Meet Cape Bev’s New Operations Manager… Justin Vitti!
He’s more than magic. He’s more than a mustache and a smile.
He’s a guy with a singular past that prepared him to be the new Operations Manager of Cape Beverage, with an accrued business acumen that only a background in sales, homebrewing, bartending, and distribution could possibly create.
That’s Justin Vitti: Pearl Jam fan, walking encyclopedic compilation of Harry Potter spells, and able to shove a nail through his septum.
Straight to the Pint has never formally introduced him to our readers. He’s sort of always existed as this force at Cape May Brewing Co., doing card tricks and ensuring that our beer gets to its final destination: your stomach.
Now, on the precipice of his new job, we wanted to get it down. Get it all down. Sit back, because Justin is known to tell stories.
And we’re starting at the very beginning.
Let’s face it — no one is born knowing how to run distribution for a beer distributor. There are a lot of vagaries to the job, many things that Justin had to pick up throughout his life to get him to where he is today.
Born in Upstate New York, Justin and his family moved to Rio Grande when he was seven, where he eventually graduated from Wildwood Catholic.
“Senior Class President, Class of ‘97,” he laughs. “Yes, I was. I wanted to be Student Council President, but I got beat by five votes, six votes. Something like that.”
Justin’s been working full-time since he was nineteen, including his first job as a Management Trainee for Enterprise Rent-a-Car. If you work in an office and take the time to ask around, odds are that you know a few people who have gone through this program.
“My first grown-up job,” he says. “My big-boy pants. I got to wear a shirt and tie to work every day. I had a salary. I had to wear long sleeves at the beach over the summer.”
You spend much of your days as a glorified car detailer, but they’re not wasting their time at Enterprise — they want each person who comes out of the program ready and willing to run a branch.
“A lot of my work ethic came out of that job,” he says. “Their whole training program takes trainees and teaches you how to operate a branch as the owner of the branch. You learn the whole balance sheet, profit-and-loss, breakeven, how to lower costs and expenses while increasing profit. They teach you all of that in detail.”
Essentially, the program is a crash course in business, and Justin spent nearly six years with Enterprise.
“I was a branch rental manager by the time I was done there,” he says.
After that, he couldn’t decide if he wanted to go into finance or culinary arts, eventually deciding that finance would be more lucrative.
“I passed my Series 7, I passed my Life and Health, I just needed to pass my 33 for my financial advisor license, and I realized that I hated it,” he says, “so I decided to go into mortgages instead of financial advising.”
Throughout all of these jobs, Justin moonlighted as a bartender throughout the area.
“It was about fifteen years total,” he says, “working in the bars and clubs of Wildwood. Most of the places don’t exist anymore.”
After spending a lot of time in bars, around 2004 or 2005, Justin got into homebrewing.
“All my buddies drank Big Brew,” he says. “I didn’t even start drinking beer until I was about 23. I loved Guinness, Dogfish Head 60 Minute, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The timing was perfect for me — none of my friends wanted to drink it. It was grassy, it was bitter. They all wanted to drink an import beer with a liqueur poured into the neck. And we’d drink tons of liquor.”
However, he soon realized that he could make his own beer.
“I tried it to no positive avail,” he says, “but I kept at it.”
Justin brews partial-mash — using grain and extract –, unlike some homebrewers who do all extract or, like at the brewery, where we use all grain.
“I don’t have the room for all the equipment for full mash,” he says, “or the time.”
He’s entered each of our homebrewing contests, showing reasonably well each time.
Justin was instrumental in bringing CMBC on at Goodnight Irene’s, having bartended there at one point in his career. He’d met Ryan and Hank while he was doing some freelance work at a printer in the unit next to the brewery and working for Morey’s Piers.
“We were doing some of the print stuff for them — t-shirts, posters — and Ryan and Hank would bring over growlers of beer for us to try,” he recalls.
He left Morey’s and interviewed to work in the Tasting Room. During the interview, Ryan and Hank noted that they thought he might make a good fit for a sales manager somewhere down the line. At the time, Justin had a two-year-old daughter at home and needed a big-boy job with benefits.
“I started at three days a week, eventually working five days a week,” he recalls. “I was out representing the brewery at events, and within six months, we needed a sales guy.”
Richie Rallo came onboard about that time, and they were splitting the duties of sales manager and events team, with Justin eventually leaving the Tasting Room and spending all of his time doing sales.
“I covered half of our territory — which was up to Camden County, at that point — and Richie had the other half. When we rolled out into Philly, my girlfriend at the time was living in Northeast Philly, I became our Philly rep.”
Eventually, we needed someone to oversee the distribution side of things, and Justin was an obvious choice.
“They asked me if I wanted to do it twice, and I said no,” he laughs. “It was different. It wasn’t a sales job. You know, you’re out on the road, fast-paced, doing sales, growing with the company — distribution is a little different. A little intimidating. You don’t see the long-term when you’re in an admin job.”
We had other candidates, but Ryan and Hank were relentless: they really wanted Justin.
“So I took it.”
Since then, he’s had a truly bird’s-eye view of the company’s growth, easily seeing the number of accounts grow.
“When I took over the department, it was two drivers and two sales guys.”
Our original delivery guy, Andrew Ewing, is now one of our brewers.
“We called him Power Unit,” he recalls. “He would print all the invoices, make his own pick list, figure out where he had to go. We didn’t have software then.”
It was quite a different process, taking orders and getting them where they needed to go. Justin was out in the field with Richie, covering seven or eight counties, doing the routing and putting together all of the analytics on his own.
“Originally, we were writing our orders on the dry-erase board, and at the end of the day, either Richie or I would input them into QuickBooks and print them out for Andrew for the next day,” he recalls. “I was looking at orders, looking at them on a map, then Google mapping them for a route for Andrew to follow.”
Now, we’re covering all 21 counties in New Jersey with eight trucks, nine drivers, and two draft techs, all coordinated with extraordinarily powerful routing and CRM software called Encompass.
“It’s just crazy.”
Regardless, there’s a lot of Justin’s past that prepared him to run distribution for Cape Beverage.
“I don’t want to sound boastful –”
Why stop now?
“– I legitimately use both sides of my brain. I’m left-brained and right-brained. I’m ambidextrous. I study math and physics, and I draw and paint and write, so I’m creative and logical at the same time. I think that gives me an ability for problem solving and real-world thinking that are necessary for this job.”
Justin says that he’s read “the most boring books ever” on supply-chain management and logistics, as well as servant leadership and how to be a good leader.
“When I first started going to work, you left your personal life at home,” he says. “No one cared. With the generational shift, I’ve learned that the most important things for employees today: ask them how their day is and ask them about their personal problems. It’s in the top five things that new hires want. They want a boss who cares about them.”
For Justin, that was a rough transition. It wouldn’t be a disservice to call him a “straight-shooter”. He’s curt and to-the-point, a naturally impatient guy, short-fused and hot-headed. But, luckily, he’s aware of all of that.
“I’ve started to take a personal interest in my team,” he says, “and the department has flourished. The distribution department is a really good department.”
“Follow the Gull because you can drink a lot of them; they’re low ABV,” he says. “It’s hoppy, it’s juicy, it doesn’t strip your palate, though. It’s hoppy without crushing your palate. And IPA is just so approachable. It’s so drinkable. It’s the kind of beer that got me into craft beer, which is why I think I’m such an advocate for it.”
He advocated to bring us on at Goodnight Irene’s, back when he was their “resident bartending magician”. Justin’s interest in magic began when he was eight-years-old, having recently moved to New Jersey.
“My grandfather got me a magic set for my eighth birthday,” he reports. “My uncle and my grandfather would go through the different tricks and teach them to me.”
He’d always been interested in magic, but, growing up, he felt the need to hide it from his friends.
“It was always kind of a closet thing,” he said. “I studied sleight of hand, but I never practiced with my friends because they’d think I was a big dork. They still think I’m a big dork.”
In his early 20s, he decided that he wanted to move beyond the trick decks and gimmicky props — that he wanted to learn how to do real sleight of hand.
“I never wanted to do the big illusions, but I always wanted to do sleight of hand,” he says. “I remember my first magic DVDs — no, wait, VHSs — set was Jeff McBride. It taught you all about manipulation.”
However, Justin’s hands were too small to palm a regular-sized poker card, so he called Jeff McBride for advice.
“They told me to start with bridge cards,” he says. “They’re smaller than poker-sized cards. I learned how to do card manipulation with bridge-sized cards, and I realized that I hated it.”
But, it started his interest in sleight of hand, learning all of the mechanics of that discipline.
“So, I’m a close-up magician who specializes in card magic,” he says. “I’m a card mechanic. I have a deck of cards on me as often as I have my Credo Card.”
Having long ago graduated to poker cards, he counts Helder Guimarães and Benjamin Earl among his heroes.
And Harry Potter.
“My unfounded devotion to Harry Potter lies in my love of fantasy,” he says. “There’s no reason it can’t be real. Seriously. This whole underground world of magic could totally exist.”
Here we agree. It is entirely possible that the wizarding world could exist in parallel to our own. It’s probably one of the reasons the property is so popular: it could exist and we muggles don’t know it.
Justin’s also a huge fan of Pearl Jam, planning to travel to London this summer to catch part of their European tour.
“It’s what I was raised on,” he says. “When I got into high school, it was grunge and Dave Matthews.”
Justin had an old dual cassette player with a 45 player on top and used to listen to “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Vanilla Ice’s perennial classic “Ice, Ice, Baby”.
Thankfully, his musical tastes changed in high school. He was one of those kids in the mid-90s with a tricked-out ride, driving the strips, generally being a menace to society.
“I had a 1986 Volkswagen Golf GTI,” he recalls, “17” Momo Knife rims on it. It was a sleeper — it didn’t have a lowrider on it, but it had a turbo. I loved that car.”
He’s also a big fan of Star Wars, having seen the new film at least three times already.
“I felt that it was everything it needed to be,” he said, “very entertaining, but there were some major holes.”
In addition, he’s a fan of some seriously obscure films like Deadly Best Friend. If you’ve seen it, let us know, but we’re not rushing to find it. He also has a weird fascination with Tom Cruise and his films, having based a life philosophy around them. We’re not kidding. He plans to write a book.
“He may not be a good actor,” Justin claims, “but he’s never in a bad movie.”
We pointed out Rock of Ages and moved on.
Faithful readers of Straight to the Pint are likely well-acquainted with Justin’s award-winning mustache.
“I got into it while I was bartending at Goodnight Irene’s,” he tells us. “I’d recently met a local gentleman named ‘Bones’. He was a bartender at Carney’s at the time — I believe it was Carney’s.”
Justin stopped shaving when the Phillies made the World Series in 2009, growing a playoff beard.
“It was a great time to be a Phillies fan,” he says. “They were closing the Spectrum, and Pearl Jam played a four-day run over Halloween. I grew the beard and we noticed that my mustache would curl on the ends.”
After growing the beard, Justin became acquainted with Whisker Wars, a television show on the IFC channel that introduced him to the world of competitive bearding.
“Basically,” he says, “it’s dog shows for grown men.”
He went to his first competition in Philadelphia — a chowder/beard and mustache competition. He arrived late and missed the competition, but was able to meet the guys from Whisker Wars.
“I became friends with them and had my 15 seconds of fame on that show,” he says. “It was fun. And it stuck. Everybody remembers the bartender with the mustache. Who does magic.”
Justin has traveled the country doing competitions, even winning a national championship in 2015.
“I won for Hungarian mustache,” he says. “Hungarian mustache is the…”
Justin explains, but it’s easier to simply look at a picture of him and understand what he’s talking about.
He had a disastrous shaving accident in July of 2017, bringing his competitive bearding career to an abrupt end.
Justin met his wife Mariel while he was moonlighting at Cattle & Clover in Wildwood on Pacific Avenue. He stopped in to have a beer after a long day at Morey’s, and saw a group of girls sitting at the bar, making fun of a bachelorette party.
“I was like, ‘Y’all are awesome’,” he says. “I went over and introduced myself to the group: ‘Hi, I’m Justin. I have a funny mustache. I was recently engaged. I have a daughter.’ Straight out of George Costanza.”
They hung out, had a few beers, and continued to make fun of the bachelorette party — “to their faces” — but, as nights do, the night ended and Justin went home.
The following night, Justin blew off the date he’d had planned to hang out with Mariel. They were married three years ago and had a daughter, Piper, earlier this year. Justin has a daughter from a previous relationship, Sophia, who’s now ten. And, try as he might to turn Sophia into an image of himself, she remains a sweet and caring young lady.
Regardless, Justin’s looking forward to a great future at Cape Beverage.
“I just want to kick ass,” Justin says. “Cape Beverage and Cape May Brewing Company are a team; I want them to be efficient and profitable.”
To Justin, that means getting it right the first time and not wasting time and resources.
“Moving an item two times is not efficient,” he says. “Moving it once is.”
Yet, he realizes that our growth is a challenge. Though we have a shiny new building in Egg Harbor Township, he expects that we’ll have grown out of it in three years.
“And the distance will be a challenge,” he says. “Right now, if we’re out of something, we run over to headquarters and get it. Once we move into the new building, it’s a 35-mile drive. But, it’s about getting the people in place and the processes in place to make sure that we’re not scrambling at the last minute to fill orders.”
Justin thinks we’ve got the right team in place. Referencing Jim Collins’ Good to Great, he says, “We’ve got the right people in the right seats on the bus.”
And the right driver.
Be sure to congratulate Justin the next time you see him in the Tasting Room!