Every summer, a trendy alcoholic beverage emerges to satiate beachgoers and vacationers nationwide. Hard seltzers, Aperol spritzes and a certain pink wine have swept the scene, and Thomas Pastuszak, the founder of Vinny Wines, plans to be at the forefront.
A purveyor of a rosé and blanc bubbly wine from the Finger Lakes region of New York (the brand’s name comes from vin, the French word for wine, and NY, the abbreviation for New York), Pastuszak applied his knowledge from his sommelier career, heading up the selections at the NoMad Hotel, to this new venture. The result is genuinely delicious, ultra convenient and about to reside in fridges and beach coolers everywhere.
Listen up as he answers ONE37pm’s most pressing founder questions.
If you were pitching your business on Shark Tank, what would you say?
Thomas Pastuszak: Vinny is about enjoying high-quality wine in an exciting new format: the can! It is sparkling, crisp and dry, and is exactly what you need when you’re at the beach or pool, hiking or hanging out—places a wine glass just doesn’t belong. Vinny is already on top of the pack of canned wines with critical acclaim and awards from all the folks in the wine industry who know what’s best in the wine world. Plus, it’s cool wine with a New York state of mind: VINNY = VIN (wine) + NY (New York).
Describe your brand-building strategy in one sentence.
Pastuszak: Stick to the high standards you set out with, no matter what direction your growth takes you. Continue to promote the quality and pedigree of your brand, whether to new customers or those who have been with you from the start. If you show consistency and unwavering focus on quality (no shortcuts) while growing your brand, it sends a very powerful message to those paying attention. And word spreads quickly.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?
Pastuszak: Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and bring different, complementary strengths and skill sets to your own. It’s foolish to think you can do it all yourself or that you’re capable of doing the best job of every task.
What’s one aspect of your job that you knew nothing about? How did you adapt?
Pastuszak: I spent most of my adult life working in restaurants as a sommelier and wine director: buying wine, studying it, serving it and talking about it. Plus, a good amount of drinking it! When I wanted to get into the production side, I didn’t know where to begin. So I went to all my winemaker friends and started to ask a lot of questions, and took time in the vineyards and in the cellar to learn as much as I could about farming and winemaking to make the juice itself. I also went to my friends who were already proprietors of wineries and had started their own wine brands and asked a ton of questions about winery logistics, distribution and all the nitty-gritty that happens leading up to a consumer buying wine in a store or in a restaurant. Little by little, through all these conversations, I started to connect the dots and put together a plan for how I would handle the entire process from start to finish.
What do you consider your greatest failure to date? What did it teach you?
Pastuszak: When I was much younger and just getting into restaurants, I tried to raise money to buy an existing restaurant and take over its operations. While I did have experience running restaurants, I had zero experience going to non-restaurant people and asking them to invest boatloads of money into the restaurant industry—which is super high risk. I wasn’t able to raise the funds I needed and felt horrible for not being able to achieve my goal, but it did teach me to seek out those who have more experience in things where you’re a novice—like raising investment capital. Be humble, take lots and lots of notes and learn from others’ stories.
How do you take your coffee?
Pastuszak: Cold and black.
What is your number one way to inspire positive company morale?
Pastuszak: Always behave consistently, not erratically, and be attentive to what’s happening around you—certainly in moments of success but especially in moments of difficulty and challenge. Lead by example with an optimistic outlook and avoid mood swings to keep your team feeling focused, confident and in control.
How do you balance your career and your family life?
Pastuszak: To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this one out. With a wife, a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, my family is (literally) growing, so I’m making my best attempt at dividing time wisely between business and family. When I travel for work, I try to limit the number of days to three or four maximum,and when I’m home with the family, I focus my attention on them solely, keeping my phone and my computer put away. This also helps me focus. I’m much more efficient and driven in meetings, responding to emails and generally engaging with everyone in my world.