Q&A: Rande Gerber on Family, George Clooney, and Accidentally Starting a Billion-Dollar Brand
Plus: the secret story of Clooney and Crawford ending up in bed together.
Rande Gerber is the rare man who’s found a way to mix business and pleasure—with wildly successful results.
Gerber, who rose to prominence as a model in the ’80s, quickly forwent catwalks and photo studios in favor of the greener pastures of the nightlife industry. In 1991, he opened the The Whiskey, a sumptuous joint in New York City’s equally sumptuous Paramount Hotel. Featuring top-notch cocktails and elevated bar food—plus décor by Philippe Stark, the peerless French interior designer—it was one of the first venues of its kind: the type of hotel bar that’s a destination, not a pit stop.
The venue has since closed, but Gerber hasn’t slowed down a bit. Through his company, Gerber Group, he’s launched more than 40 such upmarket bars and restaurants in the years since, mostly in opulent hotels. If you travel regularly on business—and have a habit of putting yourself up in posh neighborhoods—it’s a good bet you’ve been to some: Whiskey Blue, at the W Buckhead in Atlanta? Gerber. Skybar, on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles? Gerber. Manhattan’s legendary Mr. Purple? That’s Gerber, too.
If all that gives the impression of a man singularly focused on 24/7 business, you’re wrong; his personal life has been no less blissful. For the past two decades, he’s been married to the one and only Cindy Crawford. They have two kids: Kaia and Presley. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that both of them are models, too. (In fact, for Kaia, “model” is a bit of an understatement. At just 17 years old, she has 4.1 million followers on Instagram. She’s walked for Prada, Chanel, Burberry, and Alexander Wang. She’s appeared in pretty much every major fashion glossy, including on the cover of Vogue Paris. Oh, and last year, she won Model of the Year at The Fashion Awards. Yeah. You can call her a supermodel now.)
Still, despite the bottomless résumé and globe-trotting family, Gerber somehow found time to sneak in a side hustle—one that quickly became a main hustle. You may have heard of it: Casamigos.
The now-mainstay tequila brand started, in 2013, as the brainchild of three men: Gerber; Mike Meldman, the international real estate developer; and George Clooney, the… Yes, that George Clooney. All three are equal partners, but each man offers a different asset, a Holy Trinity of business savvy. Meldman brings the party. Clooney brings star power (and a pretty face—great for marketing). Gerber brings keen-eyed business savvy. And it’s paid off in a big way.
In 2017, the trio sold Casamigos to Diageo, the liquor industry conglomerate, for an eye-popping $1 billion ($700 million off the bat; $300 million to come later, contingent on brand performance). At that point, nine figures richer overnight, most men would buy a beach in The Maldives and never look at a desk again. Not Gerber. To date, he’s stayed on as the de facto creative director of Casamigos.
Recently, this has meant one major move: expansion. Last year, Casamigos veered away from strictly tequila and released their first mezcal, the Joven. Unlike the company’s traditional bottles—clear glass, with colorful labels—the mezcal is packaged entirely in a dusty black. Yes, like their tequilas, it still bears hand-inscribed signatures of Gerber and Clooney. Oh, and take it from me: the stuff is delicious, the type of smoky liquor that’s so smooth you doubt it’s even alcoholic—until you’re suddenly three sheets to the wind.
We caught up with the man behind the magic to pick his brain about family, fatherhood, business, crazy Clooney stories (including that one time he ended up in bed with Crawford), and, of course, tequila. Cheers.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
It’s our understanding that Casamigos is a brand you’ve been hands-on with since its founding. Can you describe your role in getting it off the ground, and discuss your daily responsibilities?
I’m in the office every day and actively participate in each creative decision for the company. I’m incredibly detail-oriented and everything we do comes from our Malibu office to develop innovative marketing for the brand.
Casamigos was created out of our desire to drink the best tequila. At the time, George and I were building homes in Mexico, and, as one does when you spend time in Mexico, we were drinking a lot of tequila. We would go to different restaurants and bars, and bartenders would suggest different tequilas—some really expensive, some not so expensive, some good, some not so good. They all had one thing in common: they burned going down. With that, George turned to me and said, “Why don’t we just make our own, one that’s perfect for us?”
So we did.
Did you ever imagine Casamigos, when you first conceived the idea, would be where it is today?
It was never our intention to start a tequila company. It was made for ourselves to drink and share with all of our friends at our homes in Mexico. We wanted the best tasting, smoothest tequila, one that didn’t have to be covered up with salt or lime. We wanted to be able to drink it all night long and not be hungover in the morning. So we spent months researching master distillers and distilleries and found one in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. It took 700 bottles of samples, but we finally got it perfect.
Cut to two years later—we got a call from our distillery saying we had a problem. They said, “Either you guys are selling this, or you’re drinking way too much. We’re sending you 1,000 bottles a year and we can’t keep doing that and calling them samples. So you need to get licensed to sell.”
After that call, I asked George what he wanted to do. He said, “Let’s get licensed. If we only sell one bottle, it doesn’t matter. As long as we get to keep drinking our tequila, we’re happy.” So we started the company and it took off immediately. People knew that we had something special—not your typical tequila.
Casamigos recently came out with a mezcal. What inspired you to expand the brand away from just tequila? Will you branch out to other liquors, as well?
We were given mezcals to try a few years ago and there was one we really loved. At the time, all of our attention was focused on sharing Casamigos tequila with the world, but we stayed in touch with the family that created that mezcal and knew one day it would become part of the Casamigos family. We’re starting with the one, but there are others in the works which won’t be released until they are as perfect as the Joven.
What is your vision for the brand moving forward?
We are always thinking ahead and have some ideas in the works—that I can’t share yet—but we are really proud of what we have done and are focused on the continued growth of our tequila and mezcal.
How would you describe your management philosophy?
Casamigos is a very different business and, because we made it for us, we had to learn the business as we built it. We don’t follow any rules or look at other brands. We do everything in house and do things our own way. So far it has worked out.
What’s the office culture like at Casamigos? How do you keep employees happy in this day and age, where strict schedules are gone and awesome perks are the norm?
We have a great office. It’s in a big loft in Malibu. There’s a pool table, a ping pong table, a bunch of couches, and, of course, a bar, so everyone kind of floats around. It’s a really social atmosphere and everyone always wants to be there.
We collaborate on everything. If I have an idea, we all sit around. Our office is a big open loft. I don’t have my own office, everyone is moving around, on the couch, at the bar, shooting pool. It’s very collaborative, working together.
To what do you attribute your great success?
Consumers are smart and know what they like, and they want the best. They love and appreciate the authenticity and quality of Casamigos. It’s very easy to drink and people appreciate the fact that they can drink it as George and I do, straight up or on the rocks. George and I made Casamigos out of our desire to drink the best-tasting, smoothest tequila. We don’t follow any rules, we do everything our own way. Consumers understand that Casamigos is different, it’s our lifestyle and it’s what we drink.
Is there a behind-the-scenes story about working with George Clooney that you’d be willing to share for our readers? We’ve read that he’s a prankster. Is that the case in business, as well?
Man, there are so many… One night, we were discussing ideas on design, names, marketing, et cetera, over a bottle of Casamigos—which we finished, by the way. We were a bit buzzed and got a ride back to my house, where he stays when he comes out to the beach. We have a guest house directly on the beach, and that’s where he usually stays, but, that night, he didn’t feel like walking down the few steps to it, so I put him in our guest room in the main house.
At about 3:00 a.m., Cindy noticed I wasn’t in bed and decided to walk around to see if I fell asleep in the guest room, which is where I stay when I am out late. She sees who she thinks is me face down with my clothes on and gets into bed. A minute later, she realizes it’s George. They were both confused—George thought he wandered into the master bedroom, and Cindy thought it was me in the guest room, since George stays in the beach house.
Needless to say, we all laughed about it, and that ended up being our first commercial: “Drink Casamigos and wake up with Cindy Crawford.” Or, as Cindy likes to say, “Drink Casamigos and wake up with George Clooney.”
Parenting is a big thing for us here at Best Life. How do you balance being an awesome dad and running both a successful business and celebrity image?
Cindy and I have been really hands-on parents. We are very proud of them and support the paths they are passionate about. When I meet people from my past, they’re not really shocked to see where my life has taken me.
We read recently that you celebrated your 20th anniversary with your wife. (Congrats!) What are the keys to a happy marriage?
Cindy has said that tequila is the key to a happy marriage. I can’t argue with that!
You’ve been running successful nightlife companies for decades. Any sage advice for guys looking to break into the business?
I started with one [club] and turned it into more than 30 across the United States and Europe. My advice is to open a place where you would personally want to hang out. It’s the same reason we made Casamigos—we made it for us to drink. I built places for myself, places my friends and I wanted to go. It was my party every night and, whether I was there or not, the party went on.
It’s really important to understand that, yes, it’s a fun business, and it’s easy to get caught up in the fun part, but you can’t forget that it’s a business. It’s also important to pay attention to the details. I always think, if I notice it, everyone else does. If you do something great, people will take notice.
Are there any fun facts about Casamigos that you’d be willing to share?
Every batch is approved by our master distiller, George, and myself before going into the bottle. Casamigos was never intended to be sold to the public and there was no fancy bottles or packaging involved. George and I were sitting in my restaurant, Café Habana, in Malibu, before Casamigos had launched to the public and were drinking from one of the plastic sample bottles we had been getting it in for two years and thought it is was perfect as is. Let’s just make it glass, put a cork in it, and name it after our homes in Mexico: Casamigos.
How do you drink your tequila? Sorry–your Casamigos?
Neat. And on the rocks.
Lead image by Camilo Rios
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