Over the past year, Vida Tequila and Salt Lake City have become linked in the minds of millions of TV viewers — ever since the premiere of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”
Cast member Lisa Barlow and her husband, John, own and operate Vida. And their company has come up with some frequency on the show, which has been good for business.
“Yes, it absolutely has,” Lisa said. “Bravo is an amazing platform to be on just for global awareness. … And I think that has definitely been great for the brand.”
It’s not exactly what non-Utahns would expect from Utahns. And owning a tequila company is not what anyone expects from an “active member” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is how Lisa describes herself. She also considers herself as “Mormon 2.0″ — she practices the religion “my own way.” And since “RHOSLC” debuted, Vida Tequila has become one of the most high-profile products associated with Utah. “It does make it fun,” John said.
The company is based here, but — as anyone who knows anything about tequila is already aware — Vida is produced in Mexico because it has to be. Champagne can only be labeled as champagne if it’s produced in the right part of France; tequila can only be labeled tequila if it’s produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco and in a few other Mexican municipalities.
“But we feel like it’s a local product — a Utah-based product,” Lisa said.
Salt City Best Fest
Vida Tequila is one of the sponsors of The Salt Lake Tribune’s Salt City Best Fest on Saturday, Dec. 4, at The Leonardo museum. Vida will be one of the vendors at the gathering, which honors the best of Utah and will feature food, drink and live music on all three floors of the museum. And the Barlows will be there themselves; they’re scheduled to speak at a seminar at 5:30 p.m.
“We actually really work our brand here in this local market,” Lisa said. “We have a team here, so we’re really hands-on and make sure we know when we show up at restaurant openings and events like this.”
Theirs is a Utah success story, which began long before the “Real Housewives” came along. They launched Vida in 2007.
“We were in tequila before tequila was cool,” Lisa said. “We did it when people were saying things like, ‘Oh, te-kill-ya,’ and they didn’t understand that you can get great luxury tequila. When we started Vida, there were less than 400 tequila brands in the market. Now there are thousands.”
They worked for four years before Vida Tequila launched in 2007. Since then, it has won a boatload of awards for its quality.
“We didn’t just go into this and slap a sticker on a bottle,” Lisa said. “We have worked so hard on our brand since 2003. John and I are entrepreneurs at heart, and it’s not always easy building a brand. Building a business. That’s why everyone doesn’t do it.”
The Barlows said that Lisa becoming one of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” has been good for business. And not just for Vida, but for other businesses they own — including Fresh Wolf, the men’s grooming products line they launched with their sons, 17-year-old Jack and 9-year-old Henry.
For every bottle of Fresh Wolf product sold, they donate a bottle to a child in foster care, and they’ve partnered with Utah Foster Care on fundraisers. (John was in foster care for a time when he was an infant.)
“We didn’t do it because of the show. We started the project before the show was even a thought,” Lisa said. “It’s really allowed us to put a spotlight on Utah Foster Care and their lack of funding and what a difference they make in our community and in kids’ lives.
Tequila in the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t affect Vida Tequila’s bottom line much for good or ill, although things got “a little crazy” early on. “I think John and I had an oh-my-gosh moment when Vegas just completely shut down,” Lisa said.
But things “kind of balanced out,” she added, because, “fortunately in our beautiful [state-]controlled market” in Utah, “there were lines outside the liquor stores. There’s been a major demand increase because I think that during COVID, people drank a lot more.”
They weren’t doing it at bars and restaurants, which were forced to shut down. But liquor stores, for the most part, remained open. “And, fortunately, we had positioned ourselves to be ready for just the liquor store purchases,” John said.
The Barlows own their own agave crops and were “set up really well” to continue producing Vida. But there has been one significant difficulty.
“The only issue that’s been really rough for the wine and spirits business as a whole is that there’s a global glass crisis affecting everybody, from Jim Beam to Patron. Everybody, including Vida,” Lisa said.
And Vida doesn’t come in run-of-the-mill glass bottles. The Barlows spent a lot of time designing the bottles, which Lisa describes as “timeless pieces of art that, empty or full, look beautiful on your back bar.”
But they’re dealing with it. Lisa seems to be taking it in stride. Which isn’t surprising to “Real Housewives” fans, who’ve seen her weather multiple storms on the show and, at times, be portrayed as a villain.
Life in the “Real Housewives” spotlight
“I know what I signed up for,” Lisa said. “One day [viewers] love you, the next day they hate you. I have an extremely high level of accountability. And, as you’ve probably seen on the show, I have a lot of confidence. And I think you have to have both of those things to be successful being in the public eye like this.”
Viewers have seen her deal with attacks and criticism from fellow Housewives Heather Gay, Whitney Rose, Jen Shah and Mary Cosby. Even her friend, Meredith Marks, hasn’t refrained from criticizing Lisa in Season 2.
“Last season was really hard, but this season — it’s a total pile-on every week. Everybody just loves to pile on me,” Lisa said.
She’s been accused (without evidence) of intentionally sabotaging a friend’s charity event. Her efforts to end an antagonistic relationship with Whitney have resulted in further attacks against her. Meredith was mad at her for befriending Jen. Heather is holding a grudge from something that apparently never happened when they were both attending BYU. An innocent comment she made to Mary prompted Mary to go after her. And she’s found herself caught in the middle of controversy over allegations about Mary’s church.
“But you know what? If you tell the truth and you’re yourself, you can’t go wrong, because I don’t have anything to hide,” Lisa said. “I don’t want to cover anything up.”
She does, however, feel bad that her friend, Cameron Williams — a former member of Mary’s church — is being maligned on social media because he warned Meredith to be careful about associating with Mary.
Williams, a community activist who was the chair of the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce, died at the age of 33 in June, about 2½ months after he was filmed for “RHOSLC.” In the Nov. 21 episode, Lisa revealed that Cameron told her he mortgaged his home to give Mary and her husband $300,000.
“There were billboards all over Utah for him [after his death] for a reason — because he was an amazing person,” Lisa said. “And it’s hard to hear anyone say anything negative about him because of what he did for Utah in diversity. There’s a reason that the mayor, the governor and all the prominent people in Silicon Slopes showed up to speak at his memorial service. Because he was remarkable.
“Watching people decimate his good name, that’s what’s hard for me.”
SALT CITY BEST FEST
The Salt Lake Tribune’s first Salt City Best Fest will celebrate food and drink from around the Wasatch Front, with offerings from restaurants, distilleries, breweries and other vendors, along with live music.
When • Saturday, Dec. 4, in two sessions — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4 to 8 p.m.
Where • The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City.
Live music • Performances by “The Voice” alumnus Blaine Long, R&B singer Jay Warren, singer-songwriter Bri Ray, and country-crossover artist Maddie Wilson.
Tickets • General admission tickets are $18 in advance, $25 on the day of the event; those tickets do not include tokens (at $4 each) for food and drinks.
VIP tickets • $55 in advance, $75 on the day of the show. The VIP package includes $20 in tokens, private show with meet-and-greet with the music acts, premium wine tasting, fine dining restaurants, and VIP bar with premium liquor.
Rules • Must be 21 or older. COVID-19 vaccinations are recommended; masks are encouraged.
Details • Go to saltcitybestfest.com.
Sponsors • Smith’s is the presenting sponsor. Produced by R Entertainment. Other sponsors include: La Caille, Dented Brick Distillery, Salt Flats Spirits, Maverick Gaming, Shades Brewing/Proper Brewing Co., DoTerra, Prohibition Refined Cocktails & Cuisine, Flanker Kitchen + Sporting Club, Green Mountain Grills and Vida Tequila.