Backstory

Backstory: Couple mixing bartending business with pleasure

vbridges@newsobserver.comJanuary 27, 2014 

Darius Peterson, co-owner of Bartending Unlimited in Durham, started his company after bartending for a private party.

VIRGINIA BRIDGES — vbridges@newsobserver.com

  • Advice from Darius and Contonna Peterson

    • Research and plan, but be flexible and ready to adjust at an event or your industry.

    • Invest in a strong team. You need wise counselors that include a CPA, attorney and insurance agent.

— During the day, Darius Peterson works in sales at Time Warner Cable, but on most weekends he is shaking, stirring and pouring drinks at private events for his nearly 10-year-old company Bartending Unlimited.

“Time Warner Cable pays the mortgage,” he said. “This is what I like to do.”

Peterson and his wife, Contonna, founded their company in August 2004. In the first year, the company booked four events. In 2013, the couple turned to a pool of about 25 subcontractors to help them set up and tend bar for 77 events, which have ranged from a private dinner for two to 2,000 people at the Smith Center. More than 50 percent of the Petersons’ events were wedding related. Other clients included corporations, nonprofit agencies and private parties.

“We cater to your bar the same way a caterer does for food,” Darius Peterson said.

The company’s offerings include obtaining special alcohol permits from the state, setting up a full bar, supervising bartenders and providing custom drinks, coordinated to match an event’s theme and colors.

Contonna Peterson handles the daily operations, talking to clients, planning and onsite delegation, and Darius Peterson bartends and helps his wife with whatever she needs.

The company started from Darius Peterson’s interest in bartending. In 1998, he took a course at Raleigh Bartending School and started working at The Power Co., a former nightclub in downtown Durham. Bartending into the morning and working full time as a retail manager for a cellphone company started to take its toll, he said, and he walked away from the late-night job in 2001.

A year later, a friend asked Darius Peterson to bartend at a private party. That job led to Bartending Unlimited.

The couple did research for two years and reached out to bartending companies in other states.

“I let them know I was not in their area, I was not a threat to them,” Darius Peterson said. “Once I did that, people were more than willing to give me the information I was looking for, as far as how to start it, what you need to do, and what you need to look for.”

The Petersons wrote a business plan and took a business class. They initially struggled to educate clients and vendors about their services but turned to networking and relationship building to showcase their business and get clients.

Contonna Peterson, who was an evening front-desk manager at hotels until 2006, spent her spare time networking at business after-hour events, wedding guild luncheons and chamber education sessions.

Nearly 10 years later, Contonna Peterson is applying that same networking mentality to building an online presence by plugging into different websites that include Facebook, Twitter, RTPlinks.com and MerchantCircle.com.

“You name it,” she said. “I am trying to be on it.”

Becoming preferred vendors for event spaces such as Bay 7 at American Tobacco Campus, and companies such as American Party Rentals, have also increased their customer base, the Petersons said. Meanwhile, guidance from lawyers, CPAs and insurance agents has been instrumental in keeping the company on the right track.

“Key people that will make what you do seem flawless, but you can always go to them and say, ‘I am freaking out,’ ” she said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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