By "Metal" Tim Henderson
It was over 25 years ago that local Cabo San Lucas architect Marco Monroy was introduced to the Red Rocker and his life would change forever getting into business with the former VAN HALEN singer. For the inaugural edition of BraveWords' delicious new food drink blog appropriately titled Eat, Drink & Be Metal!, we caught up with Monroy recently to discuss the roots of SAMMY HAGAR's famous Mexican rock n' roll hang-out called Cabo Wabo, which is fast-approaching its 25th anniversary.
BraveWords: What’s it like working with the Red Rocker? What kind of a business relationship do you guys have?
Monroy: "You know what, we’re friends before we’re business partners. We started as friends. I was actually the architect and the designer for the cantina for the Cabo Wabo here. Basically me and Sammy became friends about 25 years ago here in Cabo. Later on he decided he wanted to do a little bar that tried to be a monster. He did a little contest between the architects here. I won the contest and then I designed and built the Cabo Wabo Cantina for Van Halen, for the band at that time. 1989. So you know we were friends before we became business partners. I’m an architect by trade and destiny brought me to the rock and roll business."
BraveWords: Can you give me a gauge of the success story from the beginning? Was it a struggle, did it click immediately or has it taken a little bit of time to built it to where it’s at right now?
Monroy: "At the time when the cantina was built, Cabo San Lucas was a very small town, so the cantina was a little big for the town. So it had a few rough years when the business started. I did not get involved in the cantina with Sammy until 1994, ‘cause you know I built and designed it and then left it with them and took off. The cantina was not doing good and one day Sammy phoned me and told me 'hey, I’m spinning out from Van Halen' and that’s why I came in and became his partner. Later on we started with the tequila and from the day I took over it’s been a success. We’ve done very good."
BraveWords: It’s an incredible success story.
Monroy: "It’s been a great journey for both me and Sammy."
BraveWords: And obviously a parade of people come through here, probably more so on the days when cruise ships are in town?
Monroy: "Oh, absolutely. We open up at 8:00 AM in the morning, so we have people for the cruise ships that come down and have drinks through the day. We have a band in the morning, we have a band in the afternoon in the patio, an acoustic set, and then we have our house band inside the club every night. So basically we have live music all day long."
BraveWords: It’s a 24/7 party, right?
BraveWords: Talk about the success of the Cabo Wabo tequila, in terms of an American coming into this market. Is Sammy taking over the tequila market? How have some of the other tequila manufacturers taken Cabo Wabo?
Monroy: "Well, as you know tequila is and needs to be produced in mainland Mexico, which is the state of Jalisco and a few other areas in Mexico. We do not produce the tequila here. The local community here really see us more as a cantina and as a rock and roll place than a tequila brand. It’s not until right now really that they’re realizing really how big the tequila has gotten, so, you know, I think it’s been a positive and it’s been a perfect match of music, tequila, Cabo and Mexico."
BraveWords: What percentage of the market is Cabo Wabo in Mexico.
Monroy: "Very, very little. We only sell in Cabo San Lucas, a little bit in Cancun, and now that Skyy has acquired the brand (Sammy sold it for $80 million in 2007), it's in Puerto Vallarta and a few other bases. We’re mostly a US brand of tequila, just like Patrón is right now. But I think things are going to change with the new Skyy team. They have a great sales and promotion program in Mexico, and it's available at many Mexican tourist destinations."
BraveWords: We keep hearing the negative press with the Mexican Drug War. How has that affected your business?
Monroy: "It has definitely affected not only our business, you know, but Mexico as a tourist destination. When somebody sees an hour of CNN, bad news and all the drugs and all the violence that is happening, they obviously get concerned, but that really does not happen here in Cabo, that’s mostly the towns of the border. Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, and all the border towns. And there is a lot of violence and hopefully the government will be able to control it. This is really a result of the President really cracking down on all the drug cartels. So you know it’s had a negative impact, hopefully in the long run it will continue cracking down on all these cartels."
BraveWords: Obviously this is a major tourist destination, how has the struggling US economy affected you Cabo?
Monroy: "It has, yes, just like anywhere else. People are spending less. Thankfully we have, and you can judge for yourself, we have one of the best weathers in the world. It’s a beautiful place and people will continue to come here."
BraveWords: And you are based here, or do you have a base in San Diego, too?
Monroy: "I commute. I spend my time between San Diego and Cabo San Lucas. I was born and raised in Mexico City and lived in Cabo for over 25 years."
BraveWords: So you’re a rock fan yourself then?
Monroy: "I’m a rock fan. Love Sammy and all his music. That’s where we became friends in the first place, yeah."
BraveWords: So this must be a dream gig for you then. This is not even be a job for you, right?
Monroy: "It is a job but it’s a fun job, so it could be a lot worse."
BraveWords: Let's get back to tequila itself. Why is Jalisco the particular region for harvesting?
Monroy: "Well that’s really where tequila was born, and that’s where the blue agave mostly gets grown. So it’s a denomination of region, just like champagne is done in Champagne, although you can drink it anywhere in the world. Tequila, a hundred percent agave tequila comes from the state of Jalisco. A small portion of the state of Tamaulipas in north of Mexico, but mostly it’s the state of Jalisco and some surrounding areas. So it’s a denomination of a region, and that’s how they control that tequila’s really tequila and not any kind of mescal or anything else."
BraveWords: Now in terms of who invented the flavor, is that a pure Sammy thing, is it something that you were involved with?
Monroy: "It’s both me and Sammy. We never really thought it was going to be the biz that it became to be. We really started because we both loved tequila and Mexican food. We took a trip to Jalisco and tried all the different tequilas, chose one that we like, and the first idea was to bring it here to the cantina, so we could serve it to our clients and people here."
BraveWords: And then the name came after?
Monroy: "Well, the name was Cabo Wabo, so that’s why we chose the name Cabo Wabo, it was tequila for the cantina. But it was mostly Sammy, you know, being a wine connoisseur, a food guy, that chose the kind of tequila we liked."
BraveWords: Now there’s three or four brands?
Monroy: "There’s classes of tequila. It’s the same brand, it’s all Cabo Wabo. It’s the same juice. What happens is after distillation you get what you call the Blanco, the Silver tequila, and that same juice if you put it in a barrel for four to six months it becomes a Reposado, and then if you leave it over a year in the barrel then it becomes an Añejo, and then we have Uno, which is the extra Añejo, which is 36 months. So it’s basically the same juice, just aged differently."
BraveWords: To tequila connoisseurs, how does it rate?
Monroy: "I think we make the best product on the market, and people that know about tequila love our tequila. The idea was, just go find the best tequila that we could ever find. And that’s really what we chose and what it’s been from the beginning. So it’s not like we started with a business plan where we said we’re going to come at a tier price of x and x. I mean, we just chose the best tequila we could find, and that’s how it started."
BraveWords: All the peripheral stuff that we see in your little kiosk in terms of t-shirts and stuff, that must be doing very well for you.
Monroy: "Yes, we do very good sales in merchandising."
BraveWords: And the music in the bar, who programs that?
Monroy: "We have a local deejay, Sammy’s tour guy and production managers make out the list for us, for the thing, but we play all kinds of music. We play rock and roll, we play dance music, it’s just all about having fun. Really the love of the music, it’s not about sticking to a certain kind of music, although we obviously play a lot of Sammy and his music. And we have a band every night."
BraveWords: Well it’s an incredible vibe when you walk into this place. And year round, there must be a little bit of a lull during your winter season?
Monroy: "Well, a little bit of the winter, that’s when Sammy’s gone. Summer season’s really good for us. More that what happens is the kind of people that visit Cabo change. So we just had summer where we get more a family thing. The winter we get more of a golf, fishing kind of crowd for October for the fishing tournaments. So the crowd changes a little bit, but our base client pretty much remains the same all year."
BraveWords: How much tequila do you go through?
Monroy: "Between the store and the bar, about 4000 cases a year. A lot.
BraveWords: How has the menu expanded over time?
Monroy: "It has actually not really expanded but just refined itself and became smaller. We don’t really have a big menu. We have a menu that people expect."
BraveWords: Do you find that other musicians will come in and then they’ll end up jamming downstairs?
Monroy: "Oh, yeah, absolutely. (THE WHO's) John Entwistle used to be here four or five times a year, and he would get on stage with the band and play all the time."
BraveWords: Who is the most frequent rocker or regular? Or actually who lives here?
Monroy: "Chad Smith (CHICKENFOOT, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) has a house here. Toby Keith spends a lot of time here. Michael Anthony comes here quite a bit. Every two or three weeks we get somebody from the music industry."
BraveWords: If someone big like a John Entwistle is in town, would he contact you, or would Sammy, would there be some kind of a setup like that?
Monroy: "With time they become friends with the club and they just call us up or send us an e-mail, and say 'hey, I’m gonna be there next week' and just come over and have drinks. It’s never like a planned session. They come and have drinks and it happens."
For more details on Cabo Wabo visit Cabowabocantina.com
Have an idea for Eat, Drink & Be Metal!? Contact us at email@example.com
(Thanks to Cabo Wabo for letting us take some killer photos of inside and out!)