Harlem native Joe Cruz Jr. introduces industry to tequila recipe

Joe Cruz Jr.'s personal recipe grew into YaVe Tequila. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

He knew he didn’t want to work for another liquor brand anymore after 25 years in the industry.

Joe Cruz Jr.'s personal recipe grew into YaVe Tequila.
Joe Cruz Jr.’s personal recipe grew into YaVe Tequila. Photo Credit: Sebastian Lucrecio

After spending decades working at liquor stores and promoting alcohol brands across the country, Joe Cruz Jr. introduced the industry to his personal recipe, which grew into YaVe Tequila.

Cruz knew he didn’t want to work for another liquor brand anymore after 25 years in the industry working in liquor stores and traveling the country promoting various brands. So, on the 10th anniversary of working in the industry, he resigned. From his home in Harlem, Cruz would start the process of creating what is now known as YaVe Tequila, a ultrasmooth, premium brand.

“I worked all three tiers of the industry, and it came down to a time where I just want to put all that energy into making my own products, as opposed to making everybody else rich,” Cruz told amNewYork.

“It was time to put all the expertise into something for myself, to create something for my family, friends, and create our own wealth,” Cruz said.

With that in mind, Cruz resigned from his day job and began finessing YaVe from his Harlem apartment in 2015. The 41-year-old said he focused on tequila since it is healthier than other liquors, and, uniquely, a stimulant. He described peers calling him crazy when he debuted products such as naturally, mango-flavored tequila. But now, Cruz said he is poised to have his products carried by the first major distributor, Empire Merchants, where he worked for a decade. 

"I knew for a fact tequila was about to explode," Cruz said. "I’m a liquor nerd so the same way people know about basketball players or football scores, I know about who started what liquor brand; when it started; why they started; and how much they started with. I study all that."

Cruz said he took others’ skepticism as a sign that he was onto something innovative.

"I love that," he said. "I’ve gone from pretty much an independent guy, from having my Salesforce and my guys selling every case, delivering the cases, picking up checks, handling invoices, doing things far beyond what everyone else does. Now, we’re going from that into major distribution.”

Cruz said growing up in Harlem, and now raising his 17-year-old, Jose Cruz III, there has kept him motivated to empower the community.

"Most people survive in Harlem. I was like, ‘I would thrive in Harlem,’" Cruz said. "I was here when it was rough, before it was cool to say you were from Harlem. I grew up here: poor, broke, like everybody else going through the struggles. But my mother worked as hard as possible. She had a full-time job, went to school full-time. My grandmother worked for a law firm. My dad was in liquor as a kid. So, I had positivity around me when it came to my family structure. Once I walked outside, everything changed."

Cruz said he feels fortunate to have been able to remain in Harlem.

Derrel Jazz Johnson