops, because there are brewers here who will buy them regardless of quality and regardless of price.'  That's just not the case.  It's very difficult."

Brophy continued, "What I like about Bryan is that he's taking a practical approach. It's very scientific what he is doing, and he wants to really figure out what are the best practices for growing hops in Maryland and what the sustainability and growth capabilities are."

The overall trial will collect data on how Maryland's unique climate affects everything from harvest dates to levels of acid and oils in the hops and much more. Flying Dog is providing the equipment and funding a significant portion of the research project.

Optimism is running high, especially with such farmers as Black Locust Hops in northern Baltimore County and Pleasant Valley Hops in Rohrersville reporting some good results in recent years. Among the varieties of hops that have best responded to Maryland's climate so far are Cascade and Chinook. The partnership's objective is to determine if there are more, which are critical for the continued production of such increasingly popular types as India Pale Ales in the state.

Brophy stated, "I think we will come out of this knowing that there are a handful of varieties that will do very well in this climate, and it may end there.  Or, we will find there are new and emerging varieties, maybe even a wild hops that's indigenous to this area.  That's a bit of a long shot, but it's exciting to know there are new possibilities."

Hop_Dog_Logo.jpgLooking ahead, Flying Dog is eager to partner with farms in Maryland and possibly New York to do some collaborative brews. If all goes well, Flying Dog will release a limited-edition variety pack of beer dubbed the East Coast Hop Project next spring. This bundle will include at least three different styles spotlighting hops growth in the region. 

Hop_UMD_Logo.jpgThe partnership is being touted as a three- to five-year project so that researchers can get a few growing seasons' of results before making any official determinations. Ultimately, the goal will be to print a guide for Maryland growers and to put more growers and brewers in contact with each other.

Butler concluded, "It's going to take years to get us actionable information, and I know people are chomping at the bit to get it.  But we want to collect it in an analytical and reliable way.  The impatience is going to be an obstacle, and it's hard to explain to some people that we have barely scratched the surface.  This is a perennial crop, and it's going to take time."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) September 2017 Editions Tue, 22 Aug 2017 09:35:02 -0400
Ellicott City One Year After the Flood ... Wines and Dines Anew Ellicott_THEN_HOME.jpg

The bars, restaurants, businesses, and good people of Ellicott City, Md., are all looking forward to July 30 … and they are dreading it.  It was one year ago on that date when a summer storm dropped six inches of rain in two hours on the Howard County suburb, resulting in a flash flood
that caused major damage to the city's Historic District.  A state of emergency was declared, and it's taken many being highly involved this entire year to recover.

First and foremost, no one-year retrospective would be complete without first honoring the two people who lost their lives that night.  They were 38-year-old Joseph Anthony Blevins of Windsor Mill, Md., and 35-year-old Jessica Watsula of Lebanon, Pa.  Their bodies were found nearly two miles down the Patapsco River in Baltimore County.

Several Ellicott City businesses ended that night, too, including such popular eating and drinking establishments as the Rumor Mill Fusion Bar and Restaurant, Johnny's Bistro, and Cacao Lane.  Maureen Sweeney Smith, Executive Director of the Ellicott City Partnership, is among the many still feeling the loss. "I was really sorry to see Rumor Mill go," she lamented.  "I really liked [co-owner] Lexi Milani, and they had such good food.  Johnny's Bistro was a really good lunch place, and Cacao Lane had been a mainstay of Ellicott City for years.  The owners have decided not to keep it as a restaurant, but turn it into retail."


For the most part, though, the story that has been written since July 30 -- and the one that this journalist is intent on writing here -- is one of triumph.  There are a lot of victories to report one year later with regards to the food and beverage trade.  One of the most notable has been The Phoenix Emporium, which re-opened for business on Jan. 30 six months to the day of the tragedy.  Proprietor Mark Hemmis remarked, "The most rewarding part has been getting my employees back.  My 'newest' employee prior to the flood had been here for two and a half years.  They're more like family to me than employees."


He continued, "We've hit a surge in business since we've been back open, too.  We've even had to bring in new staff.  And let me tell you, it is difficult to vet restaurant employees!  I have a manager who has been with me for 10 years, and he told our newest waitress, 'We don't have a training program,' because we haven't hired people in so long!"

Also remarkable is that Ellicott City is attracting new businesses.  One of the most promising is the new Manor Hill Tavern under the supervision of Randy Marriner, President and CEO of the Victoria Restaurant Group and Manor Hill Brewing.  He stated, "We actually purchased the property on July 1 last year, and the flood was on the 30th.  Great timing!  We own Manor Hill Brewing, which is located on our farm in Ellicott City 10 minutes from the Tavern. So, we had decided to open Manor Hill Tavern to showcase our beer."


Of course, there have been challenges to both returning to Ellicott City and starting anew.  "The most challenging part of the whole process was just the lack of knowledge," Hemmis said.  "I had assisted in building restaurants before, but I didn't have the depth of knowledge needed to really understand what I was undertaking.  I had to bring in contractors and plumbers and carpenters and electricians and HVAC guys.  Most of it went really well.  I will say I have become a much more well-rounded business owner as a result."

Marriner added, "Bringing any older building up to date is challenging.  Our buildings were constructed in 1830.  The exterior 'look and feel' is controlled by the Historic Preservation Commission, so any changes have to be approved.  Low ceiling heights, narrow hallways, sagging floors, little to no insulation, inadequate HVAC, unworkably small kitchen are just a few of the issues we had to overcome."

And, of course, some operators are still struggling to re-open.  Portalli's, for instance, was one of the absolute hardest hit.  It's grand return has been delayed a few times already this year, and owner Evan Brown is now hoping to be back up and running by the one-year anniversary.

"The hardest thing we've had to deal with is getting through all of the bureaucratic obstacles that come with rebuilding," he commented.  "We continue to get through permitting to get the necessary approvals.  It's a combination of everything.  It's being in a historic district.  It's Howard County being such a huge county, with a lot of development going on.  We just have to stand in line with everybody else, and that's fine.  It's all a process."

Everyone interviewed for this piece, though, had nothing but positive things to say about the community's response to the flood and the amazing drive and good will that has built up to returning Main Street to its former glory. Smith beamed, "The region has definitely responded.  We're seeing double the foot traffic, and everybody's coming in and having a meal.  And there's been the industry support, too.  It's hard to think of a restaurant that didn't do a fund raiser for us.  We really are seeing the best of human nature."

Hemmis added, "Most of my employees had gotten decent work after the flood.  We're certainly grateful for all of the restaurants and bars that hired our staff [while we rebuilt].  For the most part, they've all come back."

And for a number of the businesses, the flood ended up having a definite silver lining. It gave them a chance to modernize their operations. Smith noted, "Many had to start anew and have taken this opportunity to tweak their concept a bit and certainly to renovate their buildings.  The county has required everybody to be up to code.  For example, Howard has required everybody to put their electrical boxes up higher.  Many people had to move their whole electrical system as a result.  Others got all new point-of-sale systems.  We're kind of getting a whole, brand-new spankin' town out of this horrible disaster."

A brand-new spankin' town that retains a lot of its historic flavor, but an age-old hamlet that has added some new ghosts.  July 30 will definitely be a "turn-the-page" for Ellicott City.  And much is being planned to mark the occasion, most notably the reinstallation of Main Street's famous clock that got destroyed in the flood.

Not everyone will be present, though.  Hemmis, for one, plans to be away.  "I still have a lot of processing to do, I guess," he acknowledged.  "When that one-year anniversary comes up, we'll be open.  But I made the decision to go on vacation with my family that weekend.  It's just a little too raw still.  I'm sure it will be a wonderful day, and part of me regrets that I won't be here.  But another part of me doesn't want to rehash it.  I got a wonderful bit of advice from a friend I ran into at the grocery store.  She told me, 'Celebrate the one year anniversary of when you re-opened.   Celebrate on Jan. 30th of next year.'  I think I'll be able to handle that a lot better."  

Brown is just hoping to be back in business.  He envies colleagues like Hemmis and Marriner.  He just wants his old life back.  "I'm really looking forward to seeing all of our regular customers again," he concluded.  "Hey, I'm just looking forward to seeing all of the people I would pass on a daily basis on the path I walk from my parking spot to the front door -- the other shop owners, the locals.  It'll be nice to get back on the other side of this.

Ellicott City Tragedy Has Shown the Best  in Fundraising

The July 30, 2016, flood that wiped out businesses in Ellicott City's Main Street historic district and cost two people their lives was indeed tragic. But from out of that tragedy rose a charitable spirit that showed the very best in humanity. That charitable spirit manifested itself in a number of fundraisers, many of which were held within the first couple of weeks. Others are still being planned today.

On Aug. 10, 2016, for instance, Smaltimore hosted a fundraiser to benefit ECStrong, the fund established by the United Way of Central Maryland to help Ellicott City. The Canton-based bar offered a half-dozen Jailbreak Brewing Co. beers, six Manor Hill Brewing Co. beers, and Smirnoff orange drinks for $5, with $4 from each drink sold going to the fund.

Speaking of Jailbreak Brewing Co., it hosted a huge fundraiser on the Thursday immediately after the flood. The Laurel-based brewery offered free tours, with donations encouraged; contracted with such food trucks as Giggy's BBQ and Catering and Kona Ice; and opened up two additional bars that served what ended up being around 2,000 attendees. A large percentage of the proceeds from the seven-hour event went to charities aiding in Ellicott City's recovery.

Jailbreak's social media manager Elizabeth "Liz" Shear played a key role in the planning. She recalled, "[Co-owner] Kasey Turner called on Sunday and said, 'We should do this!' An hour later, we had a flyer made up. Then, an hour and a half later, we had it on Facebook. Within minutes, it had been shared hundreds of times. The phones didn't stop ringing. The e-mails didn't stop coming in."


So, what are the keys to putting together a good fundraiser? Turner was quick to answer. "Don't make it about yourself. What we did wasn't about Jailbreak Brewing. It was about Ellicott City. We wanted to allow people who didn't like beer or didn't like our beer, specifically, to still have a place to come to and grieve and support the cause. It helped start the healing process."

Tim Kendzierski, co-owner of the Ellicott Mills Brewing Co., agreed. "Start with your core," he added. "Start with your people, your regulars, and then branch out from there. It's also good to get as many of the businesses in your area as possible involved. That way, you're not just multiplying the amount of money you're going to raise, you're multiplying the marketing. If people are walking into every store in town and seeing the same flyer, it looks like a big deal."


He continued, "Facebook and Instagram and other social media outlets are also key. We do about six fundraisers a year for different charities, and it's changed the way we raise funds and awareness. And I think it has doubled, even tripled the amount of money we've been able to raise. We used to hand out invites for our anniversary party. This year, we didn't do invites at all. We just did Facebook, and we had three times as many people as we normally do. People's lives are so busy that social media is a great way to remind them without e-mailing or cold-calling them."

Ellicott Mills Brewing was one of the Main Street businesses impacted by the flood. Fortunately, it was on the upper end of Main Street and was able to get back up and running before others. Still, it held some fundraisers with everyone from Della Rose's Avenue Tavern in White Marsh to Bare Bones Grill and Brewery in Ellicott City.  "All that money went directly to the staff that lost work while it was happening," Kendzierski said. "We took care of just about 80 percent of what they normally make. The funds ran out just as we were getting ready to re-open, so it worked out nice." 

Other places got creative. The River Hill Sports Grille in Howard County put together a cornhole tournament with a $5 entry fee. All of the money was donated to Ellicott City relief. Still others looked to appeal to area foodies. Petit Louis Bistro in Columbia hosted a $195, four-course dinner that benefited flood victims. Not to be outdone, the Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Clarksville hosted a six-course wine dinner, with 60 tickets made available at $275 each with 100 percent of the proceeds donated to the Ellicott City Partnership.

Some interesting partnerships were also forged. AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar hosted a fundraiser with Blossoms of Jobs in which those whose employment was disrupted by the flood were paired with potential employers. Black Flag Brewing Co. in Columbia hosted a donation-based "HopAsana Yoga Fundraiser," in which all proceeds went directly to the Ellicott City Partnership. The brewery stayed open after the yoga class, and all attendees over 21 received one free pint of beer. 

When asked what are some of the common mistakes made in putting together fundraisers, Maureen Sweeney Smith of the Ellicott City Partnership replied, "Trying to put one together too fast. It takes quite a bit of work to get all of your ducks in a row. You have to make sure you have all of the components. We saw people who tried to do fundraisers, but didn't really have the time to put into making it a good one. Most of that was due to not properly getting the word out."

Turner chimed in. "A lack of focus will also doom you. You can get too broad with these things, and the message gets muddled."

And even in the worst of times, all interviewed for this article spoke of the amazing and sometimes unexpected side benefits that came from being involved in such fundraisers. Smith marveled, "We're still seeing a spirit of cooperation on Main Street. People are now working as one commercial district instead of a bunch of independent businesses."

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


Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) August 2017 Editions Mon, 24 Jul 2017 21:43:34 -0400
Jon Arroyo of Founding Spirits Micro Distillery Farmers_Distillers_002_WEB.jpg

How many restaurants can you name that have a fully functioning distillery actually inside their restaurant?"

It's a valid question, and one posed by Jon Arroyo, Beverage Director of the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group and director of the new micro-batch distillery that is custom-built inside of the company's newest restaurant, Farmers & Distillers in Washington, D.C. Dubbed Founding Spirits, the micro distillery churns out two tasty concoctions -- Founding Spirits Vodka and Founding Spirits Amaro -- using grains from farmers Arroyo and his colleagues have worked with in the past. Among them are Mark and Michelle Watne of Watne Farms in North Dakota and Billy Dawson of Bay's Best Feed in Virginia.

"The Farmers Union is a big part of what we do and who we are," Arroyo declared.  "I thought getting North Dakota wheat into our vodka would be a great way to extend the relationship further.  We source out our wheat directly from Mark Watne Farms, we're using Virginia rye in the vodka, and we're also using a barley that is part of the single malt barley that we use in our gin."

Arroyo acknowledges that running the day to day of a distillery can be challenging.  He explained, "Working with spirits every day, whether you are making cocktails or teaching your guests about a product you believe in, you put on a slightly different pair of lens' when you're making it yourself.  It's a different approach.  Especially if you have been in the business for so long, you've developed a following where people like your stuff, they believe in what you have done, and they are willing to come onboard with you on your newest venture.  All the more pressure to try and provide something to them that's exciting and satisfying.  The questions to ask that must be answered are: 'Can we make the product?' and 'Can we make it great every time?'"

Arroyo especially loves that Founding Spirits is located in one his organization's restaurants.  He feels it shows customers that distilling is a real business, and they can see it happening.  "Being in a restaurant is very unique in several ways," he stated.  "When you can literally tell a guest, 'Hey that vodka that you're drinking in that cocktail was made 50 feet from where you're sitting,' it goes a long way toward creating excitement.  There is a lot of storytelling that goes into selling most products.  When you can tell your story and actually have the distillery as the backdrop of that story, it's a pretty cool approach.  People typically eat and drink with their eyes first.  It's a great stage to tell guests, 'We really do care about what goes into the spirits that we're creating for you, and this is the end result."

Arroyo often talks of what he does as "being on a stage."  He also refers to "selling" as "performing."  A Los Angeles native, he actually started out as an actor.  During those early, lean years, he did as many people do when trying to break into film, TV, or theater.  He worked in restaurants.  He soon developed a "bug" for our business and said goodbye to Hollywood.

"Art and performance and the craft of being on stage never leaves you," he declared.  "It takes other forms as you go through life.  I can always go to that toolbox of performance techniques, and they've become useful in my everyday life.  It really prepares you for being able to handle yourself in front of perfect strangers."

So, where does this performance skill come in most handy?  When giving tours of the micro distillery, of course!  Arroyo loves doing them.  "Our tours are very small and intimate," he said.  "Since the distillery is so small, we do eight-person tours max.  They are reservation-only.  It's also our first location with a private dining area that is located underneath the restaurant where the kitchen is.  It's called the general parlor.  We take our guests down a staircase, through the kitchen, and to the general parlor where they get to sit down in a beautiful and very sophisticated room, and we do a little tasting.  There is a screen that comes down, I have a presentation, and they also get a complimentary cocktail made with one of our spirits. You really get bang for your buck with this tour."

And like his employers, Arroyo certainly has his eye to the future.  He loves that he is in a job where he can continue to experiment and explore.  "Currently, the two main spirits that we're pumping out of our distillery is our Founding Spirits Vodka and our affectionately named Arroyo's 'Never Bitter' Amaro liqueur.  We're also looking to release a new product called American Whiskey on Kentucky Derby weekend.  It's a little project that we've been working on for quite some time, even prior to opening our distillery.  We've had some access to some bourbon whiskey that we will be bringing in and doing a blend in our distillery, filtering it and bottling it.  Instead of being aged in new American oak barrels, it's aged in used American oak barrels.  As cheesy or cliché as its sounds, I am really excited about making some julips with this new whiskey on Derby weekend.  I can't wait to see the response!"


Jon Arroyo, Beverage Director; and Bob Valancker, Distillery Manager; of the Founding Farmers Restaurant Group pose in one area of the new micro-batch distillery that is custom-built inside of the company's newest restaurant, Farmers & Distillers in Washington, D.C.

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2017 Editions Fri, 26 May 2017 14:26:06 -0400
Barley & Hops Grows in Leaps & Bounds  Barley_Hops_02_WEB.jpg

After a successful career in the technology industry, Lori Keough was ready for a change.  A big change.  The beverage business!  So, in early 2016, she purchased the Barley and Hops Microbrewery and Grill in Frederick, and it's been full speed ahead ever since.

"I worked all the way up to being a vice president of software engineering," she recalled, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "But I grew up in the restaurant and bar business, so I had a decision to make."

One of the first decisions she made after buying the business was to hire a new brewer, Eric Gleason, and give him the freedom to be as innovative as he wanted.  Looking to create a buzz in the community, she also introduced live, local music at Barley and Hops twice a week and brought on an executive chef to craft a menu focusing on fresh ingredients and seasonal dishes.

In terms of clientele, she stated, "We have a core set of regulars that we see three or four times a week, but we draw from all over.  We get people who have never drank a craft beer come in, so we try and educate them.  And then we get the beer geeks, who are all about craft brew and want as much of it as they can get.  Lately, we're becoming more of a destination place with all of the breweries opening in Frederick County.  So, we're getting a lot of tourists, too."

Part of the buzz is Barley and Hops' success in various beer competitions.  Among the biggest wins so far was taking the Maryland Comptroller's Cup for Maryland's Top Beer of 2016.  She and Gleason have also totally revamped the beer program. Today, Barley and Hops serves four house beers brewed onsite year round, along with a selection of a dozen or more specialty and seasonable brews at any given time.


It's no surprise then that staff training is mission-critical. Keough stated, "My brewer holds a beer class for the staff about once a month.  We do an initial one when they first start here, too.  We have also branched out into craft cocktails."

Technology has also played a key role in her early success. Barley and Hops has a large and expanding presence on social media. "It's all about getting your name out there," Keough said. "We Facebook daily.  We use Twitter and Instagram.  My husband does a lot of that actually."

Indeed, her husband Farrell Keough has become an increasingly valuable player at Barley and Hops.  "I have given myself the title of Director of Waste Management," he cracked wise. "I try to catch it before it hits the fan!"

He then revealed, "I was also in the IT industry.  I started in environmental science.  As such, we both are maybe a little more savvy about databases and some of the more technical aspects of doing business than some bar or restaurant operators are.  Also, with my background in environmental science, we have been able to implement recycling programs and be a green business as much as possible."

Lori, though, knows that all of the cutting-edge technology and social responsibility would be meaningless without customers coming back again and again.  To this end, she stresses the fundamentals to her staff.  "One of the most important things is to ensure that your customers know you," she advised.  "They have to know what you are about.  They like to see you out and about in the restaurant and the bar."

And as much as it's about people, at the end of the day, it's also about the beer.  Touting her in-house brewery, Lori Keough concluded, "We're wholesaling our beer as much as selling it over the bar.  We have brought in a sales team, and that's helped.  The last beer we made, called Frosted Flakes, just screamed out the door.  In fact, we had to quit outside sales to ensure our regular customers had it here at the bar.  A year from now, I would like to see our beer production doubled.  I think we can do that, but we're kind of locked in right now.  We can expand our barrelage.  We just can't expand our tanks.  So, the time will come where we will need to look for another location.  But only when we're ready."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) June 2017 Editions Tue, 23 May 2017 12:59:46 -0400
Old Line Spirits' Top Guns Old_Line_Apr17.jpg

There's a classic moment in the movie "Top Gun" when pilots Maverick and Goose land their fighter jet, high-five on the runway, and exclaim, "I feel the need … the need for speed!"  Well, former Naval Flight Officers Arch Watkins and Mark McLaughlin have felt the need … the need for mead!  

Arch_Mark.jpgOK, more specifically the need for whiskey.  They are the co-owners of Old Line Spirits, a craft distillery now up and running in Baltimore and offering small batch whiskey made of 100 percent malted rye.  McLaughlin stated, "Arch and I were friends in the Navy and lovers of fine whiskey.  We met on active duty.  We also spent time in the reserves.  In the reserves, we were in the same squadron.  So, we became closer friends then.  And now we're neighbors in Baltimore.  Arch really couldn't avoid me if he wanted to!"

Watkins added, "Mark went on to be a banker, and I was an engineer.  We enjoyed both careers to a certain extent.  But, at the end of the day, we wanted to own our own company and control the quality of a product going out the door.  That's what makes it fun for us to get up in the morning."

A few years back, the two met Golden Distillery founder Bob Stilnovich while on a trip to Seattle.  A fellow veteran, Stilnovich was on the verge of retiring.  So, a deal was struck to sell his recipes to Watkins and McLaughlin.  The two lived in Washington State for a time to master the art of distilling under the older man's tutelage.  When their apprenticeship was finished, they acquired Golden and moved the distillery to their hometown of Baltimore.

Watkins declared, "We both love the city and think there's lots of opportunity.  We found a great, 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Highlandtown that was actually perfect for turning into a distillery.  It had all the drains and the sprinklers.  It has a nice, 5,000-square-foot courtyard that we could turn into an outdoor space for events.  And there's easy access to I-95.

"Starting a distillery from the ground up is, of course, a very daunting endeavor.  Watkins stated, "It's not just the real estate side.  It's all of the regulations.  It's putting a product into bottles that people will want to drink.  Between the legal, the financial, the regulatory, the real estate, you kind of have to be a jack of all trades." 

And there have been hard lessons to learn along the way.  The biggest?  McLaughlin replied, "You have to wait until a product is fully ready and fully mature.  Put it on the market then and only then.  Patience is really the best thing for a company in the long run."

Both have drawn on their time in the military to help them through the rough patches.  They agreed the Navy provided a more solid foundation for their new career than most would expect.  "With regards to the beverage industry," Watkins said, "we benefit from having the ability to plan effectively and set goals.  But when the rubber meets the road, no plan survives first contact with anything.  We spent a lot of time in the military planning missions, air strikes, and that sort of thing.  You can have a great plan, but then it pretty much disintegrates, and you have to adapt.  In this business, you are planning to the best of your ability and then your success depends on your ability to adapt to the reality of the marketplace."

And they have found a warm and welcoming industry for the most part.  "Well," Watkins laughed at a memory, "one of the first things someone in the business did ask me was, 'Does your wife have a good job?  She'll want to hold on to that!'"

But the more they talked to other distillers, the more assured they became.  McLaughlin commented, "From the producer side, what Arch and I've found is that we've become part of an incredible community of other distilleries, wineries, and breweries.  There's a real spirit of 'Let's help each other out!'"

Watkins concluded, "I don't think you could open a distillery in a better state than Maryland.  Maryland is a thirsty state.  The places that are opening tend to skew towards the higher end, which is great for craft.  But there are still a lot of corner bars out there that will love having a couple of our bottles for their customers."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2017 Editions Mon, 20 Mar 2017 14:05:43 -0400
Boyd Aims to Fill Void  


"To our knowledge, we are the only African-American liquor distributorship in the state.  That in and of itself is unique.  So, you want to build around that.  If you can get a niche in this business, if you can carve something out that's special, then you can be successful."

GeraldBoyd.jpgSo said Dr. Gerald Boyd Sr., the principal owner of Legacy Partners Distribution LLC (LPD), during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  With many years of entrepreneurial experience, Boyd recognized the need for a small wholesaler that would be built on great customer service in the Washington metro area.  That was three years ago.  Today, LPD is licensed to do business in Maryland, including Montgomery County; Virginia; and Washington, D.C.

The idea for launching such an enterprise came soon after Maryland legalized full-fledged casino gambling in 2012.  Way before groundbreaking, MGM National Harbor in Prince George's County specifically agreed to award at least 30 percent of its contracts for the landmark property to minority-owned businesses.  "We started three years ago and had our sights set on the MGM, which hadn't opened at that point," Boyd recalled.  "But they had a Community Benefits Agreement.  In talking to some of the people involved, they said one of the areas of opportunity for minority vendors was liquor distribution."

He continued, "It was a process to meet the licensing requirements, the warehouse requirements, and establish relationships with some manufacturers.  By the time we did all of that, about a year had passed.  We started in March 2014, and our first order and drop-off of product was January 2015."

So far, LPD's products have been well-received.  One of the most popular brands it distributes is AnestasiA Vodka.  Handcrafted in the United States, it is touted as "smooth with a spring water feel and a silky crème brûlée finish." The 94 point rated vodka is distilled five times, filtered five times, and is naturally gluten-free.  El Decreto's tequilas -- Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo -- are authentic, high-quality and bottled in handmade blown glass.  And LPD has recently expanded its product portfolio to include Talero organic tequila and craft spirits from Wisconsin's Driftless Glen Distillery.

"As a new distributor," Boyd stated, "you definitely look for products that are sellable.  For instance, AnestasiA has a beautiful bottle and a great presentation.  The romance is in the bottle, and the marriage is in the taste.  And our tequila, El Decreto, ranks with any of them although it is not as well-known as others in its competitive set.  People rave about it." 

People also rave about Gerald Boyd Sr.  He grew up in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C., and began his professional life as a public school teacher.  Federal government work followed, and he eventually took an early retirement from the U.S. Department of Education to focus on his entrepreneurial ambitions.  He has owned a couple of nightclubs, but is perhaps best known for DB Consulting Group Inc., an IT company he co-founded with his son, Gerald Jr., in 2000.

His nightclub experience prepared him somewhat for LPD.  "I went into this process aware we couldn't compete head-to-head with the large established distributors," he remarked.  "Maryland is an exclusive rights state.  You have only one supplier to a brand.  It's one of the reasons why so few people try to start a distributorship.  Obviously, if I was able to come out of the blocks selling a nationally known brand, I'd be able to move thousands of cases monthly.  But when you're new, you don't have that luxury.  So, you have to use a different approach."

He added, "It's a business that is built on relationships.  If we can establish those relationships and back those relationships up with customer support and a win-win philosophy, we'll succeed."

Looking to the future, Boyd and his colleagues feel they're just getting started.  There is a sense of purpose and optimism that permeates the entire LPD operation.  And Boyd Sr. sounds like a hungry entrepreneur just starting out when he says, "We've only scratched the surface.  But we think we've done a good job establishing ourselves so far.  We have a solid relationship with three of the big casinos [MGM, Maryland LIVE, and the Horsehoe], and we haven't even approached the other three in the state yet because we are small.  We have to be smart about where we pocket our resources, because we can't be every place.  So, you create zones.  You use different metrics to figure out where you think you can be the most successful with your products.  Then as you grow, you become more known and hopefully more profitable."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) April 2017 Editions Mon, 20 Mar 2017 13:49:47 -0400
U.S. Marines Hold the Line OldLine_W-S-Bistro_Logo.jpg


Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville

Anyone who grew up during the 1980s and '90s in Prince George's County most likely shopped at the old Circuit City store on Route 1 in Beltsville.  You might have bought your first DVD there.  Or quite possibly that's where you purchased your dream big-screen TV.  The Black Friday sales were legendary.  And on a Saturday or Sunday during the holiday season, you were lucky to get a parking spot anywhere close to the building.

But for everything there is a season.  In November 2008, the big-box electronics retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The following January, the chain announced it was closing all remaining stores -- a directive that culminated in March 8, 2009, being the final day of operations after 60 years in business.

It took some imagination.  But that old Circuit City store at 11011 Baltimore Avenue (aka Rte. 1) has recently found new life as Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro.  Upon opening, it immediately ranked as one of Maryland's largest fine wine superstores.  But the establishment is more than top-shelf Chardonnays and Merlots.  Old Line sells a wide variety of craft, domestic and imported beers and spirits.  And the casual dining restaurant (The Bistro) tucked into the back of the store -- past where people used to shop for PCs and radio boomboxes -- serves small and large plates and offers 20 beers on draft.


Larry Pendleton runs the place as Managing Partner with his son, Larry Jr.  Both are former Marines and have shown considerable discipline in getting such an ambitious business off the ground.  Superior customer service has been their focus from day one.  "We're constantly trying to improve the guest experience," Pendleton Sr. remarked, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal.  "We don't call our customers 'customers.'  We're in the hospitality business.  Everyone who walks through that door is our guest, and we want them to have an amazing experience."

He continued, "I like it when people come to me or e-mail me and say, 'I had this label in a restaurant in St. Louis or wherever, and I loved it!'  I'll research it, and if I can, I'll bring it in for them.  We're getting a reputation of being the 'go-to guys,' and I love that.  I don't think there are a lot of stores who take the time to do that for people."

Pendleton, though, acknowledges the challenges of operating in such a large space.  After all, it's not every day you find a place that once had row after row of CDs for every music taste that now has row after row of wine and spirits for every drinking taste.

He said, "Because we have such a big place, there has been a real separation with the store and the bistro.  Not a physical separation.  But the staff of the store didn't feel like part of the bistro and vice versa.  We're revamping the culture and doing more cross-promotion with the store and the restaurant.  We're teaching the people in the restaurant what we do in the store, and we're doing the same thing for the people who are out on the floor of the store about what we're doing in the bistro.  You literally have to walk through the store to get to the bistro.  There's no separate entrance.  So, we're really pulling the team together to all work for one common goal.  We're working for one place, not two."

With the restaurant, the Pendletons like to host wine dinners and beer dinners that pair foods with the various labels.  These meals frequently sell out.  What is Pendleton's favorite?  He was quick to answer: "In January every year, we do a supper with the Scottish poet Robert Burns.  I am of Scottish descent, so I wear a kilt.  We have a bagpiper.  'Pay the piper' came from that, by the way.  When you pay the piper, you give him a shot of Scotch for piping the haggis in."

Another challenge is the same one the old Circuit City store faced.  Exposure.  "We sit in the back of a shopping center," he acknowledged.  "Route 1 is the second busiest road in the state of Maryland next to Rockville Pike.  I've had people come in from half a mile away and say, 'I didn't know you were here!'  And I've got a really big sign!  So, we're still finding our way."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) March 2017 Editions Thu, 23 Feb 2017 09:33:40 -0500
Cristina Tufts of Harbor Wines Cristina0002_HOME.jpg

Harbor Wines is bringing the richness of Eastern European wines to Maryland.  At the helm of this venture is Cristina Tufts, who grew up in Moldova where she learned the art of viniculture. Moldova, a small country that borders Romania and Ukraine, boasts especially fertile soil that makes it ideal for growing some of the world's best grapes.

"My family made wine," Tufts said, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal. "Therefore, I grew up learning the process.  Ironically though, I never had an appreciation for Moldovan wines until I came to the United States.  Here, I had better access to wines from around the world.  . . . It took leaving Moldova to realize just how good our wine is."

Tufts came to America with a student visa in 2007.  She met and fell in love with Brian Tufts, a U.S. Army officer, and the two were soon married. She eventually returned to her home country and graduated with a Business degree.  "On Brian's first trip to Moldova," she recalled, "he recognized the high quality wines right away.  I remember getting ready for a movie and popcorn, and I opened a bottle of 1987 Codru -- a cab-merlot blend.  After tasting the wine and realizing its vintage, he thought I was crazy for opening such a bottle for anything short of a special occasion or celebration.  I told him I would just run to the corner store and get another bottle.  'We have to figure out how to bring this to the USA!' he exclaimed.  'The price versus quality is unreal!'" 

The Tufts returned to the U.S. in 2009, and Brian's military career relocated them to Texas.  She was sure, one day, his job would enable them to settle down so she could start a wine import and distribution business.  But, in 2013, Brian got deployed to Afghanistan and she went back home to Moldova.  She dedicated that year to research and winery visits.  Eventually, he did get a Washington, D.C., assignment and the couple purchased a home. Tufts was then free to pursue her business goals, and she launched Harbor Wines.

She states, "The D.C. area is the center of the free world and it is a place where people love to drink wine!  I have a few great accounts.  However, my biggest one so far is the Gaylord National Harbor resort, where I am currently a vendor."  Her company's line of Moldovan wines can also be purchased at Dunkirk Wine and Spirits in Dunkirk, Md.; the Potomac Gourmet Market in Oxon Hill; Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits, & Bistro in Beltsville; and Whole Foods supermarkets throughout Northern Virginia.

"One of my favorite wines is our White Cabernet, very crisp and refreshing, mild and approachable," she stated.  "Codru, of course, is an outstanding Red blend: 75 percent Cab 25 percent Merlot.  It's just the perfect marriage. Rara Neagra is another outstanding variety indigenous to Moldova.  Some say it is Moldova's equivalent of a Pinot Noir with a lot of fruit notes finish."

When asked if there was some entrepreneurial advice given to her that has proven especially helpful, she immediately cracked wise, "Don't drink your profits!"  But then she added, "When working for yourself, you have to be the person who focuses, because nobody else will.  I also quickly learned that I needed to be well versed on not just the category of the wine, but the story that goes along with the wine -- where it was made, the type of grape, the best way to serve it, what it goes with, etc."

She credits her mother, her husband, his family, her American adopted family ("Lynn and Dave"), and Dunkirk Wine and Spirits owner Beth Joiner among those who have given her the support needed to come this far in a very competitive business.  "And I must thank Dmitrii Curbet, who has been -- and still is -- at the very core of what I do. He's been importing wine for a little over a decade. Without his help, I may not have been as successful."

Looking ahead, she is eager to put in the work necessary to reach her objectives for 2017 and beyond.  She concluded, "I have a very ambitious goal of being Moldova's largest importer and, therefore, help its economy.  I truly believe that if I keep my goals true to the Moldovan culture, and promote not just the wine, but the culture surrounding it, the sales will follow."

Harbor Wines is based at the National Harbor development in Prince George's County, Md.

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) February 2017 Editions Sun, 22 Jan 2017 12:08:00 -0500
A Look Ahead at the 2017 Legislative Session  

The 2017 General Assembly Session is upon us and, as always, the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) is gearing up to play a big role in looking out for our industry's interests.  As in years' past, one of the key players will be attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise.  "I think the industry continues to have a significant presence in Annapolis," he stated, during a recent interview with the Beverage Journal, "and that helped us out on a lot of legislative fights last year as it usually does.  That's true not just of the retail segment of the industry, but the Maryland-based wholesalers as well."


"Dram shop" liability is one of the major issues he expects will generate discussion in the coming year.  If it is ever adopted, this legal doctrine would allow vendors of alcohol to be sued by individuals who have suffered injury at the hands of a customer of that vendor.  Consequently, the owner of a bar where a patron unwisely chooses to drink and then drive and hits another automobile could be sued by the occupants of the other vehicle.   

Steve-Wise_LowRes.jpg"We are going to continue to see discussion about whether Maryland should adopt dram-shop liability," Steve Wise confirmed.  "That's been an issue for at least five or six years recently, but it really goes back quite some time.  We've been successful in defeating that, but we expect that to be a battle again this coming year.  That's a battle that will be important to both on- and off-premise retailers."

But that's nothing compared to what many in the Maryland beverage biz fear on a business and legislative level.  Whether it's this year or next, there will again almost certainly be a push by big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, grocery store chains such as Wegman's, and other large operators to allow them to sell beer and wine in the state.  Jack-Milani_JowRes.jpg

MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani sighed at the inevitability.  "Chain store legislation is the one we're definitely monitoring the closest," he acknowledged.  "It's kind of like 'Groundhog Day.'  It'll come up again and again.  I'm not exactly sure what form it will take, but it'll be a big issue again at some point.  As always, I think it will still come down to our retailers making sure that they stay in touch with their legislators, making sure everyone understands how our system operates, why it's a good system, and what the chain stores would do to disrupt and dismantle the system."

Wise agreed, adding, "We're always on-guard for legislation that would allow chain stores and supermarkets to hold licenses.  Always.  I'm not aware of anything at the moment, but we're always prepared should that get introduced."

There is another potentially big issue that has been developing in recent years that could come to a head in 2017.  There has certainly been growth in the state's brewing industry.  "That's been true nationwide," Wise said, "and Maryland has been no exception.  I think the number of local breweries -- not microbreweries -- has really exploded in the last four or five years, and that is great!  That has meant a lot more great brands our retailers can carry that weren't there before.  Beer consumption has been somewhat flat in those years, and craft brews have been partly responsible for propping up that number."

Adopting a more serious tone, Wise continued, "But what we see happening is brewers are increasingly asking for more retail privileges and a greater retail presence.  They have had legislation the last couple of years to raise the amount of barrels that a Class 5 brewer can serve at their premise.  Our industry reluctantly agreed to give them up to 500 barrels to be served, largely so they can build the brand and have people come into the brewery and take more than just a sample.  But some of these locations have become straight-out bars open until all hours of the night on Friday and Saturday, and that was never the intent.  If you're going to allow a brewer, which is a manufacturer, to have a substantial presence in the retail tier, it kind of starts to bring into question whether you're not just blowing up the whole three-tier system.  I don't think anybody really wants to do that, because it's worked so well for so long.  We'll be engaged in those discussions this session pretty heavily."

b2ap3_thumbnail_Nick_Manis_LowRes_20161221-204849_1.jpgAlso heavily involved on the beer side is Nick Manis, who lobbies for the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association as its Deputy Director.  "We know that the Maryland Brewers Association is working on a beer modernization act," he commented.  "We're not 100 percent sure of exactly what's entailed in that, but that is a topic we're surely interested in.  There are currently four classes of brewers in the state -- Class 5 Brewery, Class 6 Pub Brewery, Class 7 Microbrewery, and Class 8 Farm Brewery.  From what we understand, I think they are looking to clear up some of the idiosyncrasies in the laws that they feel might be able to be accomplished with one license instead of having four."

In terms of smaller, yet no less important issues, Milani spoke of a lottery issue where MSLBA is trying to make sure that the state Lottery doesn't begin offering traditional lottery games online without legislative approval. "We're trying to protect the bricks-and-mortar stores in that regard," he remarked.

All three men had positive things to say about Governor Larry Hogan and his pro-business administration.  "He is definitely business-oriented," Manis marveled.  "We represent 23 wholesalers.  One is Montgomery County itself, but the other 22 are all family-owned and operated businesses.  The majority have been in business for over 50 years, some for 70 years in the state of Maryland.  All of them started small, and some are now larger than others.  The governor has shown to be very supportive of small business, and that's what we are.  He ran on a platform of no new taxes, and that's great news especially to the malt beverage industry that saw an increase a few years back that some of our border counties still haven't recovered from."

Milani, who has co-owned Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn since 1990, added, "Gov. Hogan has been very good to small businesspeople.  But it's not a party thing.  Most of our members seek out those legislators who take the time to understand and are sympathetic to the small business owner.  And those folks are on both sides of the aisle in Maryland."

All three also agreed that it's key for wholesalers and bar, restaurant, and store owners and their staffers to get more involved in the political process.  Manis advised, "Make sure you know your local representatives, know who your state senator is, and know your delegates not only where you live, but where your business is.  Don't be intimidated by them.  All of the legislators have open-door policies.  There are 2,500 to 3,000 pieces of legislation that are introduced every year.  It is very difficult for a single individual to read every one of those bills.  They're not subject matter experts on everything, and there are few who are in the licensed beverage industry that are in the Legislature.  So, most of the issues are new to them, they look to their constituency for input, and most are willing to listen."  

Wise, an attorney with the law firm of Schwartz, Metz, and Wise in Annapolis, concurred.  "Contact the Maryland State License Beverage Association," he urged.  "There are ample opportunities through the association to get involved.  Of all the years I've been involved, there is no more critical time as a retailer to have an understanding of what's going on in the industry.  So much is changing, and much of those changes are legislative in nature.  And if you don't understand it all, you might be making investments that are not smart investments.  You might be making decisions that are not smart business decisions."

Milani concluded, "MSLBA membership is a must, because it's all constantly changing.  Every four years, there are people who come and go.  The onus is really on the retailers to educate the newer legislators.  You have to know them and have dialogue with them, because all we really want is the opportunity to tell our story.  If you've properly educated them, then you can let the chips fall where they fall."

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

Read more]]> (Edward "Teddy" Durgin) January 2017 Editions Wed, 21 Dec 2016 15:37:46 -0500