The discovery and removal of George Jakubec’s explosives-filled house in Escondido set an entire neighborhood on edge for weeks in November and December 2010.
The neighborhood was evacuated after the “bomb house” was discovered, and for weeks afterward, authorities tried to figure out how to dispose of explosives and assorted bomb-making materials. Eventually authorities conducted a controlled burn of the house, and Escondido breathed a sigh of relief.
But for twin brothers Brian and Alan Haghighi, founders of California Fruit Wine, the bomb house meant being cut off from their computers and home offices, unable to do any marketing or shipping. It wrecked the first holiday season for their fledgling fruit-wine business.
“Right when we had our first orders online, ” Brian said, and snapped his fingers. “Interruption.”
They’ve rebounded since then. On Saturday, Brian and Alan are holding a grand opening at their new tasting room in Vista. But if not for a weak economy, the business might never have gotten started.
“I got out of college in 2009, no one was hiring, everyone was firing,” Brian said.
The Haghighis grew up in Vista, Oceanside and Escondido. They learned an entrepreneurial spirit from their father, an engineer and unsuccessful inventor.
“Everything was patented before he patented it,” Alan said. “For us, it was always, ‘Who got there first?'”
In 2009, two friends introduced Alan and Brian to fruit winemaking. The twins enjoyed it, and started doing research. They found that although fruit wines are popular in some countries, they’re not widely distributed in the United States.
“When we realized no one else was doing it, we jumped on it,” Alan said.
The brothers and the two friends raised $20,000 in seed money, half from Alan’s savings, and started setting up the business. Here again, the weak economy played into their hands: They found a 450-square-foot warehouse space in Oceanside that would let them hold off on payments until they received permits to start making wine, and even then, the rent was $300 a month. They bought used plastic brewing containers for $120 each. New: $800.
“If we didn’t have that low overhead, we would not have been viable,” Brian said.
Alan handles purchasing and production of their wines, which include peach, plum, strawberry and pumpkin. Brian handles marketing and permits. The plan was to sell their first bottles as part of holiday gift baskets.
On Nov. 18, 2010, the day police cordoned off their neighborhood, the brothers were in the midst of putting together their first order. Alan was out on an errand, but Brian was at home.
“We were leaving our driveway to get the package out, and the roads were closed off. They told us to turn around,” Brian said. “I had to carry eight bottles of wine out.”
For a month they couldn’t get to their computers, and their holiday season was over before it began.
This year, the brothers’ partners, the friends who introduced them to fruit wine, decided to bail out of the company and move to Northern California.
Now on their own, Brian and Alan focused on selling at street fairs in the county. Their permits wouldn’t let them offer tastings, but their wines still sold well: At a Little Italy fair they sold 120 bottles, and in Hillcrest, they sold 175 bottles. It was enough profit to keep making new wine, and even to put a little money in their pockets, but not enough to expand.
“When you start to see retailers and restaurants, they want to taste the wine and see the operation,” Alan said. “And what we had wasn’t very impressive.”
They couldn’t persuade the Small Business Administration or banks to lend them money, and private investors would only offer cash for an ownership stake.
“We said, ‘No,'” the pair said in unison in an interview.
Instead, they turned to their mom, a teacher nearing retirement. With much hesitation and after weeks of persuasion, she invested $10,000.
“Talk about financing and putting your family in a tough position,” Brian said.
With that money, they rented a 4,500-square-foot space in Vista for a production facility and tasting room. They bought office furniture off Craigslist for $800, then turned around and sold superfluous pieces for $1,000. When a nearby bar went out of business, they bought stools and bar tables for $600. Instead of spending thousands for the bar itself, they built one for $600.
Despite all their frugality, they’re still just barely ahead of the $3,500 in monthly rent and utilities. The operation survives on a month-to-month basis.
On Saturday, they’ll host a grand opening of their tasting room, with customers invited to sample five glasses of wine for $5. They had an invite-only event last month that attracted 125 people, so they’re optimistic. They’re still looking for loans so they can expand production, but they’re focused on the tasting room.
“Now we’re going to do proper promotions, some radio advertising,” Brian said. “We’ll add in actually calling people.”
Alan added, “This week I’m putting guilt trips on everybody.”