With so many unique and inspiring companies popping up throughout the neighborhoods of San Diego, we decided it was time to highlight those entrepreneurs who are leading the booming businesses of this thriving, cultural city. After polling the people, we received nearly 10, 000 votes for the winners of San Diego’s Entrepreneurs to Watch. In this feature, we want to share with you applicable career advice from these five, outstanding entrepreneurs (chosen by you!) as well as how they are applying the guidance of their former mentors to make an impact in their industries. From bananas to bartending, this group of business owners is driven by the desire to make a difference in their local communities. Meet the first of our featured entrepreneurs:
Dustin Haarstad, Blind Tiger Cocktail Co.
Q: How long have you been in your role as Partner for Blind Tiger Cocktail Co., and what does that role consist of?
Dustin Haarstad: I founded Blind Tiger Cocktail Co. in 2011 in hopes that I could help build San Diego’s cocktail culture. It seems like things have grown and progressed very quickly ever since.
Q: Can you take us through a typical work day in the life of Dustin Haarstad?
DH: One of the main reasons why I love what I do is simply because I don’t have the most typical work days; it’s always changing. One day I’m conceptualizing cocktails for a bar program around town, the next I’m in Mexico giving tequila tours to dozens of bartenders from around the world. I’m fortunate enough to have a great team of bright, talented and dedicated individuals working alongside me every day. We can come together to put on an exciting cocktail event, and then, when the dust settles, they are the people I’d want to have a drink and shoot a game of pool with.
Q: What influenced you to choose your career path?
DH: During college, I was fortunate enough to tend bar at a blues club right around the corner from a bartender named Murray Stenson. I watched him transcend what I knew about making a cocktail and showing guests a great time. Murray made me want to be better at everything I do and after watching him wow customers for a few years, I knew I had found my path.
Q: How do you hope to change or impact your industry?
DH: I’m driven by the desire to create a more educated and thought-provoking experience at the bar. I believe drinking a cocktail should be an act where you can take something tangible away from the experience, rather than just a good buzz. I’d love to see the proverbial cocktail bar viewed through the scope as more of a fun, welcoming place to be without pretension or intimidation. Through Blind Tiger Cocktail Company, I hope my team and I will leave these imprints on our industry and community alike.
Q: Why do you think you were chosen as one of San Diego’s Top 5 Entrepreneurs to Watch?
DH: I hope it’s due to the dedication taken towards a single frame of mind: to provide great cocktails, elevated customer service and a passion to share a part of my life with an industry that has given me so much. Or maybe it’s possible that everyone was just really thirsty …
Q: For our aspiring entrepreneurs, what one piece of valuable advice would you give them?
DH: If you find through your work that you are doing something that you genuinely enjoy you are helping your community and putting smiles on people’s faces – DON’T STOP. Find a way to take that and create something bigger than just you, something that everyone around you wants to get involved with. Life is more rewarding when good is shared with others.
Q: If you could have lunch with any prominent figure – either historical or present-day – who would it be, and why?
DH: I would have to say Ernest Hemingway. He knew how to drink, travelled the world and lived life in a way that most people don’t. He has been an inspiration throughout both my career and personal life (minus the whole suicide thing, of course). If Hemingway wasn’t available, I wonder what kind of food Christopher Walken would want for lunch?
Q: When you’re not changing the world at work, you are …?
DH: Sitting in front of the many bartenders that inspire me; a group of friends and a proper drink is my idea of a good time. When away from the bar atmosphere, I try to travel as much as possible to keep new flavors and inspiration coming in. I’ve also been known to twang on a guitar every once in a while.
Q: Where is your favorite San Diego hangout?
DH: Cantina Mayahuel is like a second home to me. I have a lot of respect for people who simply do something right, and if they can bring an authenticity and culture to a community as well, all the better. Larry and the rest of the gang at Cantina taught me so much about traditional Mexican spirits and food, and at the same time, gave me a place to relax, drink some mescal and grab a bite to eat. I love that place!
Top 3 Proudest Career Accomplishments
1) For most of my life, I wanted nothing more than to travel to Europe and see things with eyes wide open. Last year, I finally made the pilgrimage, hoping to come back with a greater knowledge of drinking culture and distillation. After visiting nine countries, 15 cities and numerous distilleries, my professional life changed forever.
2) I never in a million years would have thought that making a cocktail would take me places. I was lucky enough to win a few cocktail competitions recently; one led me to Las Vegas with Bombay Sapphire and GQ Magazine, and another with Campari at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which is one of the largest and best put together industry gatherings in the world. It was really an incredible moment to look around and realize I’m surrounded by so many talented people from around the country and to be amongst them. Both were truly humbling experiences.
3) And, to be honest, being chosen as San Diego’s Top Entrepreneur to Watch is up there. To be recognized and applauded by my community, friends, family and colleagues is a huge honor. Its times like these that continue to push me forward and legitimize why I chose this path in life. There are a lot of other great people in San Diego doing amazing things, and I’m proud to be a part of what helps drive the food and beverage industry in a positive direction.