We had the good fortune of connecting with Hope Ewing and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hope, is there something you believe many others might not?
I think saying “Fake it ’til you make it” is really harmful. Starting a business requires a lot of faith and confidence in your ability to achieve big things, but you owe it to anyone who invests or believes in you to be fully transparent. I want to rewrite this as “Believe in your ability to master what you don’t know, and others will too. ”
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m currently growing a canned cocktail company, Vervet, that I founded with my partner Tuan Lee and two friends. But if I’m going to talk about my work, I need to start by talking about my brain. I have pretty severe ADHD with associated disorders that went undiagnosed into adulthood. Being neuro-atypical wound up serving me as much as hindering, in a many ways.
Growing up in the 80s in a rural town, there wasn’t much awareness around learning disabilities. Until I went to grad school at age 30, I really believed I was an inveterate screw-up. I spent 9 years at various office jobs and, while my work was solid, I still struggled every day with basic tasks. I knew I was smart and wanted to work hard, but it felt impossible–like everyone was speaking a language I didn’t understand. I internalized these challenges and coped by drinking too much.
I decided that if I couldn’t do the “sensible” office jobs anyway, I might as well make a go for it as a fiction writer. I started an MFA program in creative writing. During this time, I found my calling as a bartender.
It is no surprise to me now, having spent the last decade working in restaurants, how many neuro-divergent people work in hospitality. You are on your feet, moving around, it’s social in a very scripted and contained way, and all the tasks in front of you are immediate and sequential. At the same time, what I was doing in craft cocktail bars required creativity, improvisation, and making intuitive connections, all of which are huge strengths in the ADHD brain. For the first time I felt like I was GOOD at something. I started writing about cocktails and spirits for drinks publications.
Through this, I got the chance to publish Movers & Shakers: Women Making Waves in Spirits, Beer, and Wine (Unnamed Press, 2018). It was a huge challenge. I was back at a desk, struggling to produce. The difference was how deeply I cared about the topic, and having a better understanding of my brain. I wanted to tell the world about all these cool women forging completely original careers in the growing drinks industry.
After the book came out, Tuan came up with the idea to start a business making RTD cocktails celebrating the cultures of LA. Tuan is Vietnamese and Korean and grew up pretty culturally isolated in the midwest, so California means a lot more to him than nice weather and wine country. It means being in a place that embraces diversity but has its backbone in Asian and Latin American cultures. His dream was to use my cocktail experience and his entrepreneurial skills to spread this LA love to the world.
After talking to so many fearless people for Movers & Shakers, I decided: What the hell. I can do this. Another ADHD strength: bottomless enthusiasm and a dash of recklessness! We recruited two friends with design and math/legal skills to partner with, and just did it. It remains a challenge every day, but being able to channel my hyperactive energy into starting a business has brought me to an incredibly healthy place. It is harder and more fun than any other thing I’ve done so far (except tending bar on a 12-hour Saturday shift, which is the most fun/most awful job). We learned everything about this business, from alcohol licensing to ingredient sourcing to digital marketing, from the ground up. We did a lot of things the hard way because it made a better drink. Again, I’ve discovered that my “atypical” brain serves me pretty well in this. I’m good at pivoting quickly and finding creative solutions to problems. I had the pleasure of creating recipes I really love for our cocktails. These were all inspired by the food and cultural experiences Tuan introduced me to in LA, the things he loves. That’s an ADHD thing, too: taking a huge amount of aggregate sensory information and bringing it together in a perfect little artistic package. I might be late to 50% of our meetings, but I feel like it’s a relatively harmless trade-off for what we’ve accomplished.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is hard, because when people visit all we do is eat and drink, and it’s awful to think how many spots have closed or are in danger of closing as there’s been such meagre stimulus relief for independent restaurants and bars.
This isn’t comprehensive, just possibly manageable.
Day 1: We always start in SGV. Feast from Szechuan Impression, Saigon Sandwich, Nem Nuong, then take a spin around the big H-Mart for teas to calm a full belly. Stop in Chinatown on your way back west to get coffee from Endorffeine and pick up the swag we ordered from Now/Serving.
Day 2: Get 1-2 tacos each from Tacos 1986, Guisados, Sonoratown, wash them down with beers from Three Weavers and Highland Park Brewery. Late night al pastor from Leo’s in the parking lot across from the 12-year-in-the-making Target. Make cocktails at home with the cool bottles we picked up at Bar Keeper.
Day 3: I let Tuan take people around for burgers, which is his thing and not mine, but I appreciate the significance. Order wine from Vinovore, or Lou and make sure to ask for pairing advice for your smashburger. I knew very little about wine before I moved here, but it was easy to learn when there was an affordable tasting event every day of the week and non-pretentious professionals always willing to advise.
Day 4: Beach…where ever it’s least crowded. Honestly I’m terrified of the ocean and I don’t tan, but love watching people. Even more than that, I love fried clam strips and raw oysters from Malibu Seafood and Broad Street Oyster, respectively. Swoop over to pick up booze at Bar & Garden or Hi-Lo in Culver City. Drink responsibly at home.
Day 5: K-Town. Grill up (future) BBQ at Ookook or Jjukku Jjukku, soju at Toe Bang, and dream about cocktails at Walker Inn. Put our future karaoke tracks on the car stereo and sing them with the convertible top down as we crest the hill on Normandie. Pick up mole from Guelaguetza and eat it off your fingers (or get chips, if you must).
Day 6: Walk the old Red Car track, pack a snack of ponchiks from Papillon and sake from Ototo, finish with cocktails and chicken wings in the Messhall Kitchen backyard.
Day 7: Take a 5-10 mile hike in the Angeles National Forest and consume nothing but green juice. Nobody detoxes to retox like we do.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My partner and co-founder, Tuan Lee, decided he wanted to start a company that combined our talents, and he persuaded a gang of creatives to become entrepreneurs. He’s the definition of indefatigable. However, the shoutout goes to his mother, Hoa. She packed up her 2-year-old son and came the US as a refugee when she was just 24. She rebuilt her whole life from scratch in a place and time that wasn’t always welcoming. When I think about her story, everything else seems pretty doable.
Photos 1, 3 (with Vervet cans) by Nastassia Johnson Photos 2, 4 by Tuan Lee