Dominic Leone is the entrepreneur behind San Diego Glass & Bottle Works (SDGBW). His company makes cool stuff out of our empty beer, booze and wine bottles. We met at a recent beer festival were he was hawking his upcycled beer bottle pint glasses. We traded business cards & he invited me to his workshop in Pacific Beach.
SDGBW doesn’t have a sign so Dominic came out front to meet me. He’s tall and lanky with a workman’s handshake. He leads me through a tall chain-link fence into a commercial storage space owned by a business partner. The shop is nestled into a back corner. There are food trucks, worn out boats, military cargo crates and decommissioned cop cars all over the place. There was even a big dog with what I remember being a spiked collar. Except for the “Stay Classy” sign it felt like the set of a gun fight in a James Bond film.
The workshop is small but efficient. Mountains of Grey Goose, Patron & local brewery bottles are in open crates. A makeshift photo studio is set up at a desk and the hum of cutting and grinding glass equipment is omnipresent. The space has been worked in, edges roughed up and molded to fit the needs of a growing local business. Men are working here. The team is gearing up for several up-coming sales events (including the Mission Valley Craft Brew Fest), and there is a lot of already made merchandise. In addition to beer & wine glassware, they also make light fixtures, planters, candles and more.
Sitting between a cop car and a crate of Patron bottles, I talked to Dominick about how SDGBW got started, what they can do and why they encourage people to try it at home.
A drafter, designer & fabricator by trade Dominic admits to being fairly handy. He was working construction in Point Loma where the owner was throwing away a chandelier. All the glass had broken off it, but he took it home and hung it on the patio. While drinking some 22oz beers he was inspired to put the bottles on the chandelier. He was using a metal blade on a chop saw to cut the glass bypassing the more popular string & lighter method. It took a lot of experimentation and broken glass but he managed to put it together. The response from friends was positive, and he continued to work on getting better and better quality cuts with smoother edges. That was four years ago.
Today SDGBW is using sixth generation cutting, grinding & beveling tools that Dominic designed and built himself. The time to make one glass has been cut from over 30 minutes to about 3-4. He’s still tinkering and hopes that soon they’ll be able to automate the process with new machines he’s designed. For the time being three guys are working the shop at a time. One was making the initial cuts and the other two were grinding or shaping edges. With the system in place the products are made to an exacting standard. Each glass is cut within 1/16th of an inch, and they pride themselves on consistency, quality & repeatability.
In addition to the casual beer drinker, SDGBW has found a market providing glassware & light fixtures to local bars and breweries. Check out the chandelier at North Park Beer Co. or the whiskey bottle lights at the recently opened Sidecar Bar on Morena Blvd in San Diego. They can also personalize glasses by adding logos, dates or names or anything you can think of. It’s a Pinterest wedding’s planners wet dream. And it is a very green-friendly business. SDGBW works with local licensed recycle haulers to collect raw materials from local bars & breweries. Their haulers can collect wine & liquor bottles that don’t have recycle value to resell to SDGBW. According to the EPA only about 28% of all glass waste actually gets reused. The rest goes to the landfill or is resold. Often glass is crushed and shipped to countries overseas. By collecting glass waste from local businesses SDGBW is keeping a huge chunk of waste out of the landfill and creating a new uses for it. They also try to pair up with charities often to give back. Recently, they hosted “Save the Glass” nights at Belching Beaver. If you bought a glass it was filled with beer, and SDGBW would donate 50% of the proceeds to charities like the MARSOC foundation.
For awhile our conversation veers into the science of glass. What it’s composed of, how to determine quality and how that affects our ability to cut or mold it. It mostly went over my head, but it was obvious that Dominic knew his stuff. Watching the process I realized I was misguided in my belief that I could recreate the stuff I saw at the beer fest at home. When I mentioned that, he smiled and said,”I encourage people to try it at home. You’re going to break a lot of them [bottles]. You’re going to have broken glass all over the sink and you’ll have to sand it by hand.”
Instead of risking it, I picked up a Belching Beaver pint glass which I intend on filling with Peanut Butter Stout. It’s classy and cool. And, most likely, will be the first in a set featuring my favorite local breweries.
You can buy cool stuff from SDGBW on their website or at any number of up-coming events. They will be at Rock Star Beer Fest, Border X Brewing Growler Art Fest, and Mission Valley Craft Beer Fest. Or for special requests e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow them on facebook or instagram to get updates on events or new products.