Good friends don’t always make great business partners. But Steve Revare and David Epstein have broken that code. The owners of Tom’s Town, a craft distillery in the Crossroads District, grew up in Prairie Village, met in kindergarten and remained friends through high school at Shawnee Mission East and beyond. Early in their careers, they built a successful media company together.
Business took Epstein to New York, where he spent 18 years before returning to Kansas City to start Tom’s Town with Revare.
“The idea germinated more than two years ago when we attended Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky,” Epstein explains.
Walking into Tom’s Town is like going back in time. Its art deco inspired “tasting room” has leather couches, pressed tin ceilings and a long walnut bar reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy. And that’s just what the owners intended.
Billed as the first legal, downtown distillery in Kansas City since prohibition, the look and feel of Tom’s Town harkens back to an era when its namesake, corrupt political boss Tom Pendergast, was in control.
“Kansas City went through a Renaissance during Prohibition when he ran the town,” says Revare. “Many of the themes of this awakening are present in the city today: streetcars, the growing local music scene and a great baseball team. It only made sense to revive the Pendergast name and the booze that flowed so freely then.”
Tom’s Town, which opened in January, is located at 17th and Main. Its historic brick building houses the distillery, an event space, and a cocktail room—which serves drinks and small plates.
Gin and vodka are made on site and get their names from some of the most colorful characters of Prohibition-era Kansas City.
McElroy Corruption Gin, named after Pendergast’s corrupt city manager, is a New Western-style gin that balances traditional juniper with more than a dozen botanicals for its unique flavor. Eli’s StrongArm Vodka is named after Pendergast’s bodyguard and is distilled from wheat and locally grown rye.
Tom’s Town also curates a series of whiskeys sold under Tom Pendergast’s original trademark, “Royal Gold.”
Although Revare and Epstein had lots of business experience between them, they didn’t know much about running a still. Enter Rob Vossmeyer, head distiller, who spent the last four years honing his craft at various domestic and international distillery institutes and some on-the-job training.
It took some trial and error to come up with recipes worthy of the Tom’s Town brand.
“The most challenging part of the process was tasting all the gin and vodka recipes Rob made for us,” says Epstein. “It’s exhausting spending everyday trying all of the world’s greatest gins, vodkas and bourbons!”
The hard work paid off. Tom’s Town recently entered its vodka and gin in three of the largest international spirits competitions. The vodka earned two gold medals and a silver, while the gin won a silver and a bronze.
“The reaction from the spirits industry has been overwhelming,” Epstein explains. “Pendergast couldn’t have bribed anyone for these sort of accolades.”
According to the owners, the city has embraced Tom’s Town and it is a busy place most nights.
“Creating Tom’s Town was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted,” says Revare. “I recall freaking out waiting for our liquor license to be delivered, which we received two hours before we opened. Once we saw people enjoying the space and spirits we had created, we knew it was worth it.”
Adds Epstein, “The growth in Kansas City is mind-blowing. This is an incredible time to be in business here.”
Both men love living in the area. Revare says that, except for college, he’s been here all his life. He and his wife live with their five children in Prairie Village. His children go to the same schools he attended. Epstein lives on the Plaza.
So how does this lifelong friendship and business partnership work so well?
“Steve would say that our friendship has lasted because he spends most of his days laughing at my jokes and admiring my Oprah-like pearls of wisdom,” Epstein says.
“Each of us approaches things differently. But by working together, we come up with something better than either could have alone,” adds Revare. “And I laugh at his jokes!”
Tom’s Town spirits are only available at their downtown location, but Revare and Epstein are working with distributors to get their vodka, gin and bourbon out to bars, restaurants and stores throughout Kansas and Missouri this summer.