The Rise of Ace of Spades Champagne, the heart wrenching story that followed and the Future that looks Bright as ever with Devant Champagne & 3 Tres Tequila.
- So, tell us about Mark Becker.
Well, itall started in Chicago. I had just finished my degree and life took me to Euclid Beverage in the Suburbs of Chicago. I was there for about 6 months before I was recruited to work for Romano Brothers Beverage. At the time, Romano Brothers was the largest liquor and wine distributor in Illinois. Flew up the ladder working there– from sales, to District Manager, to Key Account. I stayed for 3 years before Jim Beam Worldwide welcomed me on. I then worked for Jim Beam for about 3 ½ years, again flew up the ladder– from DM, to State Manager, to six-state Regional Manager. Jim Beam encounters a merger, new management comes in, I get divorced and hear about a job in Honolulu, Hawaii as VP of On Premise Sales. I decide, “why not?” I’m 28 and land the job becoming one of the youngest VP’s in Young’s Market history. After 3 years at YM, I got a call from Brian Berish, one of the owners of Sovereign Brands. Brian and I had worked together at Jim Beam. We met and he told me about Ace of Spades, a new Champagne that was doing 50 cases in Las Vegas and maybe another 200 in the Western Region.
- What were your initial thoughts about Ace of Spades?
Initially, I wasn’t going to take the job. I thought the pricing was out of wack, the juice was average. I thought the packaging was outstanding but needed additional tools.
- What changed your mind?
Just had a feeling, took the job. My first 2 meetings at nightclubs, I got laughed out of the building. $229 for a bottle of Champagne that nobody’s heard of, they weren’t having it. I fine-tuned my presentation and I met with Eddie Allen of Tao Group and Brian Affronti/Yannick Mugnier of XS Nightclub and told them Dom owned them. I said, “put us on the list, double the price, make your girls sell it and watch them run to you.” Both agreed to come on board. We came up with unique ways to sell, we pioneered the Large Format Business.
- Tell me about the large formats.
I remember the day the Ace of Spades owner said to me, “What about large formats? Can you sell them?”. I said, “Yes”. He said, “Good, we are making 1.5L.” I said, “Why stop there?”He calls me back an hour later, “You think you can sell a 15L?” I said, “I think I can sell 5.” I ended up selling 9 the first year. I called him a month later and told him Tao Group wanted a 30L. 6 months later the 30L was born, cost was $68,000 to the club. In that time, we as a company were working celebrities hard and then Ace lands Jay Z as the spokesperson. At the same time, our in-house amazing marketing team in New York was dropping bottles off to celeb events everywhere. Vegas was a no-brainer for Ace. In a matter of 3 months, the brand blew up. Everyone was drinking it.
- Can you talk about XS and Hakkasan million-dollar listings?
Well, that was fun. We got creative with everyone. At Hyde, a client could control the Bellagio Fountain if they bought a 15L. At XS, we had Alec Monopoly, a famous Artist, design bottles and then sold the package for $1MM. For the Hakkasan grand opening, a client could buy every bottle in our portfolio for $1MM– Dom was $900, Ace was $1700 and we were still outselling Dom. I was out every weekend buying bottles for the Whales that came into the club, they would come thank me and buy 10 more. If you were a host in Las Vegas and I knew your birthday, anniversary, or when you were getting married– Bottle of Ace.
- What happened next?
I got the call on a Saturday at 8am, they sold Ace of Spades. None of us saw it coming, I was floored. I stayed on for a bit with the new owners. The new Ace team was trying to find a way to bring me over but the buyout contract had a clause where they could not hire for 2 years.
- That sounds like a shocking experience. What did you do?
As life would have it, things for me were about to change dramatically. My best friend in Hawaii called me on Thanksgiving weekend and said, “You know those headaches I’ve been having? Well, no easy way to say this. I have stage-4 brain cancer. I have 3-6 months to live.” I had made a ton of money at Ace over the years. I quit. I moved home to Hawaii, moved him in with me, and spent the next 2 ½ years in a hospital. Radiation therapy 5 days a week and chemotherapy 10 hours each day, it was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. 2 ½ years later, on October 28th, he passed away peacefully in his sleep. I was devastated and felt like I had lost everything. I broke down, for the first time in 3 years, in the hospital hallway a few minutes after he passed. What came after was truly a blessing that I attribute to doing the right thing, being there when others need me, and fighting to take back everything I had lost.
- I hope there’s a Happily Ever After moment coming. Is there?
I took my last dollar out of my bank account, I took my drawings and ideas that I had made while sitting in hospital rooms, and was determined to start my own company. I had great connections in France from my Ace days and I found a 4th generation family who made exceptional juice. I showed them Devant, the company I was seeking to launch at that time, and they loved it. Amazing juice, a label that the next generation could relate to, yet, keeping the age old traditions of Champagne-making. At the same time, I had drawn a Tequila bottle while in the hospital where the bottles could stack and, instead of someone buying just Blanco, I made a bottle where you could buy all 3 tequila types in 1 – Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo. Today, I have several other brands working toward launch. I hired one of my best friends, Keli’I Heen. We found a partner in LeVecke Co, the largest supplier that you’ve never heard of. We recently signed a deal with RNDC to launch in the 10 major markets and plans to launch in the remaining 28 states that RNDC is in soon after. I’m only just beginning but this path looks pretty good from here!