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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

MOVERS and SHAKERS: James Carling, President of the Ventura Limoncello Company Our Coverage Sponsored by Bergen Linen

James Carling

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James Carling is the president of the Ventura Limoncello Company in Ventura, California. Founded in 2007, their mission is to be America’s premier producer of Limoncello. They have succeeded by producing America’s highest rated Limoncello: Ventura Limoncello Originale and other award-winning liqueurs. Their liqueurs are all-natural and stay true to their three generation old Italian family recipe.

James grew up in New York and began his career in print publishing in the early Eighties. He enjoyed graphic design and typography. After a move to Chicago to work in the advertising production area, he gained additional experience with the new PC market. Using these skills, and employing them with the new “desktop publishing” field that was emerging, he changed career paths into systems implementation. James also focused his attention on the direct to consumer (catalog) industry, and he became an expert in his field. This brought him to the Los Angeles area in the early Nineties.

Following a twenty year career in the direct to consumer industry, James decided it was time to build his own company and brand. Over his career, he acquired many of the skills that would be needed to create Ventura Limoncello: Executive Management, Marketing, Branding, Product, Inventory, Fulfillment, and Customer Service, to name a few. He lives in the “land of lemons” and was making liqueurs at home for several years. This was going to be his new career: Liqueur producer. He did face a few challenges learning the ropes in the distilled spirits industry, but finds personal satisfaction in the liqueurs he produces.

Product is king. He believes this mantra of business. If you are going to make something, make it well. James began with the release of Ventura Limoncello Originale early in 2008. It went on to win a Gold Medal at the 2008 SF World Spirits Competition, the first of five medals in that competition. Later that year, he released their Ventura Limoncello Crema. The lemon cream liqueur went on to be recognized with a Gold Medal at the 2010 LA SIP Awards. In 2011, Orangecello Blood Orange was released, and was immediately recognized as the overall Best Fruit Liqueur, Double Gold Medal at the 2011 SF World Spirits Competition.

He is currently working on development of new liqueur flavors. He is also challenging his state’s legislature to improve the business landscape for the artisan distillers in California. For example, unlike wineries and breweries, California distillers cannot sell direct to consumers. Over 40 states (like New York) have amended their laws to support their artisan distillers. It is an uphill battle, but being a New Yorker by birth, he is not one to back down from what’s right. We are so pleased to welcome James Carling as our newest Mover and Shaker! Peachy Deegan interviewed James for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: 
What did you love most about your childhood in New York, and New York itself at that time? 
James Carling: What is not to love, New York was an amazing place to grow up. Sports (Mets & Jets winning championships), Skyline (World Trade Center being built), the transition of Times Square and the Central Park Zoo.

Did you like lemons as a kid? 
I had a lemonade stand a few times in the summer, so I would say I liked lemons. I liked sour pickles from the deli more though.

They say when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. Are you modifying that maxim? 
I’ve been trying to change “lemonade” to “Limoncello”, but unfortunately, I was not the first one to say it… Danny DeVito had some Limoncello press a few years back and he was quoted on that one.

How many restaurants in America can you find Ventura Limoncello in today, and by region, how does it break down percentage-wise? 
We are currently in approximately 675 restaurants nationwide. Close to 90% of them are in California. We are slowly making headway in other states: Florida has 3%, New York 2%,

What should everyone know about Ventura Limoncello that they might not know yet? 
Many people believe Limoncello is just for an after dinner digestif. Ventura Limoncello has also proven to be an amazing cocktail mixer and ingredient in cooking.

What does making a brand in America mean to you? 
Our goal is to produce “America’s Best Limoncello” by combining our old world family recipe with new world ingredients. Being made in America is something we are very proud of. It is not just the Limoncello, we work with many USA made components in our production and packaging as well.

What should East Coasters understand about the California government, and what would you change about the laws in California? 
I think the best way to describe the differences would be this: NY Governor Cuomo has signed several pieces of legislation in New York that supports the artisan distillers in his state. Support including direct to consumer sales, farmers markets tastings/ sales and I read that there will even be a “Made in NY” liquor shop in Grand Central Station soon. California is one of the few states left (there are over 40 now) that have not amended their distilled spirits laws. Wineries and breweries yes, but distilled spirits, not yet. I would really like a “level playing field” that allows visitors to our production facility for tours and tastings, and they can leave with a bottle (or two) of our liqueurs.

Do you think alcohol laws should be on the federal level instead and what do you think they should be? 
I still believe that states should legislate liquor as they (and their constituents) see fit. It does make it difficult to expand a brand into new markets but if the people want change, they can create that. Also, I do not see the federal government as an effective organization to manage local licensing enforcement issues. States are better suited for that. Alcohol should be considered a controlled substance and should be regulated. We need to do our best to keep it out of the hands of minors. But I also believe, like most things, enjoyed in moderation, it is a good thing.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had several strong mentors. For the “pursuit of excellence”, I would have to say Lance Winters of St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA has been the most influential. He creates amazing distilled spirits and runs his organization in a way that I strive to emulate. Plus, we don’t create competing products (haha)…

What are you proudest of and why? 
All of the awards and positive reviews our liqueurs have received over the years. This is what keeps us going and also lets us know we’re very consistent in producing our products.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
Over my career I have not had an opportunity to merge or sell a company. I think that would be an interesting process to go through.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
In addition to all the awards our liqueurs have received, we were recognized as Small Business of the Year in Ventura in 2008. We’re proud of that.

What one word best describes you and why? 
Integrity. To a fault, I have no issues in letting people know about our company and brand. The good, the bad and the ugly. I follow up and do what I say I will do.

What do you take your sense of identity from? 
More than anything, I identify with my “Italian” side. I am a true American with English (come on, my name is James Carling), Dutch, Spanish and Italian in my bloodline. But there is something about my Italian side that drives my passions. I married a true (off the boat) Italian and she has helped me tap further into those roots.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
 The top of the Empire State Building. A 360 degree view of the entire city. 
And Ventura? 
Grant Park, a hillside park with 360 degree views of Ventura: Downtown, the Pacific Ocean, Channel Islands and the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
I’ve enjoyed Eataly since it opened. I love salami and prosciutto… 
And Ventura? 
Ventura Surf Shop. A great local store supporting one of my favorite activities.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why? 
Sidney Frank. The man is a marketing genius when it comes to distilled spirits. He was responsible for Grey Goose and Jagermeister.

What is your favorite drink? 
A Limoncello Lemon Drop (of course)!

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Funniest or most embarrassing (are they the same in this case?). Being that I’m in the liquor industry, I possess decent bartending skills. I was mixing up a cocktail for a friend and I. Another party guest, whom I did not know, asked what I was mixing, and when I told him a negroni, he said he would like one of those. After I made it and gave it to him, he asked where my tip jar was, as if I was the party bartender…

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
Favorite, in Manhattan? That’s really tough. If I have to pick ONE.. When I’m in Manhattan, I always eat at Mezzaluna on the upper east side (3rd & 74th). Small, tight, Italian chef and host, great food and a wood burning pizza oven and a pizza maker who knows what he is doing. Just wish they carried Ventura Limoncello. 
And Ventura? 
Again, tough choices. I am going with Lure Fish House on California Street. Fresh seafood and oysters, and they serve Limoncello Lemon Drops and Orangecello Orange Drops.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? 
And Ventura? 
I hate to admit I don’t read much. Besides business books, when I do read, it is mostly science fiction/ fantasy or spy thrillers (James Bond series). None of these have plots or characters based in Manhattan nor Ventura.

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
Ok, I’m going to be real selfish and personal with this answer: Keith Urban. So I could spend a day with Nicole Kidman… don’t tell my wife

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
A building, specifically, a brownstone. I would name it Carling Manor. Not sure why, just always thought that would be cool. 
And Ventura? 
A surf spot would be fun. We already have many, but to hear someone say, “we are going to Carling Point” would be special.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Not sure if you are asking for an athletic or “sports” experience. I wasn’t very athletic when I lived there, so I’m going with sports experience: 1969, Mets win the World Series. I was a boy at the time and became a Mets fan for life. 
And Ventura?
Definitely some of the best waves I’ve ever ridden. During a particularly large wave day a few years ago, I caught a wave that took me about a third of a mile down the beach, got in a barrel, got out, and caught two sections. Best part was a buddy saw the whole thing. Worst part, I had to walk back…

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Go to the top of the Empire State Building. I just love it there. 
And Ventura? 
Cocktails at the rooftop bar at Watermark on Main in downtown.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 
I’m going to go with John Lennon on this one. He really had an interesting view and take of events of his day. I would like to understand where some of that came from.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
Again, so many Manhattan choices, but in my opinion, nothing beats going to The Met. I love all the exhibits, especially the impressionists. 
 And Ventura? 
Every year our County Fair brings in a popular act from the eighties, always a fun time. I’ve relived some younger times with Styx, Pat Benatar and Foreigner there.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
We are very water conscience here in California. I think I’m personally doing a better job managing our water use.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? 
Underrated: Washington Square Park. Yes, popular, but not as popular as several other places. Great people watching and chilling on a nice day. 
Overrated: Times Square. It used to be funky, now it’s brand central. 
And Ventura? 
Underrated: The entire city experience. Ventura has always been that “place on the way to Santa Barbara” for Los Angelinos. We’ve grown beyond that. 
Overrated: I’m not sure there is anything “overrated” here, just due to size.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 
Easy: Cuisine and Drinks. Keeps me in touch with what is going on in Manhattan and ideas for my next visit.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
Over the past few years, I’ve really learned to love Soccer. US National Team, LA Galaxy and AS Roma are my teams. I have also taken an interest in the new NYFC team, I really love the logo and reminds me of a subway token (yes, I’m old enough to know about those). I dream of Ventura Limoncello being successful enough to be a MLS partner. I think it would be a great fit.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? Anyone can email me at

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