When John Mendel leaves as executive vice president of American Honda April 1 after more than 12 years at the company, he'll trade the C-suite for his passions: skiing, family and distilling his own booze.
Mendel approached American Honda CEO Toshiaki Mikoshiba nine months ago to put his departure in motion. At the same time, he was bringing his far-off dream of running his own distillery closer to reality.
"It started innocently enough," but snowballed, Mendel told Automotive News.
After visiting a handful of craft distilleries with his sons, he recalled, "We thought "That'd be kind of cool to do some day.' One thing led to another until we finally said, "Let's do this.'"
The distillery is to be called Devil's Creek, named after a fictional town in a novel written by Mendel's wife, Luan, and will be based in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., home to Mammoth Mountain ski resort. Mendel, an avid skier, has had a home there for several years and commuted to Honda's Torrance campus, a nearly six-hour drive (or one-hour flight).
Mendel, 62, will run the liquor operation with his son who lives in Mammoth Lakes. They'll focus on clear spirits first: vodkas, moonshine and clear whiskeys, while the good stuff ages in barrels for the next two to seven years.
Mendel, who spent some 28 years at Ford and Mazda before joining Honda in 2004, said he's also eager to devote more time to his family. He and Luan recently became grandparents. "I dragged my family around for 41 years," he said. "So it's time I give them another 41 back."