Meet Harvest Card's Landon McPherson, one of North Bay Business Journal's 2019 Forty Under 40

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Forty Under 40 winner

Age: 35

Founder

Harvest Card

1415 Fulton Road, Suite 205, Santa Rosa

707-535-9380

www.getharvestcard.com

Landon McPherson, 35, founder of Harvest Card in Santa Rosa, is one of North Bay Business Journal's Forty Under 40 notable young professionals for 2019.

Responsibilities with your company: I founded Harvest Card 2.5 years ago - it began with conversations with a few friends, after a glass of wine or two. I reached out to a graphic designer friend, Jon Strachan and said: “I have an idea and need some help.”

He and I met and literally sat on the floor in the living room, sketching and drawing - since then I still do everything for Harvest Card from business development, quality control (wine tasting/experience testing with winery and restaurant partners), order fulfillment for Harvest Card, marketing, advertising, event planning, event execution, strategic planning; anything and everything.

Each season before the next generation of Harvest Card is released I recruit my mom, Nana and best friend, Melissa Sotak, to help with card/package assembly. For the time being it is me, myself and I - If something needs to be done, I have to do it.

How do you exemplify the spirit of being a top Forty Under 40 professional?: First generation Santa Rosan who loves and appreciates our rich history with an eye toward how we can make SoCo an ever better place for years to come.

Years with company: 2.5

Length of time in current position: 2.5

Employees: 1

Number who report to you: 1

Greatest professional accomplishment: My greatest professional accomplishments come to me each time I hear from a winery client and they say, “We just had a Harvest Card Member at the winery and they were amazing!” and each time I hear from a Harvest Card member telling me that they had an incredible time in wine country.

It’s also amazing when I hear from local Harvest Card members and they tell me that because of the card and their membership that they are venturing out and trying new wineries and restaurants that they normally would not have visited. My first time being interviewed by Steve Jaxon (KSRO) and Brent Farris (KZST) both of them said “This membership is GENIUS! I mean, who wouldn’t want to join? It’s for locals as much as it is for visitors”.

Greatest professional challenge: With over 425 wineries in Sonoma County, it’s difficult to know where to begin. I’ve made it my mission to only enlist those wineries that I have personally visited and LOVED- everything from the wine to the hospitality experience.

The greatest challenge, and also greatest reward, has been that I started this company on my own. It’s definitely had its challenges, but also knowing that it began with a conversation in my living room with a couple of friends when I was transitioning from a corporate job and to see where I am today, only 2.5 years in, over 1,000 Harvest Card members, 1,300 followers (all organic) on social media.

There are moments when, as a business owner, you know what you would like the end result to be but are not totally clear on how to get there - you can feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Those times are never fun, but fortunately, I have a really great support system and a network of friends and collogues that I can call upon when I am not sure where to begin.

Forty Under 40 winner

Age: 35

Founder

Harvest Card

1415 Fulton Road, Suite 205, Santa Rosa

707-535-9380

www.getharvestcard.com

Best advice received: Sally Srok (Inner Compass Consulting) was introduced to me in the very beginning of Harvest Card and has become a friend and mentor. Since the very beginning, she has told me “Don’t be afraid to change your mind; you are not married to the rules of other people at this time; you are the captain of your own ship and need to go where you and your card members want to go.” She also told me that especially as a one-man show, it’s really important for you to have a sense of community and not to let myself feel isolated and alone since there is no longer “time at the water cooler” when you work for yourself.

Single most important event in your professional life in the last 12 months: Last summer I teamed up with DRNK Wines (Ryan Kunde, owner/winemaker) and Perch & Plow for the first ‘Supper Club’.

One question that I am asked frequently is “How do you actually pick the wine or the food for food and wine pairings?” Ahead of time, Heather Irwin (dining editor, Press Democrat/Sonoma Magazine) and I met with the new executive chef, Ted Williams, to work on and talk through the menu and what he was creating. I did check in with Ryan Kunde to see which wines he was bringing, but I did not actually tell him what Chef Ted had finalized on the menu.

The ‘Harvest Card Supper Club’ dinner was an intimate group of 24 individuals, including the winemaker wherein our guests actually got to witness and hear the conversation between the chef “This is what we’re having” and the winemaker “This wine will pair really well with”. “And really bring out these flavors!”.

Perch + Plow is really known for their bar program and they brought in spirits from one of our distillery partners, Sonoma Brothers Distilling (owned by Brandon Matthies (Santa Rosa Police Department) and Chris Matthies (Santa Rosa Fire Department) to create a delicious welcome cocktail for the guests.

What steps is your company taking to sustain your organization and morale in the current economy?: Each day is an adventure for me, and considering that I am the captain, bosun, chef, and stew of my own ship (for the time being), my number one priority is to make sure that our Harvest Card members are receiving elevated experiences with our partners and also adding new winery partners constantly.

Next professional goal: The goal for this year is to grow Harvest Card up to 50 total winery partners; also adding a second tier of winery partners - those wineries that are allocated and member/appointment only. I am really looking forward to June which will be the first (of many to come) annual ‘Harvest: Uncorked’, benefiting Sonoma Family Meal, which will be held at Charlie’s at Windsor Golf Club.

At this event, all of the Harvest Card winery partners will be in the same place at the same time pouring at the same time. I wanted to put together a ‘grand tasting’ of sort wherein the general public and Harvest Card members can taste from all of our winery partners at the same time; being able to tie Sonoma Family Meal into the event at the same time is the biggest bonus of all. Sonoma Family Meal is a nonprofit, founded by Heather Irwin (dining Editor, Press Democrat, Sonoma Magazine) that has served over 180,000 meals to fire survivors and continues to serve chef-prepared meals to 80+ families each week.

Education: Santa Rosa High School

Hometown: Santa Rosa

Community/nonprofit activities: Founding board member at Sonoma Family Meal with Heather Irwin (Dining Editor, Press Democrat, Sonoma Magazine): Serving fire survivors of the October 2017 Sonoma County fire. To date, we have served over 180k meals and each week we have 80+ families that we continue to serve. During the fire, I showed up on day two to volunteer and never left. Since then, Heather Irwin, Taylor Eason (Cork + Fork Media) and I turned it into an actual non-profit.

Today, I am there each week during meal distribution for our families. One of the greatest moments that we have at SFM is when one of our families comes to us and says “We’re settled into our new home and are ready to begin our new life. We couldn’t have done this without you”. There are times, too, when we receive thank you cards from our families, but the ones that make you cry each and every time are when we get cards from the kids or the kids come in to pick up the meals and come over to say hi. YWCA: Advisory board/ committee for the annual event: Women, Wine, Chefs & Cheese. I have been working with the YWCA for about 4 years supporting this AMAZING non-profit that provides a safe place for (primarily women) of domestic violence.

I have known the ED of the Sonoma County YWCA for about 25 years (I think I was about 10 years old) when I met Madeleine Keegan-O’Connell - She is an absolutely amazing woman who I admire and respect. Since starting Harvest Card I have been able to sponsor the bubbles reception for their big event and fundraiser and help them out with securing wineries for the event as well. Senior Advocacy Services: This year, Tracy Kline (Exchange Bank) who is on the board for SAS asked me to jump in and help with their big event ‘Pick of the Vine’ as they needed some additional help with securing wineries to pour and restaurants for the event.

Now, it seems that I’ll be joining another board. Considering that I already help take care of my grandfather, who is disabled and has dementia, it’s a natural fit for me to want to help and do anything I can for our senior citizens; especially supporting a non-profit that advocates for them.

Mentor/admired businessperson: Oprah. I’m not really kidding, I think she’s amazing. However, locally there are a few people who I really look up to and admire for different reasons. Madeleine Keegan Oconnell (executive director of YWCA) is on my list. I have known Madeleine since I was probably 10 years old.

Even then I knew that she was a force to be reckoned with. The work that she has done and continues to do for and with the YWCA is incredible. She has taught me and continues to remind me that if you don’t make the ask, you will never know if it could be.

I also have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Mark and Terri Stark. I know how they operate their business and restaurants, constantly putting their employees first. In October 2017 when they lost Willi’s Wine Bar, they placed all of Willi’s employees at each of their other restaurants - asking them first if they had a preference as to which restaurant they would like to go to.

When Harvest Card is big enough to have more than just one employee, I know that I will follow Mark and Terri’s lead on workplace environment/morale and standards.

What is your most disliked buzzword?: What? I can’t pick more than one industry ‘buzzword’ to dislike? (Understated/casual Luxury), (Influencer) and (Millenial) are a few terms that cause an audible eye-roll. There is something about drawing attention to luxury while simultaneously stating that it’s (casual) or (understated). I have the same response to seeing the hash tag (#Blessed) following a photo of any Kardashian.

Typical day at the office: Currently, and for the foreseeable future, Harvest Card is growing: adding more winery, hotel, restaurant and experience partners; which means that a lot of my time is spent either visiting new places, networking and building those relationships to add new experiences to offer to our Harvest Cardmembers.

I am usually working from home each morning before I venture out into the world to discover new places, taking lots of photos and building out the next event for Harvest Card. I do have a few standing weekly meetings and things that I do, too. Monday afternoons are always spent at Franchetti’s on North Dutton for Sonoma Family Meal distribution where our 80+ families come in to pick up their meals for the week.

Best place to work outside of your office: During summer months I can usually be found at one of two places on a Thursday or Friday afternoon: the patio at Skylounge at the Santa Rosa airport or the patio at Bowman Cellars.

Both of these places provide the opportunity and space to either people watch while I work or meet with other clients in a space where we can speak freely and also have fun.

Hobbies: As cliche as it might sound, I still love going to wineries - but more or less to enjoy a glass and people watch. I really look forward to a whitewater rafting trip each year and even though it doesn’t happen as often as I would like, I do enjoy taking a cooking class, too.

What you wanted to be when you grew up: I was an odd kid. I wanted to either be a lawyer or an actor. I was always with the adults and chiming into their conversations and asked a lot of questions.

Probably too many questions, and argued with the adults, too. But I always did my homework and tried to prove the adults wrong in my pursuit of becoming a lawyer. I remember being in high school and a teacher asking me why I what kind of lawyer and my response was (high profile criminal defense). She didn’t ask any more questions.

No. 1 thing you want to accomplish by the time you turn 40: My number one priority is Sonoma County with Harvest Card. I want to find my stride with winery, restaurant and experience partners and also build out a solid year of events that I can then take and bring the Harvest Card Sonoma County to other wine regions throughout California and beyond. If I can accomplish that by the time I turn 40 and maintain the volunteer efforts with the organizations that I love, I will be very happy!

First job: When I was 15 I was introduced to Lori Darling who owned Cafe Lolo in downtown Santa Rosa on Fifth Street. I had my mom drive me downtown to the restaurant and told her that I “had a meeting” with the owner.

For whatever reason, she obliged and sat in the car and waited. I went in and sat at the bar, when Lori came out I reintroduced myself to her and said “Hi! My name is Landon McPherson, I have eaten at your restaurant a few times and we met last week at an event that my parents took me to. I know that I don’t have an appointment with you (at which time she pursed her lips and cocked her head to the side), but I am here today because I would like a job. I am in high school currently, which means that my school comes first, but I want you to know that I am committed and would like an opportunity.”

I don’t know why she did it, but she hired me. I started working in the restaurant, bussing tables, and working weekends for them doing catering. I worked for Lori all throughout highs school and my freshman year of college at the JC.

When I walked back out to the car to my mom ten minutes later, she asked: “Well, how your meeting?” I said “went well. I got the job.” That’s how hospitality began. My second job was with Mark & Terri Stark, on the opening staff of Willi’s Wine Bar.

Social media you most use: Hands down, Instagram. Instagram allows me to showcase all of our winery, hotel, restaurant and service partners - showing real people, the amazing food from our restaurant partners and all of the things that our Harvest Card members enjoy.

Favorite book: Any cookbook. Right now I am really in love with ‘Season: A Year of Wine Country Food, Farming, Family and Friends’ written by our very own Justin Wrangler and Tracey Shepos Cenami and Tucker Taylor (Farmer T). I’m also in love with ‘The Flavor Matrix’ written by Brooke Parkhurst and James Briscione, who I love watching on Food Network.

Favorite movie: Not ‘Sideways’.

Favorite after-work drink: Who says that it has to be (after work)? Sauvignon Blanc (something crisp and acidic like Taft Street Winery, Pedroncelli Winery or DeLorimier Winery), Rosé (Russian River Vineyards, Campana Ranch and Marimar are a few of my favorites), sparkling (Bowman Cellars, Iron Horse, Balletto Vineyards & Winery) or a really great Manhattan.

Last vacation: In December I escaped to Reno to go the Santa Crawl downtown with a few friends. We always make a long weekend out of it and go skiing at Mt. Rose. (I’m still trying to figure out how to take over Mt. Rose for a weekend at turn it into Mt. Rose© - Can you imagine skiing and snowboarding from winery table to winery table and making a scavenger hunt out of it?!)

What does your mom or dad brag most about you?: I love my mom. She comes to every single Harvest Card event and even helped me (work) a tasting for the opening of the new Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa after Harvest Card was launched. She always had incredibly kind things to say about me. Listening to her talk about Harvest Card, the benefits, what it does to everyone who came by the table was a lot of fun; and then she had to add “The owner of the company and founder is also my son, Landon! He’s right here - would you like to meet him?” was enough to make me turn 50 shades of red on a 100 degree plus day. My dad, Chuck McPherson, owns his own business and is always available to point me in the right direction, ask tough questions and make sure that I am staying on track. I am sure he says kind things to everyone else when I am not around. ;)

Favorite app: Anything that delivers food.

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