by Gary Axelbank
August 2, 2018
There’s a new spirit in town that’s morphed the creation and marketing of top-of-the-line tequila into what the makers like to call, “a family business”. YaVe Tequila, invented in Harlem and the Bronx – with a strong dose of tradición mexicana – is becoming a Bronx standard.
Available all over the city and in night spots throughout the borough, including Beatstro, Jimmy’s Cafe, Bronx Drafthouse, and Dallas BBQ and stores like Bruckner Wines and Liquors, Cross Bronx Liquor, and Wines Warehousing, YaVE Tequila comes with a distinctly Bronx twist. The ‘family team’ as they like to call themselves, insists that they are going to do this right and for the right reasons.
“A lot of the brands walk in checkbook first. I walk in heart first and my team allows me to do that,” said Joe Cruz, founder of YaVe Tequila, who for the last three years has worked to create, develop, and market a tequila that he says has the taste (without the ‘burn’), fragrance, flavors, name, and packaging designed for the people of the ‘boogie down’ Bronx.
“I’m a Puerto Rican kid from Harlem who hung out in the Bronx my entire life” he said during a weekday gathering of his staff at Beatstro on Alexnder Avenue in Mott Haven, the hot new Afro-Caribbean-Latin restaurant with hip-hop flavor.
“So if you’re talking about somebody who knows this culture, I’m not some guy who comes from finance. I didn’t come from downtown Manhattan, so to speak. I was in the Bronx my entire life.”
Those roots he says, led him to amass a team of Bronx pros who are as committed to YaVe Tequila as he is.
“I wash my face with it. I brush my teeth with it,” quipped marketer Jamaal Thompson who grew up near Southern Blvd. and now lives in Kingsbridge. “I take pride, especially in the Bronx because that’s where I’m from. I’ve seen all bits and parts of the Bronx and I can tell you now it’s a beautiful place. People just count us out a lot.”
That Bronx ‘tude is what drives the energy behind this unique brand. They want to make it successful, in part to motivate others to achieve.
“It’s about inspiring new ownership and entrepreneurship and having kids look at us and say, ‘one day we can have our own company as well’,” said Paul Nickerson of Castle Hill, who works at what he calls, ‘making things happen’ for YaVe.
To get started on the path to turn YaVe into “one of most powerful brands in the world” Cruz traveled to Mexico where he was surprised to discover that the country itself owns the word tequila. So he realized it was not going to be a simple process and it was going to take a major commitment. As a result, he says he’s invested literally every dollar he has in YaVe Tequila, even his son’s college fund.
“They care about the money. I care about giving back to our communities. I’m going to build this brand so that people of our stature can grow,” he said with conviction.
The distinctive name, ‘YaVe’ was not an accident. According to Cruz, ‘YaVe’ is the phonetic spelling of ‘llave’, which means means key in Spanish. They spelled it with a “Y”, as opposed to two L’s, so that Hispanic or not, you can pronounce it properly.
“‘Ya tu YaVe’ is a play on the saying “Ya tu sabes”, which means ‘now you know’ or ‘you already know,” Cruz explained. “So ‘Ya tu YaVe’ essentially means, “now you know YaVe.”
Also, given his lofty goals for the brand, he reasoned that the wold’s largest companies are four- to-six letters and one or two syllables (Apple, Google, Pepsi, Nike, etc.).
“That places YaVe in the winners circle right from the start,” he said with a knowing smile.
When talking about YaVe’s six flavors (Blanco, Mango, Coconut, Jalapeño, Resposado, and Añejo) Nickerson said, “‘Blanco’ is the mother. So if you like the mother, you’ll like the whole family.” While customers can debate the merits of each, the makers of YaVe agree that “Blackout”, a custom cocktail served excusively at Beatstro, is their signature.
General Manager Eddie Santos, who worked with the YaVe family team to develop the drink with a top-flight mixologist, thinks ‘Blackout’ is the right name.
“It’s excellent,” he said. “We add a little charcoal to it, so it’s got some earthiness to it and you still get the citrus and then you get that kick from the Jalapeno. So it’s really good.”
To a man, the YaVe family team members are serious about responsible imbibing. They’re adamant about not drinking and driving and completely oppose under-age drinking. In fact “turn up responsibly” is one of their hashtags. #turnupresponsibly
“You know, drinking with your families or with your coworkers after a long day, we deserve it,” Nickerson said. “We in the Bronx, we grind and we work hard. So whenever you have some down time and you want to have a sip of a favorite Tequila, well, we hope YaVe will be your new favorite.”