Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adventures in Consulting

I don’t usually write because I want to. It’s a kind of pressure release mechanism. When I see enough things that I think are noteworthy, I weave them all into a blog and post it. Hopefully the contents don’t get me arrested. Ladies and gentlemen, I am writing this blog for you today because I have seen some things in the past few weeks.

For the first time in my life, I am working for myself. I have always been really good at focusing on a singular task, while someone else ensures the trains generally run on time. I no longer have the luxury of someone else watching over me. I am pulling wires out of my brain and rearranging them so that I might become the organized, proactive person I never was.

This new job is exhilarating. That’s a word that encapsulates fear and excitement happening concurrently. I like wine a lot. But I love talking to people about it. I knew I loved selling wine to people, to guests on a dining room floor. Now my path has taken on new dimension. I am selling wine to other wine buyers and salespeople.

Selling wine in retail is different from selling wine on a restaurant floor. On the floor, you get to see the guest taste the wine, and if you did your job, theirs eyes get wide and they tell you they love it. Retail deprives you of that moment of joy from the guest. I’ve had the discussion with people like Antonio Gianola- we like that validation, and we miss it when it’s gone. Since I left the floor at Ox, I have been hunting for that moment.

About 2 weeks ago, I held my first staff training class for a client. Easy enough, but the twist was the entire staff spoke English as their second language. The owner told me, “You talk fast and you use a lot of big words. Don’t talk like that in front of the staff. Talk very slowly, and I may ask you to stop from time to time so I can translate.” Nice. If I talk too fast I’ll lose them, and if I talk too slowly, I’ll worry they think I’m being condescending. I could not be more desperate to gain the trust of these incredibly nice people, because my destiny is now linked with theirs.

Watching people try IPA for the first time is a trip. Everybody’s face twists in agony as they experience the bitterness, and they’re turning angry eyes towards me, like I tricked them into trying this beer that sets off the evolutionary alarm bell for poison. Stammering and gesturing wildly, I defend myself, “Now try it with the food! Quick!” They reach for the food and chew, suddenly everybody’s expressions lighten. One server blurts out excitedly, “I hate the IPA less with the food!” I pound the table with my fist, causing the lazy susan to tremble, “Hate it less! I’ll take it! I told you IPA would work!” We’re all laughing hysterically. All I can think to myself is oh my god, this is actually working.

The gangly one next to me is grinning with the bottle of IPA in his hand. “You like the pairing?” I ask. He’s searching for the words, and his emphasis is wonderful, “This beer is... baDASS!” I ask him if he wants more, and he politely refuses. Later after class is done around midnight, he walks up to me and says, “I sorry I not drink very much. I only have driver’s permit. No driver license. Zero tolerance if pull over.” Then it dawns on me: I just taught a 15 year old about pairing hoppy beer with spicy food. I also introduced the staff to their new favorite drink: Hefeweizen. As for the wine program? The staff unanimously agreed that Riesling was the best pairing with the food, and my wine geek heart swelled with pride.

A dull panic grips me these days as I move my carefully sourced funds around, and watch them begin to shrink. But a roomful of heartfelt thank-yous after my first wine class broke my heart, and made me forget every ounce of stress this job has created. This is the only thing that could possibly supplant the validation I got from the guest. That feeling that I did something pure and wholesome, not for money but for the sake of making the world a better place for my favorite drink. This is what got me through the punishing 15 hour days in the beginning weeks of Oxheart. I have rediscovered my validation from a bizarre and wonderful source: my consulting clients.

I worry that maybe my master plan won’t work, that it’s all going to blow up in my face. Then I get a text from a beer rep, “Hey man! [Horizon Firestorm] reordered three cases of wheat and one case of IPA today.” I’m cheering to myself in my truck as I race back to Montrose. Across town, I’m sitting down with another client, showing them that a more prestigious wine producer that has a more delicious wine than the restaurant’s current selection that is actually cheaper. I’m helping them design an inventory spreadsheet that lets them analyze their cost of goods with surgical precision. I’m especially fond of showing people how to make more money with their existing program (in a way that doesn’t screw over the guest!).

The empty space between client meetings is filled with video brainstorming. How do we teach something that isn’t common knowledge, but make it fun to watch? This is a much more daunting task to me than writing a wine list. Many of our videos are shot in a single take, which means onlookers get to see me repeat a monologue about twenty times before I get it right (even then, I’m still looking slightly awkward). Clayton doesn’t have years of formal video editing or camera job experience, but I am floored by his ability to pick up any technical subject and master it in a matter of weeks. His custom-designed, battery-powered wireless audio setup is a marvel of engineering. I can tell he’s slightly annoyed that he hasn’t gotten to use any special effects yet (like green screen technology, helicopter mounted cameras, or slow motion). Let me assure you that when we’ve mastered our content, we will flex our technical muscles. God help me, Clayton is probably designing a bullet-time camera setup as I write this.

Many people have helped me along the way. As I said before, I am a massively disorganized person, and the fact that I even have the minimal framework of a company to announce is thanks to a lot of people. The following is a list of the people who are not formally listed on our website as collaborators.

-Thanks to Jay Rascoe for designing my first logo for me. Ultimately I let Matthew Tabor create our final logo, which is featured on the website. However Jay’s logo was a major catalyst for me actually visualizing the company, and not thinking of it as some far-away goal.  More than that, Jay has always encouraged me when I was self-conscious about my writing on Weapons Grade and now Battlesong. I would like to take this moment to encourage him in a similar fashion: Jay, you had better keep writing, because you are one of the funniest writers I’ve ever met. You could probably create an HBO series around all the insane stuff you’ve seen, and I insist you share it with the world. Jay’s blog is http://www.gunsandtacos.com/ You should read it.

-Thanks to Bob and Paige Martin. Bob and Paige are some of the most hardcore Oxheart fans ever. When I told them my ridiculous plans, they immediately helped me secure my domain name, and confirmed that I could indeed create an LCC named “PSA Wines”. Bob has created numerous businesses, and he helped me set up the initial framework of PSA WAY faster than I could have on my own. Beyond the actual help they have given me, they have been cheerleaders for every project Justin, Karen, and I have even remotely been involved in. More than THAT, they’re a frustratingly perfect and picturesque power couple that radiates positive energy like exposed plutonium reactor rods. No seriously, downtown magazine named them in a list of badass power couples:
Also, Paige Martin is a relator in the same way that a member of SEAL Team 6 is a soldier. If you are looking at property downtown, you’d be crazy not to reach out to her:

-Finally, thanks to Justin and Karen at Oxheart. They have supported me immensely as friends and as bosses. They have lent me critical support in helping me create the framework of PSA, and then the logistical knowhow to execute it, respectively.

It’s probably too early to start thanking people, but I am already getting something amazing out of this. Thanks to everyone for helping me create my dream job out of thin air.

If you’re still reading, it means that you’ve learned well from certain movies to stick around after the credits, to catch a glimpse of a critical piece of spoiler information. So here it is: On Friday, May 31st, PSA will reveal our first restaurant client. It’s a doozy.

Love you Houston,

-Justin Vann

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hot Sauce

I feel condescended to when hot sauce bottles provide me with a list of things to put hot sauce on. Are people seriously holding the bottle, paralyzed with fear, wondering if they *should* put hot sauce on food item X? I feel pretty insane when I look at that complimentary list of suggestions. In my imagination, it always spirals out of control...

Try hot sauce on a variety of foods. Such as:











Hot dogs

Pizza tacos

Hamburger soup

Nacho salads



Certain sandwiches

Salad Tacos

Taco pizza

Hamburger tacos


Fish nachos

Hamburger hamburgers

Salad burgers (not burger salads)

Rice Tacos

A noodle

Apple dogs

Other hot sauces







NATO Peacekeeping missions



Rotten Jack-o-lanterns



Human teeth


Melon rinds


Tarot Cards


Rare Earth Metals

The Serengeti
And everything else!