Matt Ray is a local photographer and Co-owner of the Starling whiskey and wine bar in The Cargo District in Wilmington, NC.
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Welcome back everybody. To this amazing week of whiskey and wisdom, we brought on the notorious man of mini hats, Matt Ray. I know him from photography and taking all the best pictures of the. Most favorite things I have in Wilmington, a gay food and alcohol. Yeah. pretty much the main photographer of all of my friends in Wilmington as well too. But recently he's become co-owner full owner. Co-owner co-owner of the Starling bar. Yeah. Which is by far the best bar that me and Tyler go to. Yeah. That's right across the street from our studio here. So we frequent it often. we're okay with it. I'm sure. But before we get started, Matt was actually gracious enough to bring in a bottle himself for us to enjoy. So what'd you bring on for us, Matt? I brought in the Thomas handy. SASAC from the Buffalo trace antique collection. It's 129 proof. So hope you didn't have plans for after this? Nope, not at all. Not anymore. Anyway. It's just, it's a fantastic rye whiskey 18 years in the barrel, so, oh, wow. It was put in the barrel when I was let's see, let's do the math. I would've been about 24 years old, so, oh, wow. Yeah, some food for thought there. Yeah, it's a fantastic ride. It's probably one of the most unique rise I've ever tasted. Doesn't even taste like you're drinking, you know, bourbon or whiskey. Yeah. You're not drinking. Bourbon is Ry, but right. sea. I told you, I knew like sometimes it overlaps not really, but kind of. Yeah. So we're just keeping up with the rye theme. We just kind of, we did contradiction last week and this week we're just taking a, quite a few steps up. Yes And you know, I gotta give you some, some notes here. Oddly enough, there's some toy fig cake and candied fruit. Which is very interesting. It also has some finishing notes of all spice and coconut. So like the boo rye that comes out in the fall, this is also something I would assume would be a good fall rye whiskey. Oh yeah. Mm-hmm but yeah, let's check it out. Cheers. Cheers. That smells good. She's hot. Wow. That's good. Yeah, it is very hot though. Mm-hmm you gotta sip on that slow. A lot of times I say when you're sipping a whiskey, that it's that hot, that intense, that when you take the sip, you exhale first and get all the air out. yeah. So the alcohol, the fumes aren't as right. Pungent. So no one ever taught me that. I'm just over here. Just like, yeah, just taking it down, like a shot. I wonder why you were chugging it over there. well, we did barrel proof from Elijah Craig a couple weeks ago. Oh man. And that was another one that like, we sipped on that and I was like, woo. Oh yeah, that one's. Oh my God. That makes a huge difference when you do that. Yeah. it does. I just like paid more attention to it. Wow. We're just learn something new every day. Whiskey guys. Yeah. Never hurts to put a little drop of water into, I mean, you were yeah. Crazy purs and we'll call you weak for it. But honestly, if you enjoy the taste of it, it's, you know, it's good. It makes, it brings out different flavors. Yeah. That's really good to, to your point too. I mean, it does really very different than most rise that I've had. Yeah. It's very unique tasting. I like it. It's coming straight out of the barrel. So there's no, they didn't add anything to it, so, right. Yeah. What was in the barrel is what you get no filter. No, nothing. Yeah. But Matt was telling us too, this is one of the Buffalo trace antique pieces. Mm-hmm which means that if you think you're gonna get it in a liquor store. Yeah. Thumb sale. Yeah. Not apple. If, if you do get it in a liquor store, please call me and tell me where that liquor store is, because right. it is probably in some back country store that no one even knows exists. Yeah. so I dream some time about those stores that no one knows exists. And you walk in there's bottles that are dusty, that have been sitting there for years and you're like, oh, well that's they have no clue what they have, you know, mm-hmm yeah. Cuz we were talking to Sean and he was like, yeah, I was in Florida and picked up like bottles of Elijah Craig, cuz the guy had just bought him and it was just sitting there dusted up cuz no one knew about it. Yeah. I'm like Taylor that's because. oh, it was eh, Taylor. Oh, H Taylor mm-hmm. Thank you. Yep. I knew it. Wasn't like, yeah, there was a balance. It had there's so many initials. I'm like, can't you guy, I'm better with things that have just full names. Like I'll remember like monkey, shoulder color, like they're fun. They're different. You got like, eh, Taylor, Elijah. I'm like your initials are way too close. another one of Buffalo traces. Which one? Collection? Eh, Taylor. Yeah. Yes. Oh yeah. All of the best. Oh yeah. I had that at my friend's wedding. That was smooth. Oh, that's fantastic. Yeah. That was trouble. We drank like half a bottle before the wedding and I didn't have hangover, so right. so where'd your love of whiskey and bourbon and everything come from everything. the love of everything? No, so probably gosh It's hard for me to know where it came from. I, I kind of got into it more as a hobbyist, like just probably four or five years ago. Okay. Mm-hmm just some friends I saw had, you know, were talking about these bottles. Yeah. And I was like, oh, I could get into this. You know, mm-hmm started sipping it and just loving it and loving the story behind it. Really? Yeah. The American story behind bourbon mm-hmm is fascinating to me. Yeah. And just, you know, I've always been a fan of things like bourbon or even a good cup of coffee or whatever that brings people together. Right. Creates community and that sort of thing. Mm-hmm creates good conversation. Yeah. And lowers inhibitions a little bit, you know? And so I kind of got into the collecting thing. My wife likes to get on me sometimes, cuz I'm, you know, I have little things that I'll go hard after for a little while and then onto the next thing. Yeah. And yeah, so I just decided to start looking for these bottles that I was hearing about and. Trying them. And then several years later now I've got a embarrassing collection. my wife keeps saying no more bottles and I just smile and look away. Yep. you're like, what are you talking about? This was here last week, right? What? Yeah, I just took it outside real quick. Like yeah. Maybe you don't bring more bottles. Right. where did this come from? I didn't know this. Yeah, but I'll keep it But yeah, so then we opened the bar. It was kind of the same thing, you know, the right. I've been doing photography for 22 years now. Oh, wow. And really just wanted, you know, diversify for one. Yeah. But also just kind of creative place. I've always wanted a place for community and mm-hmm you know, around a common joy. Yeah. And unfortunately North Carolina, I couldn't use any of my collection. Mm-hmm you know, they control it pretty tight. Which stinks. I know we were talking about that too, because we're gathering quite a collection of whiskey as well, too. We're like, what do we do with this? Now? Can't even donate it to like a bar or anything. And just be like, Hey, whiskey and wisdom. Here you go. Yeah. so tells me there's a few bars that would probably take the donation. Just not tell anyone, right. not the Starling. No, no, of course not. I like it. So we love the Starling mm-hmm and I, I just, cuz I've been in the, in the cargo district for a little while, just randomly getting my haircuts, just wandering around, checking everything out. What made you want to do a spot that specialized and wine and whiskey? Well, a lot of it too was my business partner. Abby, she owns salt and charm. Yeah. Right next. She, and I grew up together here in Wilmington. Oh, no way. I'm a native of Wilmington been here all my life and she moved here when she was a kid. And you know, she and I have always been really good friends. Mm-hmm both of our businesses kind of took off a little more than usual around the same time. And so I was always taking pictures for her and she was always feeding me and you know, and then it just made sense. One day she said, Hey, this space is coming available across the street. What do you think about a whiskey and wine bar? Cause I'm a whiskey lover. She's a wine lover. Yeah. So I was like, I mean, it makes sense. And so yeah, we just decided to do it. Yeah. A lot of people are like, how long were y'all planning this? I was like a month, maybe you know, it just, it, it fit our personalities. It fit what we wanted. We both have always. Just been massive fans of Wilmington. Yeah. The culture here and just what it has been, what it's becoming mm-hmm and always, really just kind of wanted to put our mark on the city mm-hmm right. You know, do something that, that was important. And and so, yeah, it's, you know what I said, a minute ago, it's about creating community and that sort of thing. And so that's what I believe we've done for these first three months that we've been open and I hope we can continue to do. Yeah. I think you've totally built a community mm-hmm over there, especially, cuz I'll see people in Mayfair and I'm like, Hey, I love your shirt cuz they've like picked up a Starling t-shirt or something or like I'll talk to my friends and I'm like, Hey, you know, you should definitely go check this out. Just cuz it's a nice spot. And everyone like all the, your staff, everybody, every time I go in there, it's just so nice. Yeah. And knowledgeable. Oh yeah. And sometimes you go to a bar and it's like a club and they're just like, Hey, what do you want? Yeah. But the, your team over there is just you can see that they actually care yeah. To curate an experience. Yeah. No, it's probably one of our number one compliments that we get at the bars as our staff. Yeah. They are the most important thing to us, honestly. You know, we, you get people who love to work, where they work and mm-hmm, you know, you're gonna end up with customers who like to be where they work. Right. so yeah. We, our hats go off to them. They, they are the culture of the Starling, so yeah, they, they do incredible job kind of what Chris was saying too, is that place could be packed out, which it, it is a lot of the times when I go there mm-hmm and they'll make you feel like you're the only person sitting there. Yeah. When they're making that drink for you, it's, it's amazing how they're able to accomplish that. So it made me feel that way, but sometimes I think it's just cuz a little biased, right? Yeah. So I know you all also have a few, I guess, older bottles in there that are available. Tell us a little bit about the, like you have a one that was like a goose or a duck. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We so you can thank the North Carolina alcohol board for that. We, we yeah, they control what is allowed to come into your bar. Mm-hmm so there's five, there's five states currently in the country that are still control states where the government controls, you know, and regulates what you're allowed to bring in, have to get that green sticker. Right? Yeah. Which is, you know, it's good and bad at times, but not as fun for someone who likes to collect stuff and just wants to bring it in. But the, the work around for that is that there's a loophole in North Carolina. I, wouldn't not necessarily a loophole they're open about it. It's there. Yeah. But you can bring in an antique bottle of bourbon or liquor. That is at least 20 years old. Mm-hmm and is no longer in production. Oh, wow. And you can purchase it however you want to, as long as you send to Raleigh pictures of all angles of the bottle to show that it is truly sealed, right. It hasn't been open and filled with something else mm-hmm that it is what you've said, that it is the year and age and all that, and they do their homework. You fill out forms for everything. It's kind of a pain, but yeah. They send back and say, we approve it. And now you gotta take your bottle to the ABC, the local ABC, and then they have to, you basically sell it to them, then buy it back. it's a long thing. And then you get the magical green sticker yeah. On your bottle and you get to serve it. Oh, wow. Yeah, it's a fun process, but not a lot of people take advantage of it whenever I took our collection in right. When we were opening up. Yeah. You know, I sold my collection to. The bar for it. You know, I, I have a good friend who was able to find some old bottles for me and I bought'em from him. And then the bar bought it from me essentially. Yeah. But when I took them into the, the local ABC, all the, all the employees came out and gathered around the cart. You're like, what is this? That's is that crown Royal? What's that it's 1950. It is like And then we've got the goose bottle, which is a Jim beam decanter. Oh, okay. So back in those days, I think that one's from 1977, maybe. Wow. Back in those days, decanters were a huge thing because they're very ornamental and people, you know, and they're done drinking it. They wanted to set their bottle up and right. Collect whatever. So separate. We've got the owl, the goose. Yeah. The is my favorite. Those are really cool. yeah. So yeah, it's fun. It's a fun little thing to have that, you know, we wanted something that kind of set us apart. Yeah. Whiskey wise, right. Versus something that every bar is able to get. So, no, it was hilarious cuz the, it was probably the second night we went out mm-hmm and this was maybe a month ago. So you guys had only been open for like two months and we were, me and my wife were sitting at the bar sweating our tails off. Cause it's just North Carolina and this couple who was like back in the corner, I was like, you know, I'm just gonna order that thing. and I was like, they did what and it, it was like, it had to have been like, like a sixties bottle. Yeah. And then the next thing that came back, ordered another drink. That was from like 50 something like, oh, I think I know which night you're talking about. Yeah. Yeah. So we were sitting, I was like, what on earth? Yeah, because those I'm like, they just look like I don't want to open them. I know. Yeah. But they, but I also want to cuz you want to know what it tastes like. Cuz I feel like whiskey will age, like obviously aging in a cask is different than when you put in a bottle, but still if no, one's touched that thing in like 60 years. Yeah. It's it definitely stops the aging after the barrel because you know, the reason this bourbon is, or this whiskey is brown is because it's taken on the barrel for characteristics. It goes in the barrel clear mm-hmm comes out this color, but yeah, once it's in the bottle, it's not aging anymore. But the cool thing is, is that distillers change, head distillers, right. They change mash bills, they change a lot of things. And so the 1968 old Crow that we have sitting there yes has an entirely different distiller. Right. You know, at the time. And and so there's a lot of different factors that were different then. I mean, the weather was different. The, you know, everything was different the way they stored it was different, you know? And so you're just gonna get something that's a little more nuanced, a little different mm-hmm you know, maybe not necessarily better than what you have now, but it's different. So it's, it's being able to sit around a fire with your friends saying, yeah. Oh, that's old Crow. I've, I've tried one from 1968, you know, you know, and that's, you know, obviously the prices are a bit higher yes. That we charge for. But you know, it's just being able to have that conversation that you've tried something that's never gonna be there in that bottle again, you know, that's neat. So what's the oldest whiskey that you've ever had that I've ever had. Yeah. And then also what's the oldest one in the, at Starling. Yeah. Currently honestly one of those are probably the oldest. Okay. I've had I haven't tried the 1950 crown Royal that we have on the shelf yet, but that is the oldest bottle we have. Oh, wow. And I don't know if it's actually, I think it has been opened. But I haven't tried it yet, which reminds me, I probably need to go try it. Right. should have brought that today. What's it open? You're like right. But the funny thing is they haven't changed their bottle a whole lot. So we have customers that come in and say, Hey, can I get an old fashioned with that crown Royal? You're like, you're probably not gonna wanna do that. Are you sure? I mean, I mean, I can, but you know, right. First of all, you're probably not the price that you're thinking. And second of all, you probably, that's not how you wanna drink that. yeah, it was like, I have a small collection at my house and we had some friends over and I was like, Hey, do you want you wanna drink? I, I, I can make you an old fashion. It was like, sure. I'm like, so what do you want? It's like can I, can I do crown Royal? I was like, you, you sure? Like I got stag junior. I got I got some knob Creek. I got some other options that is, that aren't crown. He was like sure. Yeah. I mean, if you're making old fashions with with, with St. Junior I'll come over, right? Yeah. I was like, Hey, if this is how we're doing it, I'm coming up from more often now. I mean, I, every once in a while, I just like to be that bougie guy to be like, here, try this. Yeah. Do I have a lot of stag junior? No, I have one bottle and it was received at a great price. Yeah. I'm sure. That's what we'll say. I dare not ask. right. so cuz we're just, I'm just laughing going back cuz I just mentioned St. Junior, cause I have that at the house. You also have the, the big boy, the George T Doug? Yes. Have you had SEG junior? Oh yeah. Do you, do you think George T is better? Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I was hoping he would like, eh, I mean, no, definitely not. No. if it makes you feel better, girl, you obviously have the best bottle, right? no question. No, the George T stag is, I mean, the stag, Junior's a, I believe a nine year age statement. Okay. Someone's probably gonna correct me on this, but the George T stag again, if I remember it's a 15 year. Okay. Statement. So for me, it's all about that age statement. You know, the longer it has in the barrel, some people believe that it can be in the barrel too long and come out, tasting like, you know, like wood. Yeah. But yeah, so I think that's just kind of a perfect the 15 years for that one is perfect. That's a good one. Yeah. I think the oldest one I have is 21. The McAllen. No, I have Glen fit. Oh, that's right. No, I love Glen fit. 21. Never had it. It's just now, are you a scotch guy or no? No. Okay. I think you're just waiting for the re occasion, right? Yeah. It's one of those things where like, I want to open it because with the whiskey podcast, I like trying new things. Mm-hmm but I'm like, there's not been a reason for me to be like, yo, let's open this. Yeah. Cause that's gonna be, I'm gonna need to sit down and just enjoy the flavors. Oh yeah. And if my friends come over, like, Hey, let's have a drink. I'm not gonna be like, yeah, let me just pour you. it's probably one of the top five more expensive bottles sitting on my counter. Yeah. And don't wanna just like pour that to just be pouring it. I hope your friends are hearing how valuable they are right now. Right? oh, there's you're just coming over for the hell of it does not earn I mean, now they know you got a Glen 21, right? I mean, I poured Eagle rare. I mean, it's not that rare, but we talked about this mm-hmm but the fact that most people can't get it, I'm like, sure. I'll pour you some of that. Yeah. Just because I can yeah. Be grateful. right. for what you get here. You can't always get what you want. There's a song about that. Yeah, I think you're right. So going back a little bit. So you've been doing photography for a while, like you said. Yeah. And how'd you get involved in photography? Oh, that's a much funer story. Yeah. I was, I had moved to Seattle for just a little while. Oh, okay. And while I was there, just kind of really got into disposable cameras and taking pictures all the time. Essentially lived there by myself, you know, I had moved away from, I grew up in Wilmington and yeah. Just moved away to spread my wings a little bit. Mm-hmm so you went to the far, other side of the whole country. Yeah. Right. How far can I get to the other coast? And yeah, so taken a lot of pictures and I was a kitchen manager there at, at Qdoba Mexican grill. Yeah. And one day on my lunch break, I, you know, I, or just decided to run to them all on a whim and pick up a cannon film camera, you know, at the time that was a big deal at the time. Right. And it just kind of took over at that point. And I moved from there to Charlotte to go to school. And while I was in Charlotte, you know, people would see me with a camera all the time and ask me to shoot stuff and right. But when I got to Charlotte, I became a manager at a port city Java in the area. And while I was there, a lady walked in and I was taking her order and she was on her phone, which is typically annoying, but yeah, she was on her phone with the executives from ESPN and the NFL. Oh, wow. And Charlotte was about to do NFL season kickoff. Yes. Or with a lot of their sponsors. And she holds her phone down and she says, excuse me, do you know a photo. I'm like, as a matter of actually she said we have an event and Joe Namath is coming wow. With all of our sponsors and we need a photographer to photograph him with all of our sponsors. And I just, I didn't even hesitate. I was like, yeah, I'm, I'll do it. she goes, she gets back on the phone and she goes, Hey, we got our photographer and like a little, a little piece, a little piece of my heart, like just dropped IM like, what did I just do? Like, let me make your latte real quick and I'm go in the bathroom and cry. Right. So that's an amazing story. Yeah. So it is funny because I always say my highest profile shoot remains my first shoot So I photographed Joe Nama all day. It was just he and I, and every time people kept coming in and you know, oh my God. And he was, and he was. definitely the guy that he was known to be, you know? Yeah. He loved the ladies but yeah, I remember when I showed up there, all of their, you know, grips and right. People and staff rolled up with all their equipment, they were like, Hey man, what are you working with? And I'm like, I was like, I brought in all the equipment at goods that look like, I knew what I was doing. Yeah. And I kept like, just pull out. Yeah. I kept just like going around their questions, like, you know, you know, like, oh, I gotta take this call. Hold on. You know? Right. to make it feel like you. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So anyway, I managed to avoid the questions. Oh, that's awesome. I always tell people to fake it till you make it. Exactly. Yeah. I was gonna say it's definitely a fake it till you make it type of deal. And clearly it worked. I recently found when I moved last year, I recently found the pay stub from that job. Oh really? I kept the pay stub from the check. Did you grossly miss under price them like drastically just underquoted them. They got that whole gig for$200. Woo. No, they were probably like, oh, hell yeah. I was like, yeah, absolutely. I look back at that now. I was like, man, like I don't leave the house for 200. Right. That, that sounded pretentious to say that. But, but still like, no, I mean, it shows the quality, but but I remember like I shot some weddings as an assistant photographer for years. And I remember like when people were starting and this was like, oh, seven, people were like, you know, I'm gonna go with this photographer cuz they're only charging me like$400 and I'm like, what? Why are they charging you?$400? Yeah. Do they, do they know their time and their worth? Because I knew I was making a buck 50. So if I'm making that one, Judy should be getting charged more. Yeah. When I was DJing, it was the same concept too. My business partner at the time, and I went to a high school to put a bid in a further prom. Okay. And it was our first like big high school. We were doing like sweet sixteens before, and we were 17 years old. So we didn't know what the hell we were doing. Yeah. We just knew we could play music. And so we went to this. High school. And we gave our bid and one of the directors who was in charge of it had heard us play at a, a sweet team before. And they're like, oh, they know what they're doing. And so we go in, we present our bid and then right when we presented the bid, they all looked at each other and they go you're hired. And we were like, shit. Yeah. we walked out and we're like, we didn't do the right price. I mean, wait, wait, wait, let me go back. Right. I add, add a zero to that. There, there lies the fun of quoting anyone, right. It still to this day, hate quoting people. So yeah, it there's never a right answer to no, there's either you get the job or you never hear from again, you're like, wait, what was it? what did I do? See, I go back and forth because like we have quotes and at my job and people will come in and they'll be asking for the most ridiculous. Like, Hey, I have this ring from like 1932 that my great-grandmother wore that lost two stones on this side and I need you and then I just give'em some, Astron like some stupid number and they're like, oh, that's ridiculous. And they, and they'll either say yes or no. And then sometimes I look at it and I'm like, Hmm. That's that's decent enough. All right here, here's my quote. And then even if I give'em a low quote, well, so, and so they said they do it for like$10 cheaper. You should probably same, right? Yeah. It's like I add it that I won't tell you, you ever just, you ever just quote way too high and they're like, that's ridiculous. And you're like, oh, that was a type I didn't mean to put that zero, right. yes, because I also quote too high too. Yeah. I also quote too high when I don't wanna do a drop, right? Oh yeah. It was like, oh, it's gonna be like$10,000, man. I'll tell you. Yeah, I will not. Say yes or no to me doing that in like can neither confirm nor to that. Right. But it might have happened at least once So with everything that we were just talking about there, what's your favorite type of shoot to do, man? Is this the part where I blow up my clients and amazingly you know, I, when I started out, most of what I did was weddings portraits. Right. I still do some weddings. Mm-hmm I don't really promote that a whole lot, even though it sounds like I just did But probably in the past seven years is when I started doing food. Oh, okay. The main reason is cuz I just was tired of starving in the winter. Yeah. because weddings are so seasonal. Yeah. You know what I mean? It's like, especially here. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. You know, you're not gonna shoot anything in July, but you know, mm-hmm you get fall in the spring, you gotta hit it hard so that when the winter comes, you're not yep. Sergeant for nuts, you know, but. And so I was like, how can I make this more sustainable or whatever? And so I started doing food and getting on a monthly retainer basis with clients so that it was year round, just every month. Right. Keeping up with their social media and that sort of thing. But favorite things to shoot now are just, I mean, I just love shooting food beverage. It's fun, you know, and TJ dun and TJ done I mean, yeah, like it's I cut my te on shooting, TJ done. Yeah. Yeah. And I love shooting people too. Mm-hmm mostly in their candid state, you know? Right. I think that's the it be best state though. Oh, it is absolutely is. Yeah. And actually love having the bar now because obviously I do all the photography for it. Right. but it's the cool thing is no, one's paying me for it. I'm doing it myself. Yeah. And so it's just completely, I get to go there and just fire off on people, candidly, enjoying, you know, life and I get to shoot the drinks, how I want. I get, you know, that's related. Yeah. His food photography is where I got my inspiration the other day. Oh yeah. we, we went to no, no, no. We went to vicious biscuit. Oh, the new like biscuit spot in town. I'm watching those guys. Oh, I've been there twice already. Yeah, really cool. Did they opened yesterday? They opened today. Wow. Long story short. We kind of showed up before they opened. Yeah. But the GM there, or one of the managers there used to be the GM at Ruth Chris. Yeah. And I was like, that is a big difference. But I feel like he has the energy to like maintain a team of like, even like kids, I would say, cuz they're usually like younger people in a spot like that. But his mentality for that business, I'm excited for. Yeah. Just because, I mean, it looks like it'll be fun. Yeah. And you got some good shots of the biscuit. Yes. Not as good as yours. I quit now they've got a couple locations. Don't they in Charlotte and yes. So they're they started, I think in South Carolina. Okay. And so now they're like franchised out in kind of like different spots. Yeah. But yeah, they're officially open to me. It's the replacement of rise. Oh yeah. Yeah. I liked rise they're in the same location aren't they? No. So rise was in the landfall shopping center right next to the Tezos. Yeah. Yeah. And vicious biscuit took over where the iMac shop was. It's next to like the FedEx store in the forum. Yeah. Where true blue is. Yep. Yep. On the other side. So it, yeah. So true. Blue is in that first one you pull in, right? The next one behind it, same. I was like, oh, I just know it as a place where true blue boom blo says yes, exactly. Yes. you just posted a few shots from B Bils didn. Probably, yeah, I dunno. it's like, I mean, we shoot. Yeah. We shoot monthly. Lovely. Oh, wow. Yeah. See, that's the town like everyone does. I always, I love how big Wilmington's getting mm-hmm but still how small, like certain communities are. Yeah. Like I feel like the art community is still a smaller community cuz like, boom BLOS is still to make a little bit of art cuz there's food involved, but they still like style it. Yeah. Put it together differently. And then you take photos for boom BLOS and then HP fangs makes like some of their artwork. Yeah. Some of their stickers and I'm like, see, that's funny. And like we just invite people on here just cause we don't know anything, but we're we're like, oh you seem cool. Yeah. That's exactly what we do. there's like zero degrees of separation in this town from ever since I moved here like two years into me moving here. I've always said that Wilmington is the largest small town that I've ever heard of. It's crazy. I can get to almost anybody in two steps. Yeah. Oh, if that, yeah, definitely. And that's honestly, we start going back to the bars that, yeah. Abby and I grew up here. And so I, one of the things I told her, I was like, you know, we've worked hard for so many years to develop a good name and to do good business. And we both have a good following because of that, you know, mm-hmm and so why wouldn't we open something together? Right. You know, that built in marketing power. exactly, you know, end doing good work. And so that's kind of at a place that already establishes community. So, I mean, it just kind of a full circle there. It makes, makes perfect sense to do we couldn't not do it. You right. That's really neat. So how did we'll eventually bring on um, Kaylee, but how'd you find her? Oh, Kaylee from the bar? Yes. Oh my gosh. She's amazing. Yeah, she's incredible. Yeah. She's great cocktail. She's incredible. Man, how did I find her? That's I guess a funny story too. I, I. I photographed her actually years ago. Oh, okay. And knew her that way. And we have a lot of the same friends. Okay. We've known a lot of her friends for a long time as well. Yeah. But she had moved away and pursued her career as a bartender. Right. In other places I'll save some of it. So it's not a spoiler for you guys on your, but and she is kind of coincidentally, she was reaching out to me when she was moving back into town mm-hmm and said, Hey, I'm looking for a job somewhere. Yeah. If you know anyone who needs a board manager and I was literally, we were probably two weeks away from signing the papers that we were definitely gonna open this bar. Yeah. Oh wow. Which is really a good time to exactly. Yeah. Get a bar manager time. But me, for some reason, I wasn't thinking in that direction and I was like, yeah, let me fill some things out. So I asked around for other people I wasn't even thinking about. And then Abby. hits me up and she goes, Hey, Kaylee reached out. Wouldn't she be a good bar manager? I'm like, I'm like, good Lord. Why at night? Yeah, probably she'd be amazing. and uh, so it's just a no brainer. I'm like, yeah, we need to hire her. Like, what do we need to do? Let's, you know, seal the deal with that. And so she came on board and she's just hit the ground running. Yeah. I mean, she is constantly coming up with new stuff. Mm-hmm she's just, meant for bigger things than we have, but she just does an incredible job. So, yeah. And I think it's, it's interesting to see the difference between like traditional bar managers. Mm-hmm like if you go downtown eat good fellows or something like just old school bar style, just slinging drinks. Yes. Yeah. And then what you guys do, because I feel like there's a lot of energy that goes into like curating drinks and like coming up with different concepts. And I think. you guys you've found a way to get some of the best whiskey and wine to help facilitate that. Yeah. Mm-hmm those concepts. Yeah. It's she puts a lot of heart behind which she does. Yeah. Every ingredient and, you know, it shows, you know, it shows when anyone puts their heart behind what they're doing. And I know that sounds like a novel concept. you know what I mean? It's like, if you will not just do something to be doing it, but actually putting the heart behind it, it's gonna show people are gonna see it. You don't have to say it it'll show it, you know? And so she really gives a lot of thought with what, what she does behind. Yeah. Every drink. So it's funny too. Cuz when I go to just like some random bars, like for like a lunch or something and I'll sit down at the bar and talking to the bartender there and they're like, oh, I'm just a bartender right now. And whatever. I'm like, you do understand that if you. Actually enjoy this and you love what you do, right? Like this can be a very like good career for you. It's just like finding the love where you're at now and pursuing it. So true. So true. I guess it's really true with anything, but it's just, it's especially funny because having the podcast here, I go to a lot of places to try new things and just talking to those people, like you can tell who has the actual passion for it. Yeah. And everything too. And Kaylee's definitely one of those that's awesome that you're able to bring her on. Yeah, for sure. I was actually recently asked like, you know, what would you, what would you say to a, start up photographer or something like that. Yeah. You know, what would advice would you give him? I was like, just be patient mm-hmm you know what I mean? Like it's not hard to find someone who can take a picture these days, but right. Yeah. You know, you gotta just be willing to put in the work for a long time. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's definitely the customer service side of it too. Mm-hmm cause I mean, I know you have the personality as well, and some, I know some photographers that. Don't have really the personality behind it. So they might be able to take a good picture. But if you're not able to communicate with the people that you're taking pictures of yeah. Yeah. That makes a huge difference too. I communicate to the food all the time. I tell the food jokes. Right. get it. Like, hi, you're going to my stomach. Yeah. Listen burger. I'm gonna need you to smile more. Yeah. quarter turn. I always tell that's my favorite thing about shooting food and beverage. That it doesn't talk back to me. Right. I love that. So you don't have to worry about'em blinking, right. or complaining that they didn't like how their face looked. Right. Do you edit out this freckle please? So is photography still like your main gig? Yeah. Okay. It is I haven't slowed down a bit. It's, you know, it's very full time right now and just. Aiming at kind of looking now at how do you aim towards kind of a different echelon of shooting, you know? Yeah. And a different market. And so I feel like nowadays, as opposed to when I started the world is just getting smaller. Mm-hmm as far as who is you, who you can reach and, and all of that. And so just kind of looking at it, like the sky's the limit, you know, you can reach to national brands and do national publications and that sort of thing. So yeah. Setting my sites on a lot of that, while still loving my local. Right. My local clients as well, make sure they hear that, you know? Yeah. Yeah. well, it's one of those things. Like I feel everyone want, like, I know cuz we were watching devil wears Prada last night that like you always, people always shoot really, really far and then they get mad because they can't get to that goal. Mm-hmm but like if you start in a spot, you put in that work. You deserve to go to the next level. Yeah. So yes, you're working with your local clients. Mm-hmm and because you're, you're helping them build that brand and build up, but doesn't mean that, you know, blue shark vodka turns into a national business, you can't be there official photographer or something. Well, that actually does mean that because I'm exclusive with end of days distillery, but wow. so, and I do wanna make that one clear you're right? Yeah. so when end of days goes national and technically you got a national client. Yeah, absolutely. I'm oh, I'm so excited for their next round. Well that's and that's a big thing too, is like, like I'm a big fan and this was, this was even the same with when I was shooting weddings. It's like, I don't just wanna shoot your wedding. I wanna be there when you're your kid's born. Right, right. You know what I mean? I wanna be there for each generation. Exactly. And so it's just, it's really the same thing to me. I don't look at local clients as less than national clients. right. I see them as, almost better in many ways. Mm-hmm you know, like it's, to me, it's relational. And that, that is part of everything is like, I'm more interested in the heart behind the work they do. And being there at every step of them doing that. Mm-hmm you know so that's like bitty and Bo's coffee. Are you familiar with them? Of course, certainly. From here, so yeah, I mean, if you wanna talk about heart behind what you do, those guys lead it out of every poor, you know? Yeah. The definition right there, they are the real deal. And so I don't know if you want the, yeah. That story where there's certainly just let's go into it. Kind of just talking about what we're talking about here, as far as, you know, being loyal to where you're at, but when they first started in their little shop off curb avenue, mm-hmm They, I actually reached out to them and said, I see what you guys are doing. I see that you're about to open. It was on Facebook. People were like sharing stories about this. And I was like, I think it's fascinating. And I would love to cover your opening. Wow. Yeah. To photograph it on the house. And they never called me back, but the day before they were opening, I get a call back. Oh yeah. And it was literally like the evening before they said, Hey, we're so sorry. It's been busy. We haven't been able to get back to you, but we'd love for you to come out and photograph. I'm like, perfect. I'm there. And so I was on my way there, the next morning, my car broke down and transmission went out, oh no, about two miles away from it. But it was a ribbon cutting. So it was like, I have to be there. Yeah. You know? Right. And the Wil took two miles is yeah, right. Yeah. it's not like you can just walk down the side somewhere. So, you know, I got out, got my equipment and just walked it. Oh wow. Got there just in time. But she said something to me that day. She said, I hope you know that you're. We want you to be our photographer. Oh, wow. You know? Yeah. You know, it's like welcome to the family. And that to me was everything. Cause I'm like, you know, before you've even seen my work, you just, you see the heart behind it then. Right. You know? And so to this day we, we shoot every opening in every state they do, which is awesome. Oh, that's cool. They probably got another 15 coming in the pipeline right now, so, wow. That's what we were trying to get Emily's dad to do. Oh yeah. Is open up a bitty and Boes. That'd be good for him. They live in the bone docks. Oh, I'm just kidding. They live in Lenore. Oh, okay. Which is outside of Hickory. Yeah. Yeah. Which I'm like dad been kind of cool. Yeah. If they were any closer to Asheville, I'd be like, you should open one in Asheville, Asheville. Yeah, for sure. But I think they're like a, in a solid hour. Yeah. And that's like going over the speed limit. Yeah. yeah. And I'm like. It's a nice drive, but do I really wanna do it up and down the mountains? Yeah. Like an hour in the coast is different than an hour going this, right? Yeah, absolutely. Put it on 80 and go here, but yeah, yeah, I've done that trip a few times and I'm just like, I really, we wanna do this every day. I don't know how y'all do that, miss. So you got bitty and Bowes. You like, boom. Be lots. E OD, E O D. Don't forget that. Oh, I mean, true blue. Remember those guys. Oh. Oh, I didn't know that. Oh yeah, there he's got all the good people. I was gonna say I was gonna be like, is there anybody you don't have in? Oh yeah. Plenty. There is plenty. There's a lot of photo love to go around this town. So, so do so with true blue, do you do like, like their popups or like any of their news spots that they might be opening? Yeah. Everything in their brand. We, we shoot, so, wow. Which, you know, Bobby at true blue is definitely someone y'all should get in this podcast. he, we talked about that, talking about a man with stories, man. He is ambitious and you know, just loves what he does and is constantly opening something new or dreaming of something new. So I'm excited for their spot up in Hamstead cuz I have friends like live live there in tosil SNE ferry and we're like, Hey, we need a spot that's halfway and I know what is not halfway. And I usually like, Hey, why don't you come to Porter's neck? Yeah. like, it's really not halfway, but, and then like you get into actual Hamstead and you're like, there's really nothing to eat. Yeah. So I'm excited for that. Well, no, that's just gonna be a bakery in butcher shop. Oh still gonna be great. Right? not what you expect down. If you wanna go eat a raw steak, that's the place to do it. Yeah. well, I just took the wind right outta your sales with. Now don't quote me on that. Maybe they're gonna do some sandwiches and stuff there. Cause I don't wanna, I hate to go on record or saying the right we'll find out when they to yep. I still got a few weeks. Yeah, yeah. Ways to go. So what would you say are some of your short term goals for Starling and photography? Short-term goals? Photography. I probably already told you that really. Yeah, but just the kind of aiming for and not just national brands, but like publications. I love sure. Yeah. I love doing stuff in print, you know, like okay. I do a lot for our state magazine. Yeah. Oh yeah. Guys. And I just, I love that kind of stuff, you know, mm-hmm, I'm a big fan of print. I still, you know yeah. Like to see something you're working print, not just on the screen that you're scrolling, so right. Yeah. There's something about having something tangible on your hands. Oh yeah. And saying so, yeah, it's neat. And so I, I, you know, that's kind of a short term goal right now. And then for the Starling, I mean, Man, just, we're putting a rooftop deck on the very top of the, oh, that's cool. You know where the lounge is? Yes. On the top of that, we're doing a rooftop deck with railing around it. Oh, that's gonna be awesome. It's probably in the next three weeks. Two, three weeks. Oh, wow. So soon. So I want to, you get up there, so you'll go up stairs. Yeah. And there's a landing point and you'll go left and go up another flight stairs. Got you. Yeah. So we're excited about that for the fall with sunset and that sort of thing. Yeah. We're excited for the fall in general. It's not gonna be so hot. Why is it gonna be gone? We're gonna ha you know, we're, we're planning to hit the fall really hard with some cool stuff. So, and you're, and that'll literally be like the tallest thing in the cargo shirt. Yeah. Mm-hmm so gosh, those views are gonna be gorgeous. Yeah. Yeah. We wanted to have it done before July 4th. So you could actually see some of the fireworks from that. Oh yeah. That didn't didn't happen obviously. Are you able to take a drone up over here? Yeah, I do drone shots of the Starling, actually, you know, it's funny you say that you can't. If you walk between there and the end, end of days, end of days is a no FL zone. really the cutoff one is right there on 17 where the Starling hits. So I can put it up at the Starling. Oh. But if I were to walk, I think just past cheese Smith, I couldn't do it. Oh, that's interesting. Yeah. Well, it's funny because like I bought like a drone cause I'm like, I just wanna play with one super fun. Yeah. It was like a DGI mini mm-hmm mm-hmm I bought it like right before COVID and I was just flying it around. And then where we were living was right off at U C w there was way too many trees. Yeah. I was like, all right, cool. Whatever. Then we bought our house. Our house is literally in the flight. Oh, wow. So like, I, we got to the house, I'm like, oh, let me pull this thing out. Yep. And I like, it flew in the house. I took it out the garage. And as soon as I like hit my cul-de-sac, it just went, you have 60 seconds to get on the ground. I was like, what? Or we will shoot it down. Right. Yeah. And I'm like, I thought, at least I could get like 20, 30 feet in the air. There shouldn't be a plane that low. Oh, Nope. Nope. They don't care. Yeah. Same with my neighborhood. Welcome to airport town. Yeah. We're in Rachel's place. So it's on that side of CA oh yeah, yeah. Whitesboro yeah, please don't come stalk me. oh yeah. So what was one of the hardest things of opening a a cocktail bar? Gosh Not being able to get the exact bourbon I want all the time. oh yeah. but as far as opening it, I mean, I would say just delays and everything, but the truth is we got opened really quick, you know? Yeah. Seemed like, kind of a good story that we were, you know, we announced in January. Yeah. And we were open by April. I was gonna say, I heard about it like relatively quick, by the time you guys opened up. So I was like, I wonder if there was a lot more Lany that I didn't know about. That's crazy. We didn't have a lot of horror stories with that. You know? I mean our ice machine got hung up. on a, on a ship somewhere. I don't know. But so so for the first three weeks, I think I was taking doing trips and going and picking up ice from through blue and in days yeah, you were graciously learning me ice every time. oh gosh. I was the ice guy. Oh, that's crazy. I didn't know that. That's funny. Yeah. Yeah. I, I miss opening night. Because I was working, I was there. Mm-hmm we noticed you weren't there. We almost didn't open then you weren't gonna make it. They're gonna have to delay a little longer guys. TJ took my place. Oh, TJ, that man is a TJ is great. Yeah. He's awesome. He's a legend. Yeah. Anytime someone needs a model in town for a photo shoot. I'm just like, he's just kind of the, the go to, yeah. I mean, he's the fashion guy in town. So I mean, why wouldn't you? Oh yeah. He, he tell y'all about fashion week. Yes. Oh yeah. Yeah. Yep. He, I bet he was drinking a lot of whiskey when he told you that. Cause he gets triggered by it, so, oh, he had a little bit hope he hears that. Yeahm sure I'll make sure at buckle for a few years. And I think the first year he, he like, he started his fashion week. He had reached out or something. Cause I remember talking to him and like my manager at the time was going back and forth trying to help him out, like get outfits or something. And I was like, man, that boy is running. Yeah. Like there's so much. And now I know that those are no joke trying to put on like a whole ensemble event. Yeah. Mm-hmm he definitely got his I dunno. He say too much. yeah. You learned a lot. He learned a lot mm-hmm always have a random question for everybody. Yeah. That's this week I'm going full random. What is your Auora color? What, what I feel like every, everyone has a color that they exude gosh, or like their, because you always think you're like, oh, what's my favorite color. I'm like, you spent too much time on like TikTok or something this week. Didn't you? No, that, do I get to choose between questions or do I, is that how I was gonna say? Like, what's the next, so then your second question, is there a color called? I don't know, because that's the color. Yeah. no, that's my answer. Randomly I'll come up with like some real one, like the other week we, I was like, so if you were an animal, what would it be? And my father-in-law was like, Ugh, it's an elephant. No. So real talk. What is your favorite wine? My favorite wine. Oh gosh. Cause you own a whiskey and wine bar. So man, this is gonna be embarrassing. Favorite wine crimes. shout out the Snoop. My boy let's do. I know favorite wine. It sounds super cliche, but recently. I had the anniversary. I don't know if it was 10 year anniversary or whatever anniversary it was at the chemist. Which is chemist is very cliche in the wine world to say, you know, it's kinda like Blas in the bourbon world. It's like, oh yeah. Oh, gotta get me a Blas. You know, a CAS, but this one was just particularly fantastic. Cause it was an anniversary edition. Yeah. Nice. And I, yeah, actually popped it up in one night when surprisingly Bobby from true Luke mm-hmm came over to my house. Cause he knew that I was cooking steaks for some friends and so oh yeah. I text him. I was like, I was like, I'm cooking, you know, I guess I'm Wago or whatever. I'm cooking for new friends. My guys are coming over and he said, oh, I'm off tonight. I was like, well, come on over, like you cooked the steaks. I was gonna say you cooking it then. So he did, he came over and he cooked the steaks in the grill. And I popped up in that canvass and a couple other bottles that I was able to get. Yeah. It was a good night. A lot of. Jealous friends that night. I'm sure. Yeah. I was gonna ask if you were the one cooking, the, the steaks that, oh, no night. As soon as I knew he was coming, I was like, yep, I'm done. Yes. Like that's it. Yeah. I did my job today. instead I picked up my camera cause I'm like Bobby's in my house cooking the steaks. Right? Yeah. So other question, are you guys gonna have like a podcast for the, the bar, a podcast for the bar, man? You know, we've, that's funny cuz a friend of mine, another bourbon lover told me it'd be a really cool spot to do a YouTube channel. Yeah, yeah. To just sit back and drink, you know, bourbon compare bottles and that sort of thing. Haven't thought about the podcast yet, but so if you do a YouTube. Channel you ever need to like redo some verbiage or anything? Mm-hmm I know a spot. the cargo district recording studios. Perfect place to wait, what are we getting at here? Let's just go ahead and get right to, would you guys like to do a whiskey podcast? I would love to do a whiskey podcast with you guys. that would just be so fun. Just cuz I I like trying like new stuff mm-hmm and like, like I said before, your team is very knowledgeable mm-hmm about the whiskeys in the scotch and the, in the bourbon. And I think that like, that'd be fun. Yeah. Like to have obviously a knowledgeable person educating a not educated person and just like talking about like, Hey, you know, this is here or this is the notes and this, and this is yeah. Like the mash bill or whatever on this. And that'd be just kind of cool to sit back, enjoy it. Be like, Hey, you know, this would be good in this mixed drink. Mm-hmm or do this. I mean, technically the best video length is about 10 to 15 minutes. So yeah, just an idea. well, let's just up the ante and say that we don't even start talking on the podcast until everyone's had three shots. That's even better just to make it, just to make it fun. You know, let's see how, where this goes. Exactly. that would, I would totally be down because like the first, like minute you're like, what are they doing? It's just like, quiet, just like cheating, some music going on in the background. And you're just like taking shots. Yeah. The first five minutes is just taking shots. The last five is actually talking and then there's just dead air. Cause they're almost collapsed. Right? it's our 15 minute video. They, they never said, bye. They're just laying on bar now I'm out. Oh, I love it. I know. I, I, I think the, the staff over there would be down for it too. Oh, they would? Yeah. they're down for whatever. So, oh, we got a whole setup. We could do that. Yeah. We'll make work. Yeah. We'll talk about it after the podcast. so now that we are running up on just about an hour here mm-hmm I'll ask my last question, which is, if you were to tell your younger self one thing, what would it be? Oh man. And we're already at an hour. You said? Yeah. I mean, take your time. I mean, I have nowhere to go. Man, That's a tough one. I spent so long worried that I wouldn't get to where I wanted to get. Mm-hmm mm-hmm you know, as a young person, I think you're like, this is where I want to be. Yeah. But maybe that's a lofty dream. Mm-hmm you know, and you spend so long, like wanting to get to this place. Yeah. And until one day you realize, and I realize this a little later that it happens like turning on a switch. Like it can happen in a day mm-hmm you know, keep being faithful to what you're doing and the small things. And eventually you'll get to where you want to get, you know, but be patient about it. Yeah. And and you know, it there's no, there's no Russian life. And anything to me, the bar is about, you know, the bar is about slowing down. Mm-hmm it's about stopping it's about, you know, relaxing being in the moment, enjoying life, you know, And find enjoyment in everything you do. And so I think I would tell my younger self to stop worrying, stop trying to be somewhere you're not. And just be where you are and be good at what you do, pour your heart into it, even if you're not the best, just pour your heart into it and it'll show eventually. So yeah, I love that kind of goes along with the quote that I read this week. That was enjoy the journey, not the destination. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Cuz you already know what the destination's gonna look like. So enjoy every step on the way. Oh yeah. I tell myself a lot of times, like if I'm encountering something that is new to me or a little nervous about, I literally tell myself, you know, you're gonna die. You realize that. I was like, I tell I'm like, I'm, you know, it sounds morbid. I'm like, I'm really gonna die one day. True. Yeah. It's just literally my only chance just to do this. Right. So why in the world am I afraid? Yeah. Of anything mm-hmm you know, so yeah. I, I like the another quote to go along with that is. If you're not afraid of what you're doing, you're not dream big enough. Right. so that's the truth. That's the truth. That is a fact. Yeah. Well now they're at the end. Mm-hmm you can plug yourself. Yeah. Plug myself. yeah. How, how can everyone find you in the Starling bar and everything else that you do? So we're on Instagram. The star at the Starling bar. Mm-hmm me personally, it's Matt Ray photography. Okay. That's pretty much it. Cool. Nice. Not a whole lot more plugging. I've written seven books. I'm just kidding on Amazon. Well, yeah, I just wanna say thank you, Matt, for coming on. Even it was hilarious cuz I know we reached out, like we walked into the Starling like two months ago and was like. Do you guys wanna be on our podcast? Mm-hmm yeah. So what was funny too is I didn't tell you. So we were trying to find people just to fill up like our next month mm-hmm and so I was sitting at the bar and you were like, Hey, I saw TJ's like episode, like when am I coming on? And I was like, you free Monday. like, sweet. Let's make it work. Let's go. I was like, TJ, can't get on there if I'm not on there. Come on. oh, but it was a blast. Yeah. It worked out great. So it was perfect timing. That's awesome. Absolutely, man, I appreciate you guys about me on yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much. And and let me know when you invite Kaylee on and yeah. I think you should throw'em Becks and maybe Carly too. Get all of'em at one time. That'd be real fun. I know we, we were actually talking about that too. We were like, how can we get as many of those girls on here at once? So just, just let them go on their funnest bar stories with customers. Oh yeah. That that'll be like a four hour podcast. we could take the traveling setup over there and just put like a mic and just let'em talk into it. Yeah. That's actually, that sounds like a lot of stress I wonder what how's the setup over there, like to set up in the afternoon before they get started, we could just put a mic up and just talk to them. Oh, you can totally do it. Yeah. Yeah. They're gonna shoot me for saying that probably, but yeah, absolutely. Guys I'll run it by Kaylee first in fact, you know, go in at seven o'clock on a Friday night. They love that. I know better than that. next time I go in, they're gonna be a spit in my drink or so by we do not condone that, right? Yeah. But yes. Thank you guys for listening in this week. It was a blast chilling with Matt, another one with a great vibe. Mm-hmm but if you wanna help support us, send us a five star review on all of your NA favorite podcasts, listening stations, Spotify, apple podcast. I think that's what it is. Mm-hmm you know, apparently Spotify has a five star rating now that you can give us to. Oh, nice. So yeah, leave us a review there. If you didn't like what you heard, don't leave anything at all. like, that's what my mama said. You ain't got nothing nice to say. Don't say it at all and knock you out if you ain't, if you ain't got no good stars, don't leave no stars at all. That's the modern version, right? That's true. Hopefully some of y'all will book with us in the future at the cargo district recording studios, but yeah. Thank you again, Matt. Absolutely appreciate you coming on and bringing us this fantastic whiskey as well too. This right? Good. That was good. Yeah. Yeah. Cheers. Cheer. Cheers. Cheers.