Hall of famer Bill Walton launches new business venture in La Mesa

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More than 20 years after retiring from a Hall of Fame career, Bill Walton is still making shots—tequila shots, that is. On Monday night, he was joined by friends and family as he showcased his latest investment, Azuñia Tequila, and signed autographs at the La Mesa Claim Jumper.

Walton said he was ecstatic to be back in his hometown.

More than 20 years after retiring from a Hall of Fame career, Bill Walton is still making shots—tequila shots, that is. On Monday night, he was joined by friends and family as he showcased his latest investment, Azuñia Tequila, and signed autographs at the La Mesa Claim Jumper.

Walton said he was ecstatic to be back in his hometown.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “I’m an equity partner in Azuñia Tequila, I’m from La Mesa and I’m here with my mom tonight.”

Claim Jumper was the venue because its parent company, Landry’s, Inc., recently signed a deal to carry the brand at its restaurants, including Claim Jumper and Texas-based Saltgrass Steakhouse.

Azuñia sales manager Mike Sprague accompanied Walton and explained what sets their product apart from the competition.

 “We’re a very artisanal brand, small batch,” he said. “We actually own our distillery and do an organic tequila… It’s natural fermentation, just kind of letting nature take its course with the tequila, the way it was meant to be made 100 years ago.”

Only a handful of fans actually approached Walton, turning the planned event into a relatively quiet evening for the Helix High alumnus. Every patron that approached him, however, was rewarded with a genuine conversation. A couple patrons bantered about old high school basketball rivalries, others were introduced to his mother and one woman, who went to Helix with Walton, finally got her yearbook signed 44 years after Walton’s graduation.

Sprague said Walton’s approachability and friendly nature represent Azuñia’s aspirations.

“Bill never, ever, ever wants anyone to think that he ignored them or didn’t say hi to them,” he said. “Sometimes when we do events with him and we have to be somewhere else at a certain time. It’s very hard to get him moving and get him out of there because he wants to make sure he stops by every table… Bill’s a great representation of what we want to be.”

Walton said he is so open because he appreciates the fans that recognize him.

“It’s the greatest honor in the world,” he said. “People have always been nicer to me than I deserve, but it’s just been an incredible life. How can you ever get tired of people being nice to you?”

Dalina Marlett, who works for Young’s Market Company was invited to join Walton and his guests. She said, even though her company distributes the tequila brand, she was surprised at the offer.

“Such a nice man to invite me to sit with his mother,” she said.

Gloria Walton, Bill’s mother, revealed the source of her son’s friendly nature when she interjected.

“She’s my new best friend,” she with a smile nearly as tall as her son, who brought his own chair in case his 6-foot-11-inch frame was too big for the barstools.

Walton said he is ecstatic to be in the tequila business, especially with an organic product.

“The whole thing is perfect for me,” he said. “The people, the product, the purpose. It’s a passion of mine and the programs and the things that we’re doing… we have a lot of fun doing it and I’m doing it with all of my friends.”

Excited about Azuñia’s potential for growth, especially with the deal completed with Landry’s, Walton said he is proud to represent his hometown.

“We’re in this business for the long term,” he said. “San Diego is my home, our company is based here in Southern California. It’s a national company but we start right here at home.”

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