***The Thursday Interview is a showcase for creators, innovators, troublemakers, business owners to share news and insight about the creative impetus and inspirations behind their latest project, launch or business.
At a casual Memorial Day bbq (thanks for hosting Sung!), longtime friend and baketender Kimberly Wetherell introduced me to Jackie ‘I make booze’ Summers. That night, I discovered Jackie’s Sorel liqueur (I call it hibiscus heaven) and that he is a wonderful storyteller. Keep reading to discover why he does what he does with wit, laughter and many libations.
Name: Jackie Summers
Occupation: I make booze
Company: JackFromBrooklyn Inc.
Launch Date: May 14, 2012
Motto: Eendraght Maeckt Maght (Unity Makes Strength, the Brooklyn motto)
Theme Song: “Trouble Man” by Marvin Gaye
How did Jackie Summers become Jack From Brooklyn?
Jack From Brooklyn predates my launching a liquor brand.
In the spring of 2010, I had a cancer scare. After months of suffering crippling sciatic pain, my doctor sent me for an MRI. “We think you have an ependymoma” he said. “Mmm…that can’t be right. That sounds like cancer” I replied. “It’s only cancer 95% of the time” he reassured me. When I asked why he phrased his statement “we think,” he confessed: because of the tumor’s location—inside my spine—biopsy wasn’t an option. All the MRI did was confirm that 85% of my nerve sheath was blocked—thus the searing sciatic pain.
“If you can’t do a biopsy, how do you remove it?” I asked. “Simple” he said. “We’re going to drill a hole in your spine. We’re going to slip your nerve sheath out through the hole, slice it open, and expose your spinal cord. Then we’re going to perform neurosurgery on your spinal cord—that’s what your tumor is tangled up in.” “This sounds pretty… invasive. What are my odds?” I asked. “You’ve got a 50% chance of partial paralysis” he said bluntly. “If it turns out you’ve got a malignant tumor in your lymphatic system… you’re looking at six months, tops. You should probably get your ‘paperwork’ in order.”
Faced with this scenario, I took the only steps that made any sense at the time. I consented to surgery, and then immediately made plans to go on vacation: nine friends, a beach house in Cancun, and shopping carts full of alcohol. One morning, before the sun had made its ascent over the Gulf of Mexico, and before any of my companions had risen from the booze-induced stupor of the night before, I grabbed a bottle of tequila, and treated myself to a sunrise walk along the beach–as I figured it might be my last–and a leisurely talk with Death. I don’t recall much of what Death had to say that morning. I do clearly remember looking into the lifeless hood of The Reaper, scythe in hand, and hearing him say the following: “Truthfully Jack, I don’t understand why this has you so shaken up. This is not the first time I’ve come for you. It’s just the first time you’re paying attention.”
As I stood in the operating room making small talk with the anesthesiologist, I recall being completely at peace. My time was done. My life had run its course, and whatever happened next was completely out of my control. As I prepared for my very talented team of doctors to splay me like a fish—expose my spinal cord and all of my nerves, like strings from the bow of a violin come undone—I recall feeling an uncanny sense of calm.
Six hours later, they wheeled my gurney into the recovery room, as I sang “Material Girl” at the top of my lungs. In an attempt to determine my level of cognizance, the recovery room nurse asked me if I knew my own name. “Lady GaGa” I shouted, without hesitation. When she patiently repeated the question, I corrected myself and calmly told her “I realize I’m not really Lady GaGa; I’m Madonna.” She asked me how I felt, and I burst out into a rousting chorus of “Like a Virgin.” With all the professionalism she could muster, she asked me if I had any weaknesses—a reasonable query to someone just coming out of spinal surgery. As I’d just had a bone removed from my spine, I actually had no feeling below my rib cage; I didn’t even know if I had feet. Without pause I responded “Chocolate, whiskey, and raven haired women.” And then I realized she was cute, so I composed myself, and put my hand on her arm. With tubes still up my nose and needles stuck into both arms, I made the dreamiest bedroom eyes a man still mostly under the influence of general anesthesia can make. “Just because I came out of surgery claiming to be Madonna and singing ‘Material Girl’” I declared with a wink “doesn’t mean I’m gay.”
The operation was a complete success. And the tumor (schwannoma) was benign.
I call what happened to me “the gift” because I was forced to confront the question most people spend their whole lives avoiding: if you knew for a fact that today was your last day on earth, what would you do? Would you call your mom? Go home and make love to your partner one last time? Play with your kids; toss a frisbee with your dog? Call up an old friend and settle an old feud? Punch someone in the face who really deserved it?
For me, the answer was clear: on my last day on earth, I want to sharing great conversation with interesting people, over delicious food and scrumptious libations. This led me to take a concoction I’d been brewing in my kitchen for almost two decades–sorrel–perfect a shelf stable version–Sorel–write a business plan, raise capital, and launch a distillery.
When it came time to promote this new venture, I realized I didn’t have anywhere near the kind of capital required to solicit a decent PR agency. What I did have was a blog I was writing about my dating life, called F*cking in Brooklyn, under the name Jack From Brooklyn. At the time, the blog was receiving 500,000+ views a year, and not making a dime. It seemed to me that, people who liked reading about fucking, might like drinking as well. So I decided to capitalize on my significant social media following, and name my company after my blog.
And THAT is how JackFromBrooklyn Inc. was born.
How important is being a people person crucial to launching and building a liquor brand?
People skills are the most crucial skill in launching and building ANY brand. You may have a terrific concept for a product or service. You might have keen analytic skills, or a talent for logistics. Maybe you’re a ruthless negotiator. This is all very useful. And ultimately irrelevant. No matter how determined you believe yourself to be, success in entrepreneurship is dependent on your ability to form and cultivate quality relationships.
You will need help. Behind every successful startup are visionaries with the volition to turn dreams into reality. Behind them are the people who believe in them: their investors, their advisors, their vendors, their spouses, family, and friends. Without their support, their guidance, their faith in you, you cannot succeed.
It doesn’t matter how great your product is, or how well conceived your business plan. Yes, your financial projections have to be solid, and you must be able to demonstrate the ability to execute your grand designs, but at the end of the day, people do not invest their time, money, and access to their social networks in grandiose ideas.
People invest in people. People need to believe in you. People must want to help you. People have to want you to succeed as badly as you want to succeed.
How do you juggle making sorel, managing the business of making sorel and consulting without going a little bonkers?
This is the part where I’m supposed to say: if you love what you do, it isn’t work. That’s bullshit, and anyone who tells you different is lying. I’ve kept 16 hour days, 7 days a week, for months on end. I work harder now than I ever did when I was working for someone else. What keeps you going isn’t love, it’s choice. You can fall deeply in love with someone, but you still have to wake up every morning and choose that person. This is why I say: going crazy is easy; staying there takes real commitment. Once you accept this, juggling everything required of entrepreneurship is still far saner than sitting in a cubicle.
What news would you like to be sharing about Jack From Brooklyn next year?
No spoilers! You have to wait for the after-credits scene to find out. Stick around, I guarantee it will be entertaining.
This is your chance to shout out to mentors, colleagues and supporters who helped Jack From Brooklyn make it to year four. Go.
Arthur Shapiro, my Booze-Business Bookend. Lori Edelman, my Social Media Director. Summer Lee, my VP, and the most ethical person in the entire liquor industry. Too many bartenders, distillers, writers to name.
If you are Sorel fan, good. If you have not indulged, change that. It is delicious. I cannot wait to make a Strawberry Sorel milkshake. You can follow Jack From Brooklyn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
This post has been lightly edited with love.