Want to know more about the Hella Bitters Ginger Cocktail Bitters that have just arrived in your Afterparty Box? We chatted with Eddie Simeon, one of the founders of Hella Cocktail Co., to find out more about the birth and the mission of this great local bitters brand!
S&S: What did you do before founding Hella Cocktail Co.?
ES: Each Hella founder comes from different and complimentary professional backgrounds. Tobin is our NYC hospitality professional. Jomaree comes from finance and joined the team after graduating from business school. I, Eddie, started the business while pursuing a career in web development as a product manager. We all have a common passion: creating fun and delicious experiences with friends and loved ones.
S&S: We have that passion in common with you, too! Was that what inspired you to found Hella Cocktail Co and get into the bitters and syrups business?
ES: The entire project started out as a hobby. Something fun to do with friends . . . drink, make food things from scratch. There was a level of one-upmanship to it all and bitters seemed to fit with our deep interest in cocktails. It wasn’t until later that we started making larger batches to sell to local stores in NYC. The rest is history.
S&S: It certainly is. How did you decide to launch the company via Kickstarter, and in retrospect, do you feel that was the right decision for you?
ES: Kickstarter played an important role in the early days for a few reasons. Firstly, Kickstarter gave us proof of concept. Their analytics dashboard is pretty useful in determining the purchasing behavior of your audience and going through the production and fulfillment process not only pressured-tested our costing assumption, it helped us prove to ourselves that we could do this bitters thing for real. Second, you get buzz and cash. Both very useful in launching a new product. With the first Kickstarter subscriber list, we created a thank-you party invite that ended up being a pretty big event! Lastly, and most importantly, it got us out of hobby mode and into a headspace where the stakes were a little higher. That tends to happen when you email literally everyone you know to ask them for support.
S&S: What made you want to focus on home bartenders rather than trying to sell to bars and professionals?
ES: When we set out peddling bitters in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, our initial approach was to go to all the cool bars and bartenders we would think of. We quickly learned two things: One, serious mixologists are loyal to Angostura and not necessarily interested in another upstart “bitters from Williamsburg.” And two, at best, bars and restaurants are buying a couple of bottles of bitters at a time. Furthermore, we observed that the bartenders discover new bitters in retail locations anyway—not direct from the makers. So from those lessons, we decided that leaning into the home bartenders who want to emulate the fancy cocktail bars was worth testing. So far, it seems to be working.
S&S: What have been some of your biggest challenges and successes as a small business owner?
ES: Cash flow is always a puzzle. Especially as we continue to expand the product line and find new reasons to buy more raw materials—of course, that’s a good challenge to have. Our partnerships stand as one of our biggest successes. Working with the likes of Tanqueray and American Express has truly been an honor.
S&S: Given the number of bitters companies out there, how did you work to differentiate your brand and product in what is still a somewhat niche market?
ES: So much has changed in the NYC food and beverage scene in the past five years! It’s been really interesting to see what emerging brands do to stand out. For Hella, we’ve always been about cocktailing and hospitality for the home chef and foodie. Plain and simple, we make a premium product and share it with our audience in an unpretentious, fun-loving manner. We love our cocktail-nerd friends and the whole mixology community, but at the end of the day, we’re about empowering regular people to make better cocktails.
S&S: What an excellent mission—again, much in common with ours! Out of curiosity, have you developed any really out-there formulas that, in the end, you felt were not commercially viable?
ES: Definitely. Vanilla Kumquat was my personal fave. That said, for us, commercial viability has as much to with the brand identity—we take cocktails seriously, but not ourselves—as it does with production or demand constraints. With a category as niche as bitters, we wanted to focus on the flavors that would be simplest to explain and use.
S&S: What’s your favorite flavor combination?
ES: Personally, I’m a no-frills kind of drinker. I love exploring a sophisticated drinks list, but on any given happy hour you can find me erring on the side of simplicity. Like a Rye & Soda with a couple dashes of Citrus Bitters. A Smoked Chili Margarita is another good one in our repertoire: Hella Margarita Mix, Smoked Chili Bitters, and añejo tequila.
S&S: Yum! And what’s next for Hella Cocktail Co.?
ES: With so many amazing, innovative companies out there, not just in the cocktail space, we’ve always known that partnerships would be a key driver for growth. First Tanqueray, and then American Express, we have our sights set to continue the process of teaming up with those that share our brand principles and vision for modern tastes. Hopefully, following that path will lead to more exciting product launches such as RTDs and even pre-mixed boozy delights.
S&S: Here’s to great partnerships! Cheers!