Why Old Bay Is Suddenly on Everything
Written by Syvlie McNamara, Washingtonian
Let me describe the moment when I realized the limitlessness of brand partnerships. It’s early afternoon at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, a storied crab haunt in industrial Baltimore, and I’m trying not to get drunk. In front of me, I have an Old Bay Vodka Bloody Mary, a Bay Crush, some kind of Old Bay grapefruit drink, and a small glass of Old Bay Vodka, served neat.
I’m with Greg David and Theda Bakis, two of the makers of Old Bay Vodka. Greg is a former wrestler, an absolute brick of a man whose engorged biceps look like snakes swallowing multiple rodents at once. “We wanted to have the quintessential Old Bay tastes,” he says of the vodka, “but it had to be subtle, something you could sip at room temperature without being like, ugh.”
As he’s explaining the vodka, Tony Minadakis, the owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, wanders over to our table. He slaps Greg’s hand, and they small-talk a minute. Then, out of nowhere, Tony asks, “Hey, you want to take an Old Bay Vodka Sauce to retail?”
Delirious, Greg blubbers, “So hold on, man—vodka sauce? Old Bay Vodka Sauce? Done. I’ll call Rob up after this meeting.” He clarifies that Rob is the licensing guy at McCormick, then he role-plays their conversation: “ ‘Rob, we’re doing Old Bay Vodka Sauce.’ ‘Okay, Greg, I love it.’ ”
Tony summons shots of Old Bay Vodka from the bar, which makes me think that this is an actual deal—they’re already discussing putting the vodka sauce on gnocchi. And as the Old Bay Vodka hits my throat (it starts with celery and finishes with pepper, a zesty, botanical feel), I begin to understand what has happened: Old Bay Vodka is made with Old Bay, while Old Bay Vodka Sauce would be made with Old Bay Vodka. It’s brand partnerships all the way down.