Have Bar, Will Travel

Does my life look dreamy to you?

Because it is.

Some days, I can't wrap my brain around it. Dinner with Tony Bourdain, lunch with Mark Bittman, brunch with Joel Salatin. It boggles my mind.

And last week, I managed to hit a new high.

I had a meeting with an entrepreneur, and scheduled a rendezvous at my local coffee shop. Picture a Jerry Garcia-themed place with heavy wood tables. The bread is organic and made in-house. A reader board outside begs, "Save the Butterflies!" You get the idea....

I breezed through the door, and stopped dead in my tracks. A shaft of light illuminated a stylish travel bag perched on a table. I glanced toward the owner. He looked straight out of a magazine. Tall, blonde, and a presence that was unmistakable. I pictured him stepping off a private jet, flying direct from Tokyo or Milan.

"Hi! Are you Craig?"

Yep. That's him. My one o'clock.

Minutes into our conversation, I'm relieved to discover, Craig Krueger's more substance than style. He may be easy on the eyes, but Craig leads with impressive drive and business acumen.

I'm intrigued. How did he go from a small town, population 1,500, to inventor and entrepreneur, with a product sold in over 20 countries? It's often said that the puzzle pieces of life fit together best, when looking in the rear view mirror.

A small town Midwestern boy, Craig was no stranger to hard work. "I started declaring income when I was fifteen." He and his twin brother harvested ginseng fields in Wisconsin from sun up until three. After work, they went to their grandparent's house and bailed hay until dark. Farm work waits for no one.

College was looming, and to pay for it, they enlisted in the Army reserves. Still in high school, summer their junior year...was spent at boot camp. The brothers returned home for senior year, and shortly after graduation, Army training beckoned. A mind for detail became evident. In college, Craig studied anesthesiology, and trained as a combat medic in the reserves.

Plot twist.

On a whim, he submitted photos to a model search website. A scout signed him on the spot. First gig? Fly to LA for an Ambercrombie & Fitch campaign.

Between modeling jobs, he worked as a bartender, specializing in off-site events. Eventually he owned his own business, hiring out bartenders for private events and corporate gigs. Sold that. Pursued something else. It wasn't the right fit and a moment of crisis hit. What's next? "I was at the end of my rope."

After some soul searching, he remembered those years, traveling to various events. Bartenders would show up with their kit in a suit case, a shopping bag, or a box. "It was nuts!"

The wheels were in motion. "What if...I designed a bag to make it easier? A mobile bar...in a bag?"

Diving into an industry you know nothing about? How do you go from idea to innovation? That can be intimidating. Fortunately, he was in the right place. "I found resources that were plugged into the old sewing community in Seattle." JanSport, Filson, and Eddie Bauer all had their start in Seattle.

An avid learner, Craig explored all aspects of the business--from the prototype to patterning, and making markers. (Markers are made so you know what your yields are when the design is laid out on fabric. Maximize the layout for minimum loss--which becomes key, especially with an expensive fabric. Leave as little as possible on the cutting room floor.)

Finding players with a legacy was key. He tapped into a bag consultant with 20 years experience, a pattern maker that's been in business for 30 years, and a manufacturer who specializes in American-made products. "You know the Crawfish House in White Center? My stitcher is near there."

At the cafe, we opened the bag, and people immediately stopped to ask about it.

"I created the bag I wanted to carry."

Craig drew inspiration from medical bags used in combat, and he adapted it for bartenders. Thoughtful features include a neon orange interior that's visible in low light conditions. The steel grey exterior is made with a high-grade waterproof material, and it's lined with a durable cloth used for sailing. The sexy design screams Porsche and Rodeo Drive-style, with rugged function. Multiple strap options are built in (messenger, backpack and handle), and made for an urban environment. "Bartenders ride the train, bike, or motorcycle to work. They need flexible options."

While the bag is designed with bartenders and brand ambassadors in mind, immediately I thought of camping, boating, or weekend getaways with friends. It may be designed for pros, but I'd get some serious use out of it.

BYOB--Bring Your Own Bar?

I'm on it!

Looks like a typical carry on bag, yes? The magic is inside....


What's your preference? Stirred or shaken? Notice how the bag completely opens from the top and both sides? The open panel tucks into a pocket, allowing easy access to the contents inside.

A side panel opens to hold your bar kit and stirrer. A deep pocket runs the length of the bag and easily fits a laptop.

Pocket detail. Customize your kit anyway you want, but Craig's looked like this. L-R, Top to Bottom: Muddler, bottle key, peeler, cocktail strainer, jigger, knife, ice scoop, Microplane, and julep strainer.

Long on style and function, his bags are all handcrafted and made in the USA.

UPDATE 2/24: It's HERE! The Kickstarter is live. Get your very own bar in a bag. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mavenhal/bar-back-urban-multi-carry-travel-backpack-to-tote

Update: You want one. I know you do. Sorry. This is just a preview. It's not available for sale yet. Craig's Kickstarter launches 2/15. I'll get you a link when it's live.

In the meantime, check out the 1.0 version of the bag. http://mavenhal.com/