Being a lawyer is stressful enough to drive a person to drink. But for Pete Girgis, practicing law was secretly a way to prepare him to sell luxury alcohol for others to drink. After practicing insurance litigation at a firm for three years until Oct. 2011, Girgis, 31, and his two business partners founded Qui Tequila. It is the first clear, extra anejo tequila (meaning it was aged more than three years), and it hit liquor store shelves in Sept. 2012. You can pick up this $57-a bottle stress-killer at liquor retailers throughout Manhattan or at quitequila.com. Girgis lives (and drinks Qui) in the West Village.
Why did you switch careers?
My father was a small business owner who owned liquor stores in New Jersey, and I practiced law, I went to law school I also got an MBA from Rutgers [University] with the goal of starting a business, but leveraging a strong foundation in the legal side to help whatever business I decided to get into. And I ultimately chose this path because I was really fortunate to have met my cofounders. We each brought different strengths to the table and we saw an incredible opportunity in the luxury tequila market for an accessible, high-end tequila.
Why did you pick tequila instead of other alcohols?
The three of us have been tequila fans for years and wanted to show the world that there’s a side of tequila that is elegant, that is refined, that is sophisticated, that we felt hadn’t been properly conveyed.
Where is Qui manufactured?
It’s manufactured in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico, which is actually the highest point of the highlands region (it’s about two hours outside of Guadalajara). We spent a tremendous amount of time in Mexico visiting every possible facility that we could work with, and our goal was to really have one of the finest products on the market and we found that in the highlands region, because of the altitude the agave doesn’t grow as big, so it produces a much sweeter agave.
So do you drink a lot of tequila?
I definitely consume my healthy share of tequila. Tequila is a big part of my life for sure. It’s such an incredible spirit and it’s uplifting and [Qui is] a sipping tequila.
What’s your favorite way to drink it?
My favorite way to drink Qui is just over a couple of ice cubes.
What is a challenge unique to the tequila biz?
It is an industry dominated by a few dinosaur players that have most of the market share, which means going up against big budgets and lots of expertise. As a smaller luxury brand starting in New York, however, we've seen the tastemakers in fashion, art and hospitality develop a personal connection to Qui - which the bigger players can't buy.
Looking back, do you wish you had gone into this originally?
I definitely am very grateful for my previous career and the skills that I learned practicing law have been incredibly instrumental in helping us create a successful business.
Are you happy with your career switch?
I’m very happy, this has been more challenging but also more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. To look back and to see that we launched just about a year ago and to see the progress we’ve made in incredible establishments like the Standard Hotel, or these places doing incredibly well with the product. Now a year later when you see people order the product by name at these influential establishments, it’s incredibly rewarding.
Do you have any advice for readers who are considering a career 180?
My advice would be to really think through it before deciding to do it -- but life is short and it’s incredibly rewarding to do something that you’re passionate about, and if you’re going to do it, give it everything you’ve got.