What’s the story behind your name?
According to a BuzzFeed quiz I took last week, Steve is a Celtic name that roughly translates to, “Manly Creator of Intoxicating Fluids.” During the Iron Age, a Celt named Steve the Rye Thresher made a discovery… Wait, did you mean the story behind Tom’s Town Distilling Co.?
The story of Prohibition in KC is a fascinating one, because it didn’t exist here. There wasn’t a single felony conviction for violating Prohibition in Kansas City. That’s incredible to me. And it’s all because a political boss named Tom Pendergast ran the town. If you paid Tom, you played. Speakeasies flourished, jazz found a permanent home, and our town experienced a cultural rebirth. The newspapers and books have described Kansas City during this time as Tom’s Town. We’re hoping to bring back the fun part of that era, the glamorous part, the Gatsby part.
This relates directly to our identity. We wanted our logo to reflect the story, the era, and the irreverent personality of the brand. That’s a lot to ask of a logo, but our designer got it right away. He fit in a quote from Boss Tom. After his arrest for tax evasion, a reporter asked Pendergast why he allowed Kansas City to ignore Prohibition. He allegedly responded, “The people are thirsty.”
Distilling can be a lengthy process. How do you plan to roll things out the first few years?
Distilling isn’t so bad; it’s the aging that slows you down. We will launch with a gin and a vodka, two spirits that traditionally aren’t aged. We can make those relatively quickly. But aging in wood barrels is what gives brown spirits their depth and complexity. So until we make our own, we’ve curated a line of bourbons called Pendergast’s Royal Gold. They represent the best bourbon we could find. Some of them we’ll finish in special casks, others we’ll serve as single-barrel releases.
You’ve partnered with David Epstein more than once. Why does that partnership work for you two?
Who told you it works for us?
Seriously, it works because we approach things from a completely different mindset. He’s the most creative person I know. He’s the guy with the big idea. My creativity comes in finding ways to make the ideas happen in practical terms. We each see things from a different perspective, but that makes us create things that are better than either of us could have created separately.
We’re both from Kansas City, and we each have personal connections to the Pendergast story. Lots of signs told us to make this business.
Other than booze, why do you think people will frequent your joint?
We hope to create an experience and an atmosphere at Tom’s Town. We’ll serve some food and a dose of personality along with our cocktails. I hope people like the overall feeling of the place, and it will make them want to take a tour, bring their friends, and even hold an event in our event space.
What is your latest epiphany?
Last night I dreamt that Donald Trump came into our distillery. He looked around, frowned, and told me I had “Low energy.” Then he left.
I’m not certain what that means, but here is how I interpret it. I used to think that one of Kansas City’s most endearing qualities is its humility. In the past we weren’t into discussing the fine things about living here. Some call it the Kansas City inferiority complex. While that understated attitude has served us in the past, we need to increase our level of civic pride. With the new explosion in Kansas City’s local products, music, arts, culture, food, and drink scene, we have lots to be proud of.