Sammy Hagar and Guy Fieri Reveal The Two Key Ingredients of Entrepreneurial Success

Famed Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar and Hollywood Walk of Fame Restaurateur Guy Fieri found in each other the complementary skills they needed to achieve entrepreneurial success when creating their tequila brand, Santo Spirits.

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By Dr. Rod Berger • Dec 12, 2022 Originally published Dec 12, 2022

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There was John and Paul and then John and Oko. Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Sure, we've had great pairings on the screen, in the recording studio, and on stage, but mixing sectors is taking on a whole new life and energy.

Rocker Sammy Hagar never plays second-fiddle to anyone unless you're a bleach-blonde, larger-than-life flavor junkie who hunts down good times like it's a profession. We're, of course, talking about Guy Fieri.

Hagar and Fieri, both from small towns in California, share a love of entertainment and experience and are continuing to bring that to consumers with more offerings from the company Santo Spirits.

Entrepreneur spent time with the duo to dig deeper into the roots of their partnership and, more importantly, friendship.

Known affectionately as the "Godfather of Tequila," Hagar has been on the spirits scene long before Ryan Reynolds, George Clooney, Conor McGregor, Bryan Cranston, or Charles Barkley cashed in on the distillery run that has made billions worldwide.

Hagar attributes much of his success in the spirit industry to the gritty and comforting roots of his rearing in the lettuce fields of Salinas, California. "We grew up poor, but we always had a garden. My grandma and my mom canned everything. We ate good tomatoes all year round," he says. Hagar remembers the smell wafting yards away from his artisanal chef and grandfather's trailer-turned Italian-bistro. "He made his own cheese, pasta and olive oil. He even made his own wine! I would walk towards his trailer, and it was like a deli — it smelled so damn good!"

Related: 'No One Believed' This Black Founder Was the Owner of a Liquor Brand in 2012. He Launched to Great Acclaim — Then Lost It All. Here's How He Made a Multi-Million-Dollar Comeback.

The romanticism of his relationship with food and family emanates in his description and experience of flavors today. He didn't plan on a spirits biz, but good taste pulled him in like many things in his life. Hagar leans into the quality of the food and spirit industry, maybe because he only first experienced a restaurant at the ripe age of 24.

Wine was Hagar's first love, and through a few unexpected and global turns, he found himself in Jalisco, Mexico sipping tequila. What started with Cabo Wabo eventually expanded into new ventures. "Good tequila tastes like the earth with salt and citrus. Overtones, fruity, herbaceous, time and limit are all involved. Santo Tequila Blanco, you can drink it by itself. There are so many notes in it."

"Fieri grows peaches all around the distillery, and you can taste and smell the peaches in there. It's such a wonderful agave spirit. Out of a Blanco tequila, I can name 15 different things that I smell in ours because there's nothing else in it. Others might smell like sugar or honey because they try to bring it up with agave syrups. A lot of tequila is not as pure as it should be anymore."

Before tequila, Fieri was drinking the Kool-Aid

Years before Fieri was smashing flavor profiles on our screens, he was selling Kool-Aid in his neighborhood. Known for rolling his sleeves up, Fieri literally dipped his youthful arm into pitchers of the iconic 80's beverage until his father noticed. "My dad kicked me out of the Kool-Aid business after he caught me with a purple arm. I'd lost my stirring stick, my dog took it, and my dad busted me. He said, 'That's it, you're out.'"

The budding beverage king learned a valuable lesson as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. "I always had a couple of businesses going as a kid. I was a budding entrepreneur growing up in the angelic town of Ferndale, California. I always had businesses, and tourists were always coming through. I'd buy penny candy from the candy store and sell it for a nickel across the street with my own little booth made out of cardboard. People couldn't believe this little kid was making money." While his entrepreneurial Kool-Aid days are behind him, it wasn't the only time Fieri would go on to make a profit selling beverages (albeit of the alcoholic variety).

Enter the dream team

When Hagar sold Cabo Wabo, Fieri was crushed — his restaurant self-reported selling more Cabo Wabo than any restaurant in the country.

They talked. Hagar was ready to chill and enjoy the well-earned sips that had solidified his place as an entrepreneur. Fieri wanted to partner up to build a spirits company with Hagar, who was reticent. Call me in a decade, and maybe I'll be ready, Hagar replied.

Fieri was ready even if the decade bloated a couple of years before circling back with Hagar. This time it was Hagar doing the calling, and Santo Spirits was born.

Bandmates

For decades Hagar has approached life and business, aiming to be the best. "Quite honestly, when I joined Van Halen, I thought if I couldn't sing better than the previous guy [David Lee Roth], I wouldn't have joined the band." By all accounts, Hagar has found a bandmate in Fieri that embodies a key element of success for entrepreneurs — complementary skills and a matched passion for winning.

Fieri provides advice for entrepreneurs in something he adlibs the 25/8 rule. "If you don't have spark, you don't have sh-t. But it takes hard work. It's one of the things this country was founded on and the sacrifices our veterans made. Get the 40-hour workweek out of your mind. You've got to work 24/7, and in my book, it's more like 25/8. But it's important to remember that you also live 25/8. Don't make work and life separate, make it the same thing, and put it all together."

Hagar realized corporate success through gates of established fame and beliefs that allowed him to bring passion over profits to his pursuits outside of music. "I came through music and had more success, fame, and fortune than anyone could ever want in their lives. When I started doing business deals, it was strictly out of passion and creativity, with a strong connection to music." It's become personal for Hagar, who finds peace and reward in his Hagar Family Foundation, providing services for kids and families in need. Hagar remembers being poor and sees his job as assisting communities and giving back.

Hagar's mother, if not for an unexpected supporter, was given typing classes that resulted in an office job and away from day-labor work in the fields. Hagar repeatedly shares, "What if? What if she wasn't so lucky?"

Don't make the mistake of thinking a little tequila can knock these two back. Hagar and Fieri have discovered the entrepreneurial recipe that celebrates friendship, revenue and a splash of legacy to personalize the business of experience.

Most entrepreneur "how to" books scoff at friends going into business together. I guess spirits and rock-n-roll are just a tad bit more exciting than widgets. Hagar and Fieri will be rocking the sipping industry while most of us are rocking our email and spreadsheets. Salud!

Dr. Rod Berger

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Senior Advisor

Dr. Rod Berger travels the world in search of entrepreneurial stories. Over the last 12 months, Berger has been to 7 countries capturing stories of entrepreneurs, entertainers, athletes and newsmakers. Berger is a guest lecturer at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

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