Introducing James Haunt: Trust Me Vodka Featured Artist

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter at Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter at Equinox Photo
“I’ve had amazing conversations and experiences with people that I’ll probably never see again. That fuels me to paint more and to experience more, give more, and create more.” James Haunt

James Haunt was raised in East Los Angeles, where he became interested in art through comic books, graphic novels and pop culture. He started drawing because, as a bit of a troublemaker, he spent a lot of time in his room being grounded. As Haunt evolved as an artist, he got into the graffiti scene. After studying graphic arts in high school, he began to shift his focus to a more commercial and less dangerous outlet for his creativity.

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
“I’ve been in some shitty situations, but I’ve always felt like I had something to offer. I’ve never felt like a victim. From that, I put strength into my artwork. It’s not something for myself, but it’s to be shared.”



James Haunt’s Big Break

His breakthrough moment came at an Agenda (action sports) trade show. Rumor has it Haunt engaged in a little guerilla marketing by stamping crisp one dollar bills with the James Haunt smiley face logo over George Washington’s likeness. He dropped them casually as he strolled through the aisles. People picked them up, saw the logo and went looking for more until they saw the same logo on Haunt’s booth in the show. A star was born.

James Haunt the Working Artist

Since then, Haunt has built his career as a working artist, kind of a unicorn among creatives. It’s rare for artists to support themselves doing exactly what they love, in its purest form. His art has allowed him to travel and meet people all from all over the world.

James Haunt has been commissioned to do spray painted murals for Red Bull’s offices, Big Bear Resort, Hotel Erwin, Wahoo’s and at too many locations to list in the Los Angeles and Palm Springs areas. Haunt is influenced by the California lifestyle, specifically the sun, the palm trees and that feel-good vibe endemic to beach culture. He paints what makes him happy, which for right now is a recurring theme of beautiful women.

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
“I learned that repetition is a great way of marketing yourself…to force a style into people’s visuals…I’m happy about getting recognized without having to sign my name on a piece.”



James Haunt and Trust Me Vodka

Trust Me Vodka supports artists by allowing a total takeover of our bottles, offering them a wide-ranging commercial canvas. It’s our thought that vodka may be colorless, but the bottles don’t have to be. We immediately connected with Haunt, sharing the same passion for our respective crafts.

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox photo
“This collaboration is something that just felt organic and natural…You can sit down and have a cocktail with someone and barely speak the same language but laugh for hours and into the evening and walk away as friends. There are few things that bring people together, but I feel like sometimes having a drink can do that.”

From walls to dollar bills or to buildings, Haunt is now offering his art to the world on limited edition Trust Me Organic and Gluten Free Vodka bottles. Our vodka won’t last long, but the James Haunt bottles can take a more permanent place on the shelf, in a glass cabinet or on your counter. Look for them Summer of 2017.

Summer Drink Recipes with Vodka Infusions

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo

This summer, we thought we’d try something new for our recipes. Thanks to bloggers like Nick Hines over at Vinepair and Justine Sterling at Supercall, we got the idea to infuse our vodka with local herbs, fruits and teas using a French press. Vodka infusions done without a press take 24-48 hours. With the French press, you can get great results in under 20 minutes. Head over to Chino Farms in Del Mar for specialty herbs and fruit if you feel like experimenting with some novel ingredients, which we did. Special thanks to Searsucker in Del Mar for letting us play Swedish Chef in your back bar and sorry about the mess! 

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo

Hot, Sticky, Sweaty

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo


½ muddled peach

½ muddled Cavaillon melon

¼ tsp marigold lemon tea leaves

4 crushed fresh lemon balm leaves

½ crushed fresh cayenne pepper

1 C Chilled Trust Me Organic Vodka


Add all ingredients to a French press, stir vigorously, allow to steep for 5-20 minutes, depending on how long it takes for you to wash your sticky, cayenne pepper-infused hands. Press, pour into chilled glass and garnish with fresh cantaloupe chunks and lemon balm leaves. Warning: Don’t touch your eyes for a good 20 minutes after washing your hands.



When Life Gives You a Cucumber

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo


2 Hamburger Cucumbers, peeled and muddled

Six sprigs of Anisum seedlings

½ juiced Eureka lemon

1 C Gluten Free Trust Me Vodka

Dash of simple syrup or agave


Make Cucumber-ade! Add all ingredients to a French press, stir vigorously, let steep for 5-20 minutes, depending on your patience level. Press, pour into glass with ice and garnish with lemon peel and sprinkled herbs. Then drink and cheer up.



The Floor is Lava

Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo
Image courtesy Tricia Meeter Equinox Photo

12 French Strawberries, stems off and muddled

5-6 Fresh mint springs, crushed

2 hibiscus tea bags

1 C Trust Me Gluten Free Vodka


Put everything into a French press, stir, let steep for 5 minutes, pour into a chilled glass and garnish with a strawberry and mint leaves. Don’t let your feet touch the floor until it’s all gone.



  • To muddle the fruit and herbs, you can use a mortar and pestle, or just throw the fruit in a blender or food processor. Roll the herbs into a little bouquet and crush with the flat side of a knife if you don’t have a mortar and pestle and toss everything in the French press.
  • How long you leave the vodka in the French press really changes the flavor. Play with the amount of time you let it sit and note the results.
  • How much vodka you add also contributes. We aren’t the vodka police, so take the 1 C advice loosely. Keep in mind that if you add more vodka it will dilute the flavor, so if you want more drinks, double the whole recipe to maintain the same flavor profile.
  • We only added a little agave or simple syrup to one drink, as the ripe fruit was sweet enough on its own.   

Chef Seeking Mixologist: Must Put Food First

Chef Amiko and Travis Carter on opening day of Harvest by the Patio
Chef Amiko and Travis Carter on opening day of Harvest by the Patio


The Sommelier and the Chef have a volatile partnership, because they harbor a philosophical rift. The Sommelier thinks of food as a reference point to describe the subtle nuances of wine. The Chef puts the food above all else, even wantonly dumping wine into it. At their best they call an armistice, wherein food and grape agree to pair.

The Chef and the Mixologist share a comfortable relationship, conciliatory and compromising. The Mixologist defers to the Chef, who freely explores flavor without constraints like white or red, dry or fruity. The Mixologist thoughtfully curates ingredients from the menu to build the cocktail program. Mixologist and Chef ascribe to the same philosophy; it’s all about the food. For this reason, Executive Chef Amiko Gubbins and Travis Perkins, General Manager for Harvest by the Patio in East Village, have a harmonious working relationship.  They both put food first.

The Seasoned Chef

Chef Amiko Gubbins became the hot chef in town back in 1999, when headed up Parallel 33 in Mission Hills. Eight years later she left the restaurant to become personal chef in NYC to musician Lenny Kravitz. Chef Amiko (an avid surfer, hiker and dog lover) missed the Southern California lifestyle, so she returned to work with Specialty Foods, then Sysco, then The Cohn Group and recently, the Patio Group, where, in October 2016 she launched her brainchild–Harvest by the Patio.

Chef Amiko explains her inspiration behind the organic, farm-fresh concept at Harvest, “I can actually match how I live my life to what I am doing in my career…I eat clean, I have a strong yoga practice and I work out as much as I can. I understand my food is pure. The most important thing to me is making sure that there aren’t GMOs and everything is sustainable…no antibiotics have ever been used, from birth to raising the animal.”  

The menu at Harvest is local, organic and foundationally vegan. According to dietary preference, customers add the protein to the dish, instead of asking the chef to omit it, a problem most vegetarians and vegans encounter when eating out. Chef Amiko, a vegan herself, explains, “There are ten vegan dishes…It’s so nice to open up a menu and not go, Okay, I have this one farm salad to take from. Or, I have some of these side dishes that I have to piece together to make an entrée.”

The Young Mixologist

Travis Carter worked as a mixologist in the Detroit cocktail scene for several years before coming out to San Diego to consult for Legal Restaurants. According to Carter, mixologists in Detroit were doing what we are currently doing in San Diego ten years ago. We may be slow to catch on in this city, but we’ve elevated mixology with our nearly unlimited year-round access to rare and unusual produce: “…every single type of produce you can ever imagine, right in front of your fingertips” says Carter. This means a lot to Carter, for whom a bar functions just like a kitchen. He crafts his own recipes based on seasonal, local ingredients rather than the base spirit or sugary mixer. Carter says, “My staff…they wear chef aprons behind the bar, they look at their products just the same way as a chef sees their products.”

They Meet

It is quite simple and elegant, this passion for food first. Between Chef Amiko and Travis Carter, there are no fundamental differences to iron out, no tense conversations or arguments about what should have the spotlight—the food or the drink. Chef Amiko designs the menu, gives it to Carter and he goes to work. Carter says, “I knew that with this menu being so passionate and so heartfelt and what she is emotionally; I knew the cocktails had to have this same emotion within the cocktail program.”

The control that Carter has over his cocktails isn’t something you can get with wild and unpredictable grapes. Wine, as we know, takes on its flavor profile based on thousands of minute often mysterious variations during the grape growing, cultivation and blending. As Chef Amiko explains, “I think with the flavor structure of the menu, with the cocktail you can get in the flavor to match it, to have it complement better. I feel like if there is a certain herb in a dish, that could be a syrup in the cocktail, so that there is a common breed.”

The Happy Result

This shared passion has paid off in phenomenal reviews for Harvest on Yelp: “Everything here is fresh and handmade…All the cocktails here are hand crafted and made with love,” and “There’s so much love here. It’s written on the walls and you can taste the extra tender loving care that goes into the preparation of their food offerings.”

The admiration flows between Chef Amiko and Carter as well. Chef Amiko says, “…it’s like him understanding my food by catering this whole entire cocktail program around it. He is so talented, I can’t even say enough good things about how I just think he is doing some of the best cocktails that I have ever seen put together.”

Carter returns the compliment, “A lot of different factors went into creating this menu and it all started with Amiko, I told her my views. I have said that many and different times, she is my soul mate. Really I can’t put it into words what just being around her did to my creativity, you know, it elevated me.”

In those moments when the food and wine are good, they are very, very good. Unity, for the Chef and Sommelier, is hard work, but so worth it. At Harvest by the Patio, the Chef and the Mixologist share the same ingredients, so the food and cocktails are consistently harmonious and always fresh. That kind of relationship is effortless, symbiotic. That’s not to say that we should choose cocktails over wine every time. But sometimes, we want a sure thing.

If you want to sample the Harvest by the Patio menu with a Trust Me Vodka Cocktail, Harvest by the Patio is located in East Village at 369 Tenth Ave San Diego, CA 92101. It is open Sunday thru Friday 11am-11pm and Saturday 10am-12am. No reservations needed. For more information call (619) 541-8301 or visit their website at

Vodka Drink Recipes to Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New Year

Our friend and bar chef/mixologist Henry Schmulling from North Carolina came up with these recipes just for Trust Me Vodka. We thought they would be perfect for summing up 2016 and bringing in the New Year. Start out with Contradiction to reflect upon 2016 and usher in the new year with Self Discovery. Enjoy and let us know what you think!

Vodka drink recipes from bar chef/mixologist Henry Schmulling
Vodka drink recipes from bar chef/mixologist Henry Schmulling

Zach, the Bar Manager from Decoy, Once Spent $55 on a Cocktail!

Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar Area
Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar Area

Decoy restaurant and bar, part of the Eat.Drink.Sleep hospitality development group, opened at the end of summer 2016. Decoy brings local, fresh and seasonal California-style food to inland North County San Diego. The lakeside lodge-themed restaurant sits right on the dock at Lake San Marcos. We caught up with Zachary Heidrich, Bar Manager from Decoy in San Marcos on his day off to ask him a few questions about the bar business and how it’s evolving in San Diego.

What trends are you seeing in the San Diego bar industry?

A lot of bars right now are headed more towards pre-prohibition style cocktail programs. But everybody is doing their own twist to those cocktails…I have a huge passion for whiskey cocktails, but in reality, I love any [cocktail] that can balance the sour with the bitter. I’m trying to use fresher ingredients to get a better taste, not just dumping sugar and syrup into everything.

How do you think mixology compares to the craft beer trend and where do you see it going in the future?

Everybody is trying to be healthier and just make one product different from the next. But everyone is sharing now, which I feel is interesting. I was always taught not to give away my recipes, but now when you go out to bars everyone is letting you in on everything.

Which drinks did you come up with for the Decoy cocktail menu?

Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Cocktail Menu
Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Cocktail Menu

I made all the cocktails on that menu. My personal favorite is “Heid” the Sour, made with whiskey and egg white. The Living Martini with Trust Me Organic Vodka is also fantastic. It’s a twist on an old Sidecar, using vodka instead [of brandy], a grand poppy orange liqueur, a little lemon juice and simple syrup. It’s extremely refreshing, and you get the right amount of bitter throughout the cocktail. I serve it in a martini glass with an orange peel.

How did you get started as a mixologist?

I’ve been in bartending for about ten years. I was working in ski resorts and I thought, Let’s start making a nicer drink than just a Jack and Coke. Let’s just start twisting it and playing with it. And then it was just groups of friends…we’d make different drinks all night to see what worked. Then we’d take it to the bar and try to sell it. Now I’m in an awesome position where I can really…do what I’d like to do and have some fun.    

The Bar at Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos 
The Bar at Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos 

How did you get the idea to put organic vodka on the menu? Were people asking for it?

People did start asking for it. Then Brett [Miller, President and CEO of Eat.Drink.Sleep] said to try Trust Me Vodka. I tried it and I thought if I had my way and wasn’t working for a separate company I think it would be fun to battle all the large name brands. It’s fun to show people something new, and try to get them off whatever brand they may be privy to. But it’s hard as a bartender, because [patrons] don’t want to hear that you don’t [carry]…all those big name brands out there.

What’s your process in making new cocktails for the Decoy menu?

Normally I collaborate with my chef and the other bartenders, but also [consider] what’s going on in the area to see if this spirit will sell before that spirit or what the weather may be like. I always ask my bartenders, because if they can make [something] they are proud of then they will sell it….

What bars do you like to go to for inspiration?

I love North Park but I can’t go down there all the time because I end up going to awesome bars and drinking too much and then having to pay for an expensive Uber ride home. Polite Provisions cocktail program is second-to-none in my opinion. It’s really neat going down there and watching what people are doing and just trying to understand it.

How much are people willing to pay for a cocktail? How do you set the price point?

We price it out and do our calculations. I’m a fairly young person, but I don’t bat an eyelash at spending $12 for a cocktail if it tastes great.

John Hancock Building Chicago. Home of the $55 cocktail. 
John Hancock Building Chicago. Home of the $55 cocktail. 

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a cocktail?

I’ve spent $55 on a cocktail. But that was in Chicago, at the top of the John Hancock Building in a cocktail bar.

Was it worth it?

Not really. It was an Old Fashioned. But it was really about the view in that bar. You’re on top of the city and you can see everything.

If you go drinking can you write it off as Research and Development?

[Laughs]I probably could but I don’t think it’s the best time to approach my ownership group about that.

Should you limit the number of ingredients in a craft cocktail?

Not necessarily. I have one cocktail that has nine different ingredients. It’s really about being careful you don’t go too heavy on one ingredient over another, so it’s not incredibly sweet or super sour or too bitter. You want to have the right balance of everything, regardless of the spirit.

How many cocktail choices are optimal on a menu?

That depends on what kind of bar you are going for. I’ve always had about ten, but I think that the most I’ve ever had is fifteen. The problem I’ve encountered, is that if you have too many options and you spread it out, people might forget about one drink that’s a great drink, [because] they get stuck with theirs.

Right now, what we are trying to do is educate our bar staff and get them thinking along one path. If they know how to mix this spirit with that spirit…then they eventually can build any kind of cocktail, if they understand what the liqueurs are doing and can really pull out that flavor.

Favorite ingredient in a drink besides the base spirit?

We were making some of our garnishes at the last bar where I worked and doing our own brandy cherries and even some of our own bitters, at one point. We had a Manhattan where the “Man” was in quotations, so we did a smoked maple syrup in house, then put a vanilla glaze on a piece of bacon and [added those] to a traditional Manhattan as a garnish. It was really fun. The egg white is probably my favorite ingredient to add now because people like to watch and ask questions and it gets people thinking.

Do you follow any other mixologists on social media? 

The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy
The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy

I go to a lot of different bars to see what they’re doing. I read a lot of books. I follow the Please Don’t Tell bartenders from New York and their cocktail program. They made a Speakeasy program that really, really worked and took off there for a number of years and is still working today.




Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar
Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar

Any final thoughts?

It’s just really about the education and what your staff knows. You can have the best Mixologist or Cocktail Leader in any business but if your staff can’t talk about the cocktails then you’re not going to achieve whatever you’re looking for.