Q+A - Bartender's Handshake
This article is an interview with the following member of YPC:
About the Young Professionals Connection (YPC) Entrepreneur
Name: Dave Murrin-von Ebers
Company: The Bartender’s Handshake
YPC Entrepreneur Q+A
When were you a member of YPC? Did you serve on the YPC board, if so what position?
I was a member of YPC from 2010-2012, but I did not serve on the board.
How did you get connected to YPC?
I’m pretty sure I heard about YPC through word of mouth, as well as seeing events posted online and reading about it in Juice (remember that publication?).
What was your favorite part of the program?
My favorite part of the program was meeting people my age who were doing all sorts of different things. Growing up in Des Moines, I had a core group of friends here, but in college I had grown to love making new friends and connections. It turns out that it’s not as easy to do once you’re out in the real world. YPC was a great way to connect with people that I may never have met otherwise and to learn and gain perspective from their endeavors. I have especially fond memories of playing co-ed softball and the friendships I grew through that team.
What was your favorite event?
Besides playing softball and grabbing a drink with team members afterwards, I loved the happy hour events. These were just really laid-back, low-pressure ways to meet people and get your name out there.
How did your time in YPC impact your decision to start a business?
One of the main reasons I joined YPC was because my roommate and I were trying to get a t-shirt company off the ground at the time. I figured that YPC events would be a good way to get our name out there and pick up some business from organizations that needed shirts printed for events, softball teams, etc. Running that first t-shirt business was definitely an eye-opening experience of how much work it takes in terms of organization and communication to keep things running smoothly. That learning experience, and seeing other young entrepreneurs putting themselves out there, was a confidence booster and certainly helped me as I prepared to open Bartender’s Handshake in 2019.
What skills do you think the YPC program helped you build when it comes to being a business owner?
I think one of the most important things I’ve had to come to understand as a professional and entrepreneur is that I can’t do everything myself. I needed to get comfortable asking for help, and oftentimes this required reaching out to strangers and building new relationships, which are skills that YPC helped me with quite a bit. While I didn’t specifically talk to YPC members regarding the bar, I did reach out to fellow bar owners and restaurateurs for their advice and input. I also took recommendations on who to ask for help when it came to building the bar itself, the contracting/construction, civil engineering, etc. The way that this business was built by the community is very reminiscent of the community building that I learned during my time in YPC.
Were there any specific YPC members or connection you formed through participating in YPC that assisted you through this process?
I’ve had the pleasure of serving a good number of my former YPC friends at the bar over the two and half years since we opened! Not only is it great to see familiar faces, but I know that each of these connections branches out as they tell their friends and family about their experiences at our bar. We have never had a formal marketing budget, relying instead on word of mouth, and so these connections are truly invaluable.
What was the process of building this business?
When I joined YPC, I was also bartending and already dreaming of opening my own bar. While I was getting that t-shirt company off the ground, I was also writing a business plan for a bar in Greater Des Moines (DSM). Over almost 10 years, I changed the overall concept and narrowed down the vision until it started to fit what I thought would best work for DSM. I spent late summer/fall 2017 in New York, finalizing the business plan for The Bartender’s Handshake and visiting cocktail bars throughout the city and across the Eastern half of the country.
When I returned to DSM, I started looking for spaces while I continued to bartend at Juniper Moon. When the space on Ingersoll became available, I met the owner of the building and was shocked to find that we knew each other pretty well already as we had graduated from high school together! This connection really helped push me into taking the leap (he literally pestered me to start the process, which I am grateful for). Once we had signed a letter of intent, we created an ownership group, raising capital to help finance the bar, as well as arranging the financing through Iowa State Bank — this was helped by the fact that Lauren Burgeson is a family friend (Did I mention personal connections are important when opening a business?).
With funding in place, we went to work with an architect and civil engineer to put together our site plan and get it approved by the city. Finally, construction started! From there it was one decision after another to get every detail as perfectly as possible. There are still a couple of things I kick myself for — mainly not having enough outlets in the right places, but overall, we’re super happy with how everything worked out. After dipping into more of my personal connections in the industry to staff the bar, we were finally ready (as ready as you can be) to open the bar on Halloween 2019.
It would be nice to say the rest is history, but four months later we faced a major crisis that threatened the thriving business we had started. After a few days of thinking that this pandemic thing would only last a few weeks or months at worst, I started seeing that other cities were starting to pivot to other options like carry-out cocktails. When the governor announced that bars could sell liquor to go, we jumped at the opportunity to make little cocktail packages for people.
I didn’t even really think of to-go drinks as a real money-making venture, but more a way to stay active and keep our name out there. The support we received was immediate and impressive! Seeing that this carry-out cocktail idea had legs, we actively pushed the governor to loosen the rules on to-go drinks further so that we could actually mix all of the ingredients together in one container. I was amazed that one week later, we got what we asked for! Until July 2020, we only offered to-go cocktails and snacks, doing enough steady business to allow us to bring back most of our staff.
In July 2020, we turned our back parking lot into a patio space, where we started serving people in person again while requiring masks while not seated to try to preserve the safety of our guests and staff. Not only did this allow us to survive the pandemic, but we also created a new atmosphere that people were equally excited about. We are currently working with the city to make that space a permanent addition to the bar, which was another huge pandemic silver-lining. Through all of this, we stayed engaged with our clientele and rolled with the punches to keep the vision of a neighborhood bar that just happens to have great cocktails alive in DSM.
Why do you think other aspiring business owners should join YPC?
No matter the business, you will need people: customers, clients, vendors. The more connections you can make with people in all sorts of different industries, the easier it will be to find the help you need to make your business come to life and to build the clientele you need to make it succeed. And enjoy getting out and meeting new people. There will be a time when your life seems completely overtaken by your business (like having a newborn), so appreciate the little things.
What advice would you give to those interested in the program?
I would say get out there and give it a try! Especially those happy hours. It’s a very relaxed way to put yourself out there. From there, you can learn more about what else the program can offer. Enjoy the ride!
Dave Murrin-von Ebers is a bartender and owner at The Bartender's Handshake, a small neighborhood cocktail bar on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines. Dave started his career in 2007 slinging brats and beer at the Hessen Haus. His love for bartending grew, and after visiting his sister in New York, he became fascinated with the craft cocktail movement. As he began experimenting with classic cocktails and creating his own, he landed the opportunity to run the bar program at Eatery A before honing his skills at Juniper Moon, a dedicated cocktail bar. In October 2019 he opened The Bartender's Handshake with the goal of creating a space where the community comes together, whether it's over a creative cocktail, a shot and a beer or a booze-free beverage.
Young Professionals Connection (YPC) aims to attract and retain young professionals in Greater Des Moines (DSM) by connecting emerging leaders to each other and to the community through social, civic, charitable and professional development endeavors. Learn how you can get involved.