Perry Vinson and True Legends Bar and Grille

If someone had told me 35 years ago that my high school buddy Perry Vinson, who I worked with bussing tables at the old Golden Hour at U-City, would some day have his own restaurant in Liberty Lake, I would have never believed them. I would have been even more skeptical if they had told me that he would also own the local Red Bull distributorship.
As I visited with my old happy-go-lucky friend recently at his new place, True Legends, it occurred to me that his path to the present was all about keeping his nose to the grindstone while keeping an eye out for the next opportunity to seize.

Not being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Perry worked at the Chapter 11 restaurant while getting a Business Administration degree from Eastern. He also got married and by the time he graduated he was the father of two kids. Deciding against going into management with Chapter 11, Perry took a job with the Southland Corporation as a management trainee overseeing three 7-Elevin stores in Kalispell, Montana.
“I made something like $17,500 a year at that first job,” he said. “I actually took a pay cut from what I was making going through college.”  While it was a job working for a big company and allowed him to use his degree, it did not pay enough to cover the bills.
“It got to where I had to hock my stereo each month to pay rent and then I would buy it back when I got paid,” he said, adding that finally during a month when his car broke down, he was unable to retrieve his stereo.
This hand-to-mouth existence was not what he had worked his way through college for and so when he heard about a better job with Southland in Tri-Cities, Perry was eager to go for it and so he called his boss in Missoula and told him that he wanted to interview for the job.

“He told me no because he had plans for me,” Perry said. Thinking of his family and what he wanted for them, Perry risked his job and called his boss’s boss who gave him an interview and then the job.
So Perry packed up his little family and left the beautiful scenery of Kalispell and his long lost stereo behind and moved to the arid surroundings of the Tri-Cities where the grass was greener. He went from overseeing three stores to nine stores and received a pay increase that kept him well out of hock. Within a year his stores in Montana were sold and his old job had vanished. It was a good move all the way around.
After four years with Southland in the Tri-Cities, things began to slow down and so he interviewed with Quick Stop in Spokane and got the job as marketing manager for their 15 stores. But after four years with them, Quick Stop decided to sell out and Perry had to make a decision.
“I had a choice between unemployment or buying two of their stores,” he said. So for the next eleven years Perry and his wife operated the Quick Stops at Fancher and Trent and the one on Sprague just east of Vista.
“It was a sweet deal for a while but then the margins began to shrink and minimum wage kept going up and it seemed like everything was working against you,” he said.
“When the couplet started going in along Sprague, I could see the handwriting on the wall and so I sold the Sprague store.”
Leaving his wife to run the Trent store, Perry took a job with Full Sail, a micro brewing company out of Hood River, Oregon. He loved his new job so much that he almost missed out on the next great opportunity that came along.
“A headhunter called me from Seattle and asked me what I thought of this new Red Bull thing,” he said. “I told him I wasn’t interested. I loved what I was doing.” Three months later, he ran into an old friend who had recently gone to work as a rep for Red Bull. The guy oozed with energy over the Austrian import and convinced Perry to come over.
At first Perry was a rep for the corporation and then went to work managing Alert Distrbuting, the local Red Bull distributor. For about a year and a half Perry got more and more jacked on Red Bull while his boss, whose office was in Yakima, got more and more burned out.
“He emailed me and said he wanted X amount of dollars per case and that was it,” Perry said, adding that his demands were not realistic and that if they tried to meet them they would lose the brand in six months. So Perry went down to Yakima to reason with headquarters and present them with a realistic projection report.
“I told them to just relax. They would get what they wanted but it would take three years.” he said. “He told me that if I was so hyped on Red Bull then I should buy the distributorship from him. I said that I would if he would finance me and he said that if I gave him a check for $100,000 as down payment then he’d do it.”
It was an opportunity that he could not afford, but could not pass up on either. “I liquidated my 401K and scraped up everything I had but could only raise $50,000,” he said, explaining that his recent divorce left him a bit short. But being resourceful and determined, Perry convinced a friend to get a loan for the rest. The friend did and Perry made every payment for the loan and had it and the entire purchase paid off within two and a half years. The friend continues to get paid monthly, having a ten percent stake in Alert.
It was a classic example of putting your money where your mouth is. “My three year projection was not even close,” he said. “They would have stayed had they believed that my projections were accurate let alone that they got blown away.”
This month one of his salesmen will do more than the entire distributorship did in a month when Perry bought it four and a half years ago. Back then it was a three man company, now it has nine employees with six salesmen. “Right now we are trending on a nine percent increase in sales this year,” he said. Not bad considering this economy and the rise in competition.
While there is no end in sight to the Red Bull phenomenon, Perry felt he needed to diversify. “Red Bull could come to me tomorrow and say thanks for the years of service but we just sold to Pepsi. See you later,” he said, adding that he had been looking at several options when the restaurant that his girlfriend, Jennifer, worked at became available. So he picked up the building and business and got back into the hospitality trade after a thirty-year hiatus.
The only money he is having to put into the operation right now is for improvements such as an expansive new outdoor patio and so he is adding value to his investment. The business has turned around and once again his projections have proved to have been conservative.
You won’t find Perry bussing tables or doing much more than managing his general manager who has run both Crickets and the Shore Lounge in Coeur D’ Alene.  Perry is busy keeping his nose to the grindstone and seeing to it that Spokane’s thirst for Red Bull is adequately quenched.

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