By Chris Taylor
Bourbon is a multi-billion-dollar business, but it began with just a few pioneering Kentucky families from Bardstown who all lived down the road from each other.
One of those iconic families started around 1790 and is still in the business. Bill Samuels Jr., son of the founder of Maker’s Mark, is chairman emeritus of the brand after 35 years as president and CEO. His son Rob currently runs the company – part of the Beam Suntory brand family since 2014 – but Bill Samuels is still a workhorse, giving speeches and running distillery tours.
We talked to Samuels about how he helped his family transform a homespun hobby into a global phenomenon.
Q: Your dad created Maker’s Mark. What lessons did you learn from him?
A: It was really a hobby for him. He just wanted to focus on creating a bourbon that actually tasted good, because back in the ’50s bourbon wasn’t really known for that. Of course his idea turned out to be a stroke of genius. But at first it didn’t seem like genius, because for a long time there wasn’t much of a business.
Q: What did you take away from your relationship with Jim Beam, who was your neighbor and godfather?
A: He was the best guy who ever lived. He had the greatest natural sales personality I have ever been around, and was always able to put people at ease. He was also a natural at harassing people, and my father and grandfather were his two favorite targets. From him I learned a lot of details about my family that they didn’t want shared.
Q: You even knew KFC’s Colonel Sanders?
A: At the time he had a little restaurant in Kentucky that we would go to, and he and my dad were gin rummy partners. That’s how it started. He was a real intense, restless man, and he had to find something to do, so instead of retiring he started his chicken business.
When I got my driver’s permit in 1955, he asked me if I wanted to help him, so I drove him around the state as he sold his chicken recipe. There weren’t any franchises then, it was just a menu item in family restaurants.
Q: When you joined your dad’s company and helped him grow it to what it is today, what did you learn about entrepreneurship?
A: When I came back from my career in the aerospace industry, he set me up in a little 10×12 office out by the airport. We had to figure out how to commercialize the business. So he pulled out his briefcase and gave me a sheet of paper with my three-word job description on it: “Go find customers.” And then he told me, by the way, don’t screw up the whisky.
Q: When things became a big success, how did you handle that wealth?
A: For a long time we didn’t have any money, growing up on a farm in Kentucky. But by the 1980s, when I decided I was a big success in the bourbon business, I thought it would be a good time to shift resources and become a thoroughbred racehorse owner. That was a total disaster. I haven’t forgotten it to this day.
Q: Were there ever times when you thought the business wasn’t going to make it?
A: Oh my God, yes. We started in 1953, and didn’t make a profit until 1968, when we made $2,000. And that profit was only because my dad wasn’t taking a salary. Now it’s worth several billion dollars, but a lot of that value can be traced back to the discipline of the early days. He did all the heavy lifting before I even grew up.
Q: Your son runs the business now, so what advice have you given him?
A: I have gone out of my way to not tell my son what to do. I wanted to bring him into the process and then get out of the way, which turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. Of the three of us, he is the true entrepreneur. My dad was the perfect craftsman, and I’m somewhere in between. My son has been nice enough to allow me to keep my little office, and lets me take all the bourbon I can steal for drinking purposes.
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)
Pickledelphia Rescheduled for October, See You There
Shit weather put Philly’s first-ever pickle festival in, well, a pickle. The rain washed away plans for the food fest to take place earlier this month, but a new day has been chosen: Sunday, October 14.
The festival will still go down at The Piazza at Schmidt’s Commons when it unites pickle lovers this fall.
In case this is the first time you’re hearing about Pickledelphia, here’s what to expect: More than a dozen food vendors, plus 15 pickle companies, who’ll be selling themed edibles such as pickle-flavored ice cream, pickle creme brûlée, and pickle pizza.
Pickledelphia even partnered with Jameson for a pickle back bar. Yeah, they’re not fucking around. Pickle Bloody Mary’s. Pickle margaritas. This is not a drill.
Better than the Weekend will have a tent set up with some giveaways, so be sure to say hi.
Information on the event, presented by Studio 27 Print & Design and Digital Force Agency, can be found by visiting their website: phillypicklefest.com.
Inside Performix House: The Gym That’s Harder to Get In than an Ivy League School
Welcome to Performix House — if they’ll let you in. This is New York’s latest elite fitness establishment and it’s where the most driven, fit, influential, able-bodied minds unite to achieve the ultimate Instagram-worthy body. With a 13 percent acceptance rate, it’s easier to get accepted to an Ivy League university such as Cornell.
The fitness incubator is an extension of Performix, a sports performance supplement brand available for sale in GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe.
The lowest tier of membership begins at $249 per month, which does not include independent gym access: members must have a scheduled personal training session with one of Performix House’s trainers to use the fitness facility. For $899 each month, members enjoy the luxury of unlimited access to Performix House’s premium amenities, including massages and cryotherapy.
One month of top-tier membership could allow someone to work out at Planet Fitness for seven-and-a-half years. It would even cost less to lease a 2018 Maserati than it would to be a member at Performix House.
Their personal trainers, who they refer to as collaborators instead of employees, have access to Performix House’s professional video production team to create the best fitness content. videographer and editor to create content. “We’re helping them connect with their consumers and grow their following,” says Hesse.
Devon Levesque is among their training collaborators. He has more than 80,000 Instagram followers.
The dude is a beast.
Matt Hesse, founder and CEO of Performix House, accepted about 230 members out of roughly 1800 applicants.
Hesse told Forbes membership isn’t unobtainable. He wants to bring together a community of driven individuals. Each applicant is given the opportunity to answer one testing question: What do you do to own every day?
After hearing that, my new goal is to work out at Performix House.
Scranton Artists: Here’s Why We Need Art
Some jackasses, a.k.a. policy-makers and school boards, just don’t seem to f#&%ing get the importance of art enough to secure its funding and need to have its influence spelled out.
The Electric City is about to get more eclectic thanks to a group of artists banding together — basically for the good of mankind — to host a series of inventive workshops placing priority on connecting the community through creative expression during one of the most politically and culturally divisive climates in modern America. Among the artists, a wine glass painter who helps looking at the emptiness following the last sip of boxed Franzia (we all drink it) a little less depressing. Another makes flashy hats — the kind you saw posh guests wear to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. They’re called fascinators. Then there’s a young woman who crafts dreamcatchers and alters books from their original form to turn them into something eye-catching and display-worthy. A graphic designer is even in the mix.
The workshops will initiate this fall at the new Eclectic City Studio inside Jeff D’Angelo’s Design Group HQ at 631 Prospect Ave.
Each artist will have sign-ups for their debut workshop, while displaying and selling their art, at Bogart Court, the brick alley nestled behind Lackawanna Ave., during First Friday Scranton from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on September 7. They’ll set up outside AOS Metals, which sells handmade jewelry and a collection of items from local handmade artists, and The Velvet Elvis, a kitschy vintage shop that looks like every crazy rich dead aunt’s estate sale. You’ll find something there that you’ll be glad wasn’t willed to your sister.
The Eclectic Studio founder, Jeff D’Angelo, will feature handmade props throughout Bogart Court — including a display in honor of The Office outside Better than the Weekend’s HQ and a Jurassic Park exhibit and photo booth inside.
Before escaping to the remote Isla Nublar from Jurassic Park — through Jeff D’Angelo’s handmade props — here’s a reminder of why we need art in all of our lives from the artists behind the Eclectic City Studio:
Melanie DiPietro, Painted Wine Glasses by Melanie
“Expression. Not everyone communicates or comprehends the same way. I am a visual person, so colors, shapes, sounds, and movement all speak to me. There’s nothing else in the world that can compare to this type of expression. What a bland place the world would be without art.”
Aubrey McClintock, A Daily Obsession
“Life is better decorated. My fascinators are meant to make people smile and are not to be taken terribly seriously. While not everyone is willing to wear a towering french fry sculpture on their head, they can still enjoy that such a thing exists and that there are people out there who will happily sport such a concoction.”
Maddesen Paige Wright , DIY Dreamcatchers & Altered Book Art
“Art gives people an outlet; a field to be uncensored and irrevocably themselves.”
Kristy Jamison, Two Tree Design Co.
“Our modern world is connected in ways that past generations could only dream of. Art helps us communicate, reflect on, and express our cultures and beliefs. Art can be a powerful, passionate tool that allows us to shout messages about politics and human rights issues across language and cultural barriers. Art — whether it’s drawing, painting, music, words or performance — can also be a meditative and healing outlet, releasing uncensored emotions in a natural and rewarding way. Art feeds our economy and enriches our lives.”
Jeff D’Angelo, Jeff D’Angelo Design Group
“Art is truly the purest form of creative expression. People can use art to make their mark on the world and, in turn, promote further growth and interaction with others.”
More information on the artists and their First Friday Scranton visit at Bogart Court can be found here.
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