How Jon Buscemi Went From Stockbroker to Sneaker Mogul to Whiskey Baron

Jon Buscemi's first batch of Wolves Whiskey sold out in a number of days

Fashion designer Jon Buscemi at Goodman's Men's Store in 2015. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty)
Fashion designer Jon Buscemi at Goodman's Men's Store in 2015. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty)
By Evan Bleier / August 8, 2019 6:10 am

Just like his cousin Steve, Jon Buscemi has played a few different characters during his professional career.

His first was a Wall Street stockbroker, a role he performed well enough in that, in addition to bringing in plenty of cash, enabled him to amass a sneaker collection comprised of more than 600 pairs of exclusive and limited-edition shoes.

Inspired by the cache of kicks, Buscemi changed roles and entered the design world, working for brands like DC Shoe Co., Lotta USA and Oliver Peoples before eventually launching his own luxury footwear and accessories shop, BUSCEMI, in 2013.

Now, six years later, Buscemi has pivoted once again to another position as one of the co-founders of a craft-spirit offering, Wolves Whiskey. that sold out in a matter of days after it launched.

California's first luxury whiskey brand, Wolves Whiskey. (Wolves Whiskey)
California’s first luxury whiskey brand, Wolves Whiskey. (Wolves Whiskey)

A 106-proof blend of three distinct whiskeys, each bottle of First Run was delivered in a box engraved with the phrase: “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.”

Choosing to be a wolf didn’t come cheap ($150), but based on how quickly the 898 bottles Wolves Whiskey’s First Run flew off shelves, many people obviously opted to go that route anyway. After all, who wants to be a sheep?

Certainly not Buscemi, who took the time to sit down with InsideHook and offer a couple of insights about why he got into the whiskey business, staying motivated and what he does to maintain his creativity.

InsideHook: You’ve done many different things professionally — is there one lesson that’s been applicable across all of them? 

Jon Buscemi: This has not been a personal lesson so to speak, more of a code and compass. Quality surpasses quantity always. I would rather produce a product that has been personally hand-crafted to perfection, provide something more than just the sole purpose upon which it was initially created – but an overall luxurious experience and if that means it comes at a greater expense and limited availability – so be it.

Why did you want to get into the whiskey business?

When it comes to my brands, I make products for selfish reasons –  I truly want to make products that are missing from my personal home. Whether that is my wardrobe, my car or in this case — my home bar. I strive to create products that are obnoxiously high quality and I feel like the California whiskey scene was missing that. Wolves is a luxury and lifestyle fashion brand applying its learnings and resources in luxury marketing to the spirits industry. We see California whiskey as the vehicle.

What would you have dedicated your life to if whiskey or sneakers or any of your other projects didn’t work out? 

I was previously a broker on Wall Street. A career quite far from where I am today, but I owe Wall Street a lot. Those 16-hour days helped craft my tenacity and if I wasn’t in the industry I am now – I would probably be channeling my energy into ringing that bell.

What is the key to sustained motivation in a long career?

My reality motivates me. Holding the ability to wake up, research, develop and execute a dream idea is my biggest motivation. There is no ‘out of bounds area’ for me now and how could anyone have an issue maintaining their motivation when the sky really is the limit?

Where’s the most interesting place you’ve visited in your career?

I am lucky enough to say I have visited many cities over the course of my career but no other city has ever had the same effect on me as my hometown has. There is simply nothing else like New York, it is the center of the universe as far as I am concerned. You are submerged in so much culture with every street you cross, every conversation you hold and every new face you see. Don’t get me wrong, I have visited some amazing cities but there is just something about New York — you know what I mean.

What’s the first thing you look for when you visit a city?

Obviously as a designer, I tend to immerse myself in the culture and art when I visit a new city. Each city vastly differs from the next and you can find identity in the most alternative of places. I like to verge off the mainstream track and see the side of the city that you need to really search for.”

What’s one piece of art, be it a song, painting, photography, a book or something else that changed the way you view the world?  

I think I was 10 or 11 years old I was at a girl’s house in my town and she stole a VHS tape from her mother’s bedroom and popped it in the VHS player. My entire life changed cinematically. Brian de Palma’s Scarface defines my love of movies more importantly changed the way I looked at the world. The movie is a complete masterpiece and the aspirational nature of that movie I believe fueled my hustle from an early age.

What’s your go-to creative ritual?  

Shopping at consignment or vintage stores is my guilty pleasure and really gets the creative juices flowing. Garage sales, estate sales, anything like that is my favorite.

What’s the one thing you own you’d save from a burning building? 

I have a 25- or 26-year-old camouflage field jacket that I’ve been wearing pretty much once a week all these years. I’d have to go save that.

What do you fear most about the future?  

Being a father, most of the fear is directed subconsciously and consciously towards my son’s future.  I believe technology will set us free and save us. I’m not too wrapped up in fear. I’m pretty much wrapped up in the present, mostly.