May 28, 2020

Importing the Family Stash

Digital Hospitality: A Podcast from CaliBBQ Media

Every brand has a story, but they’re rarely this good. 

Only a decade ago, Miguel Luna was known by soccer fans as a clutch scorer who brought four championships to the San Diego Sockers. Amongst the Sockers, Miguel was known as the guy who brought his teammates really good tequila.

“I started bringing plastic water bottles with tequila to the locker room on gameday in 2010,” reflects Miguel on his championship playing days with the Sockers. “When we were done with the games we’d celebrate with a quick shot.” 

That tequila in the plastic water bottles didn’t have a name in 2010.

It does in 2020.

CaliFino Tequila, a family company in the truest sense, may be to the San Diego Sockers what Gatorade is to the Florida Gators.

“I introduced the team to the tequila very early on,” remembers Miguel. “Everyone wanted a bottle! I couldn’t even get a bottle myself, I had to ask my dad for some from the family stash. That’s kind of how it started.”

That family stash is located in Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico where CaliFino existed amongst the Lunas before it ever existed as a business.

“I come from a Mexican background, both my mom and dad were born and grew up in Mexico,” notes Miguel. “We have a close family tie with the town the where tequila is made in.”

How close? Generations deep.

“Back in the ‘70s, my grandfather used to hang out at these tequila distilleries on a regular basis. He became close friends with the Gonzales family who is now the tequila distillery we work with,” as Miguel tells it. 

Getting close to the families had to come with great perks like a special discount, right? Nope, even better.

“He wasn’t getting the tequilas that were being marketed and sold, he was getting their family batch that wasn’t for sale. He’d get these special batches and that’s kind of how it got going.”

As the story goes, Miguel’s grandfather – Don Jose Luna – would be privileged to all the best moonshine style tequila the family had. Over the years, Don’s taste got so good that he shared the best batches of tequila with his own family and friends.

By the early 2000s, that tequila would make it to members of the Luna family in Southern California.

“Everything San Diego is very close to me,” notes Miguel, foreshadowing a rich future that stems from a storied past.

Growing up a huge soccer fan and pretty talented player himself, Miguel was an avid supporter of the hometown San Diego Sockers pro soccer club. By the time he was old enough to leave the house, he went on to play soccer at the University of Portland. By the time he was one semester in, he realized how much he missed home.

Following his college career in the Pacific Northwest, he was back home in San Diego with soccer seemingly in the rearview. In short order, that would change.

“Around 2008 is when I got to meet Phil Salvagio,” says Miguel of the local soccer star he watched as a kid. “He was tinkering with the idea of bringing the Sockers back.”

Think about it: can you imagine meeting a pro athlete you looked up to as a kid and them telling you as a young adult they wanted to bring back the team?

Wilder yet, what if that childhood hero said they wanted to have you on it?

Like many future business propositions between Phil and Miguel, the idea would be met with laughter. How could this be true?

“I grew up watching the Sockers at the Sports Arena in the ‘80s so I knew what that franchise meant,” Miguel says looking back at that fateful meeting. “It seemed a little far-fetched, but me and Phil got to know each other on a player/coach relationship first and then we became great friends.”

Phil, no longer a player but now both owner and coach of the Sockers, had just secured a piece of local talent to bring the club back and eventually bring even more success to the both of them.

“When Phil brought it back it was purely for the love of the game, he wanted to bring indoor soccer back to San Diego.”

And bring back indoor soccer to San Diego Phil did. San Diego had a winning club to be proud of.

With the help of Miguel, an incredibly clutch player on four championship Sockers teams, the comeback club was the toast of the town and the league.

“I was fortunate enough to get a few lucky breaks in my career,” Miguel humbly reflects on championship winning goals.

Like any championship club, the chemistry doesn’t start during play and it doesn’t end there either. At every level, this happens in the locker room or on the bus rides.

For the Sockers, it happens in carpooling.

“Phil and I were carpooling and one day we were driving from the Sports Arena to Carlsbad,” remembers Miguel. “We pulled over for a beer at Peabody’s and it happens to be karaoke night. We’re having a great time, talking, and it’s around the holidays. I remember telling Phil, ‘I’m gonna import some tequila. I’ve been talking to the guys and they all want five bottles, do you want it?’ He goes, ‘You’re going to import the family stash? I’m in.’”

Buzzed banter can be hard to follow, and this proves true for the Socker stars throwing back beers at one fateful karaoke night. Miguel wanted to give Phil his family tequila as a Christmas gift. Phil wanted to give Miguel a tequila business.

Once Phil’s second professional pitch to Miguel was comprehended it was met with the same response as his first: laughter.

“I didn’t think much of it, it was a talk over a few beers and I left it at that,” says Miguel. “A week later we’re driving back from practice and he follows up on it. I thought he was drunk when we were talking about it and he was serious! He wanted to partner up with my family and at this time our families had a great relationship. It was kind of a no-brainer and I had no hesitations about sharing it with him.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Or, actually, a mistake.

“It was never an idea or a concept, this was here 100% as a mistake,” says Miguel on the origin of CaliFino Tequila. “From Day 1, it was my uncle getting my dad the family bottles of tequila and me sharing it with friends. I developed a bond, which I still have, with the guys on the Sockers. It all started from celebrating with tequila in the locker-room.”

Coming full circle, Miguel and Phil are both major players at CaliFino Tequila and also the Sockers where Miguel currently occupies a front office role.

A family man, Miguel practices the same spontaneity that sparked CaliFino when bouncing ideas off his partners at the tequila company.

“We don’t have a board, we don’t have this big group, it’s literally those close with family ties and that’s how we get our ideas.”

Those family ties play into the storytelling that defines CaliFino Tequila as a premium product. Just like laughs over beers sparked turning family tequila into a full-fledged company, one whiff of a small leather sample laying around the office sparked one of their biggest branding moves.

“If you’ve been to a place where people are working on leather, you never forget that smell,” notes Miguel. As a young boy, that place was his grandfather’s home in Mexico. As a nod to Grandpa Don’s ability to work with leather and discovery of the tequila, each bottle features leather branding to tell the CaliFino story in unique fashion and as a premium product.

So, want to start your own company like Miguel? Well, all you have to do is play professional soccer and get your teammates buzzed. 

Okay, maybe not quite. 

The spontaneity and real roots of Miguel’s brand birth are almost impossible to duplicate. However, the ethos both Miguel and his brand live by can be adopted by you and your brand just the same.

Here Are Four Ways CaliFino Tequila is Rooted in Realness

  1. Real Stories – Stories this good can’t be made up, so why try? The real stories CaliFino derives from provides a stable foundation to grow their business and connect with customers. The humility, humor, and honesty that defines the CaliFino story focuses on family tradition and shines through in their product from the leather labeling to the agave rope wrapping.
  2. Real Relationships – There’s a reason Miguel and Phil began working together: they genuinely liked and respected each other. Bringing their bond through the Sockers to Miguel’s family ties, the strength of these relationships makes for honest conversation and collaboration. Just the same, Miguel makes sure to connect with clients and customers on the same level. The bonds Miguel has built in his life continue to grow CaliFino.
  3. Real Fun – Let’s not forget, CaliFino Tequila came to life as a business over beers at a karaoke happy hour. Have fun! Laughing, loving, and enjoying life creates close relationships and great stories. Also important, it sparks creativity. Fun founded CaliFino Tequila and it still makes the brand blossom from every cocktail recipe to every social share.
  4. Real Good Things Happen with Real Good People – From the inside out, CaliFino Tequila is built off real good relationships with really good people. Rather than chase funding or go after a quick come-up, Miguel makes sure to associate and work with good people. That trust and those ethics equip the business to grow without weeds and without worry.

The second and fourth points on that list couldn’t register truer in the current season of sport and season of life.

With a booming brand in Carlsbad and another foot still in San Diego’s soccer club, Miguel knows who he can count on when the Sockers or his kids take him out of the office.

“Pops is my best friend, he’s my go-to,” Miguel says of his father and business partner. “I know the person I trust most is watching out for me. I’m still very involved with soccer during the season – I travel with the team – so Pops runs the show when I’m gone.”

While the season of spring would usually see the San Diego Sockers celebrating another championship with tequila shots in the locker room, the current COVID crisis has everything on hold.

Everything but Miguel and CaliFino caring about the service industry.

“We decided to start a fund,” says Miguel in response to the Coronavirus. “10% of everything we do online in April is going back to the people being affected in the industry. Anyone in the industry being affected can go on our site, fill out a form, and we’re gonna give it back to the people. It might be a small piece, but I think anything you can do helps in a time like this.”

As we know, it all helps.

“It’s a rough time right now for the industry but together we can all bounce back,” reflects Miguel. “To us, this is 100% a passion project. When we realized what was going on with the industry, we wanted to make a difference. We brought the team in for a conference call and asked how we could help.”

When it comes to Coronavirus and their outreach program, it’s still about the value of real relationships – especially those affected in the service industry who are the lifeblood of CaliFino Tequila when it’s poured up in bars and restaurants across California.

“I don’t want this to just be an automatic reply,” says Miguel in regard to those in the service industry that sign up for the CaliFino fund. “I want to talk to every person and let them know we’re here. In these tough times, maybe a little tequila will help you? I’m not sure but we’ll do what we can.”

When it’s all said and done, CaliFino will be remembered for their care and helping hand during COVID-19. 

Once the epidemic passes, they’ll be back to storytelling both person to person and digitally to drive that passion and appreciation for their product even deeper.

“Once we’re back to normal, we’re going to do a tasting here in Carlsbad. It’ll be a fun process and I love telling people why they should give this tequila a try,” says Miguel. “Every tequila company starts from some place and I’ve seen the work that goes into that process. To see all the work that goes into a bottle of CaliFino makes you appreciate it even more.”

We’ll drink to that.