Eric Medina appears to have a winning hand.
The 33-year-old Brownsville resident, a native of San Antonio, is quickly making a name for himself as the nation’s go-to guy for hand-built, custom poker tables. His tables, all of which are built in Medina’s garage, are even earning him recognition in celebrity circles.
Medina built his first table in 2006, after too many games with poker buddies on two kitchen tables shoved together. Cards were always falling off the table or dropping through the gap, hardly conducive to good poker.
He decided to put to use the carpentry skills he learned from his father and build a real poker table. The prototype was heavy and relatively crude, but a vast improvement over kitchen tables nonetheless.
“It wasn’t ‘all that,’ but my buddies loved it compared to what we were playing on before,” Medina said.
He built a second, better table, which one of his friends asked to buy. Medina’s third table he made for a charity fundraiser for Monica’s House, an advocacy group for abused children.
The winning bid for that table was $1,200 and it was at that point Medina realized he’d stumbled upon a potentially lucrative niche.
A Harley-Davidson themed table Medina made was second prize at the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce “All-In For Education” poker tournament/fundraiser, held in July at Desperado Harley-Davidson in McAllen (first prize was a Harley-Davidson).
“We had over 150 players,” Medina said. “We sold out for that event.”
Trade show invitations started rolling in. An appearance at the Texas Hunters & Sportsman’s Expo in McAllen, also in July, yielded a slew of orders.
“I sold 10 tables in two days there,” Medina said. “That’s probably more than I ever did in two months. One guy actually bought eight tables. My whole garage was filled with poker tables. I had no room to even park anywhere.”
Those events were great exposure for Medina, but nothing compared to the Oct. 12 Celebrity Casino Night fundraiser for Eva’s Heroes, a non-profit organization to help special-needs kids, founded by actress and Corpus Christi native Eva Longoria.
Longoria’s people contacted Medina a month or so before the event to ask if he’d be interested in building a Longoria-themed table for the event. The result was a $7,500 table bearing a likeness of the actress herself along with the logo of Medina’s company, MCP.
In photos from the event of Medina and Longoria together, he exudes an aura of celebrity himself with what’s evolved into his signature look: black fedora with custom paisley band, matching bandana and bow tie, rakishly undone.
Medina estimates he’s built about 90 tables since 2006 and done at least 20 charities in the past two years alone. He’s more selective now about charities, since he gets so many requests to donate tables these days. Meanwhile, customer orders are streaming in from around the country.
“Before I wanted to be just the leading poker table guy in South Texas,” Medina said. “That was my goal, but now I’m selling tables nationwide. I’m shipping them out to Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Chicago, all over. Now my name is getting out there.”
Medina has about eight different table designs, and can customize them with just about any design that can be imagined and sketched: sports team mascots, corporate brands, nonprofit logos, whatever.
Some model designs feature hide-away cup holders and even lights under the arm rest rails. Medina’s tables range in cost from $2,000 to $15,000, depending on what he puts into them.
“It really depends on what your budget is, and I’ll work with you on your budget,” he said. “I’m not greedy. I want my name out there. I want my table in your house.”
For other customers, price isn’t as much of a factor. Actor Mario Lopez has ordered an MPC table, for instance.
Medina launched a big marketing blitz before Christmas that he said has paid off. It doesn’t hurt that poker is massively popular right now, not to mention the rise of the “man cave.”
“A lot of guys now want a game room or man cave,” Medina said. “If they’re going to spend a couple thousand dollars to fix up their game room, they want something custom. They’re not going to go and buy a cheapie table and put it in a nice room that they spent money on.”
Medina now has a manager, Los Angeles-based Jimmy Villarreal, who approached him after the Longoria event because of what he saw as Medina’s marketability. Medina’s marketing team also features a publicist, marketing director and photographer. MCP’s website is sleek, professional looking and filled with quality color photos of his work.
More big things could be on the way: Medina is building a “Duck Dynasty” table for display at the Dallas Safari Club Convention in January, with the ultimate goal of landing him a cameo on “Duck Dynasty” itself, the highest rating “reality” show on television.
Villarreal, who Medina said knows the “Duck Dynasty” production manager, is even talking about a reality show based on Medina himself, who in the meantime is scouting Brownsville for a bigger shop, plus showroom so potential customers can view his tables in the flesh.
Medina’s wife, Amber, who characterizes her husband’s venture as “pretty cool,” wouldn’t be opposed to the move.
“It would be nice,” she said. “I’ll be able to park in my garage again.”
His website is www.mcptables.com.