Uduimoh Umolu is the founder of the premium tequila brand Jon Basil. Established in 2018, Jon Basil is a Black-owned brand and can be found in over 350 locations around Illinois and over 130 on and off-premise accounts. As one of the youngest creators of a spirits brand, Umolu inked a distribution deal with Binny’s Beverage Depot, the largest spirits retail chain in the state.
Tell me how your passion for spirits started?
So for me, I had a passion for moments; that was the first thing. At the time, I was focused on the fact that all we have are our memories. That’s what we have when someone transitions. And spirits happened to be a huge part of some of those most memorable moments. So I felt it was important for us to have something that we could celebrate, you know? That was ours that could intersect with all of my different passions, whether it be music, film, or fashion. So it stemmed from that.
One thing that I found so interesting about your story is that as a millennial yourself, you made it a point to include other millennials in the production of your product. Why was that so important to you?
I felt that we could be in control of our destiny, where we could start building things. We had tools available to us that people who came before us didn’t have access to. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be building something significant that has a legacy to stand on its own long after we’re gone. So it was a rallying call.
When we first started the brand, it was crazy for a couple of 23-year-olds to be trying to start a spirits company at the time. We want people to understand that this is a brand that’s growing. We’re all on a journey together. And it’s for us, so it was essential for us to all have some input into it.
So why did you choose to create tequila over other spirits?
I love the variety and different expressions of tequila. There’s Blanco, you have your Reposado, your Ańejo, and they have different profiles. They taste completely different, but they all stem from the same fruit, just with other processes. So it was all of the variety and expressions, the craftsmanship, the beautiful culture that was behind it, that I most identified with.
Do you have a favorite with all the different varieties and expressions in tequila?
It’s so tough because it depends on what kind of experience I’m trying to have. There are days when I’m reminiscing or thinking it was a tough day. I’m thinking about a lesson I just learned, and I’m trying to reflect. In a moment like that, I’m probably sipping Anejo neat or Reposado. But if I’m having a good time or having a barbecue or cookout, I will make sure that I’m mixing up cocktails with the Blanco. So it depends on which kind of experience I’m going for.
How did your distribution deal with Binny’s come about?
So for Binny’s, our approach was to go to the top. So we worked very closely with our distributors, Romano Beverage, and we managed to get a deal. We started small. We weren’t widespread across Binny’s. It was like, okay, let’s try you out in a couple of the shops. We’ll take a couple of cases and see how you do. But we managed to get the word out, and we sold out the first week. They brought in more shipments, and we sold out again the following weekend. And then, from there, we kept growing and kept pushing.
So you chose Jon Basil as the name of your tequila, and I know it has special meaning to you. Can you tell the readers more about that?
Absolutely. Jon is my grandfather’s name. And Basil is the name of the person who made it possible for my father to come to school in the States. He’s the first one in his family to do that. So at the time, for my dad, it was imperative to pay homage to those who came before you. So you name your first son after your father. So my dad, having Basil as his godfather and him also being so integral in his journey, named his first son Jon Basil. So that was the beginning of the legacy. That’s what allowed us to be born and raised in Chicago.
How does being the son of immigrants play into your drive for success?
It made me a lot more focused on what I felt the future needed to hold for myself and my family. My father made many sacrifices to be here and went through some tough times. So I felt like I had a duty to push that narrative forward and push that story forward for the next generation that’s coming in.
Where do you see the Jon Basil brand in the next 5 to 10 years?
We want to be operating in multiple countries around the world. And we want the true essence of the brand and its feeling to remain the same, but the influence of the cultures to merge into it. I see a very colorful, global brand. But I want it to expand beyond tequila, and I want the meaning behind the brand, what it stands for and what we stand for to be at the forefront.
Paula J. Shelton is a freelance writer and journalist based in Chicago. Find her on social @beboldshineon.