Sunday, January 16, 2011
Pizza Man and Stinky Gringo Margaritas !!!
Stinky Gringo has kept the Amidziches afloat after Pizza Man burned down
By Joe Taschler of the Journal Sentinel
Jan. 15, 2011 |(22) Comments
Deanna and Mike Amidzich say they have been saved by their customers' willingness to get Stinky.
Their growing Stinky Gringo pre-mixed margarita and tequila brand has helped them survive financially in the aftermath of a four-alarm fire that destroyed their landmark Pizza Man business in Milwaukee a year ago this week.
"Thank God we had Stinky Gringo," Deanna Amidzich said. "I don't know what we would have done without it.
"Overnight we lost our main source of income."
The flames consumed the building that housed Pizza Man, at E. North and N. Oakland avenues. Before they realized it, their catchy, kitschy, Stinky Gringo brand - complete with mascot Mr. Stinky - was about to become a bigger part of their lives.
"It's our livelihood," Deanna Amidzich said.
She is president and owner of Stinky Gringo Inc. and is the chief cheerleader and marketer for the brand. Mike Amidzich created the Stinky Gringo recipe.
The brand has grown steadily since being introduced in 2004 and continues to develop a loyal fan base, especially in the Milwaukee area.
"The Stinky Gringo brand is one of the absolute hottest in the store," said Rick Laev, owner of Ray's Wine & Spirits in Wauwatosa. "It's also the highest proof of any pre-mixed margarita out there, and people just love that extra kick - gives it extra flavor.
"Whenever we do in-store demos for Stinky Gringo, my God, the amount of people that buy it impulsively after they've tried it is incredible," Laev added.
Nearly everything about the brand focuses on Milwaukee, Deanna Amidzich said.
The name came from a margarita party in Milwaukee more than 20 years ago in which partygoers brought their favorite margarita recipe and held a contest to see which one everyone liked best.
"Mike won," Deanna Amidzich said.
"I was a margarita geek," constantly mixing and experimenting to create the best-tasting concoction, Mike Amidzich said. He spent seven years perfecting his recipe, often mixing up batches in the basement of Pizza Man and testing them out on friends and family.
Once they made the decision to take the product to market, they held a contest - with a $2,000 grand prize - for students at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design to create a new logo for the brand. They had 50 entries. The winner included the company mascot, Mr. Stinky.
From there, the really tough work began.
Trial by fire
"In the beginning it was hard," Deanna said. "We were cold calling, working the street, beating the pavement and trying to get them to try our product."
Then came the fire.
The fire was intentionally set and began in an adjacent business, fire investigators have said.
Federal, state and local investigators continue to pursue leads in the case. Damage from the blaze was estimated at $3 million. The building had to be demolished.
A $10,000 reward remains for information leading to the arrest of the person or people who started the fire.
Insurance covers only a portion of their fire losses, and coming out of the recession there aren't too many banks willing to lend money for a new restaurant - even one with the history and name recognition Pizza Man had, the Amidziches said.
They intend to reopen the restaurant and are working on financing.
Meanwhile, they still have Stinky Gringo.
With a background in corporate sales, Deanna Amidzich said she simply would not take no as an answer when working to establish the brand.
She said she never doubted the product's viability.
"Our only competitor, seriously, is José Cuervo," she said.
As competitors go, José Cuervo is a formidable one.
The brand is marketed by Diageo, a global beverage conglomerate based in the U.K. The company employs 20,000 people with offices in 80 countries and manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Italy, Africa, Latin America, Australia, India and the Caribbean.
Stinky Gringo employs five people, and its recipe is mixed and packaged at a contract bottler in Minnesota.
"We're just a pesky fly to them," Deanna said of Diageo.
Scrappy, boozy and silly
The market is huge. Retail tequila sales in the U.S. were worth about $3 billion in 2009, said David Ozgo, chief economist for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a Washington trade association.
Stinky Gringo's feistiness in gaining a share of that market isn't lost on retailers who carry the brand.
"It's establishing itself pretty well," said Tim Berger, manager of the Otto's store in Brown Deer. "It's going up against Cuervo and Chi-Chi's, so it's a pretty tough nut to crack."
That Stinky Gringo is a family-owned brand also makes an impression on local retailers.
"It makes a huge difference," said Michael Greguska, co-owner of the Discount Liquor stores in Milwaukee and Waukesha. Greguska says customers are familiar enough with the brand to ask for it by name.
Deanna Amidzich says her pre-mixed margaritas have a selling point no one else's has. "Ours has the highest proof," she said. "We have the most booze in the bottle. If you figure it out price-wise, we are cheaper than anyone else based on the booze that you get."
Their tequila comes from a manufacturing plant outside Guadalajara, Mexico, she said.
Then there is the name. It's silly, yes. But people remember it as well as the company's tagline, "Get Stinky."
"The marketing of the name is just great," said Erik Truchan, marketing manager of the Cornerstone Sports Pub & Eatery in Oconomowoc.
The name can also bring some howls, especially the "gringo" part.
The company usually gets two or three complaints a year from someone offended by the name. "We're picking on ourselves," Deanna Amidzich said. "It's goofy. It's fun. It totally is the definition of Mike and I. We're fun and kind of quirky people," she said.
Gringo is not necessarily an offensive term.
"It's traditionally been considered disparaging, pejorative, etc.," said Jeff Kirsch, who teaches Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "However, it can be used neutrally and it depends a lot on the context and who's saying it."
The brand has grown by double-digit percentages every year since it was introduced, the Amidziches said.
"Lately, because of how we've grown, we're actually getting referrals," Deanna Amidzich said. "People are actually calling us, which is pretty cool."
She added that she doesn't take herself too seriously, despite being one of the few women who own a liquor manufacturing company.
"I'm just a girl selling hooch," she said.
Anyone with information about the Pizza Man fire is asked to call Wisconsin's anonymous arson tip line at (800) 362-3005.