Sidewalk Side Spirits: Crafting Premium Spirits with Southern Flair

Best Startup Companies to Watch in 2023

Sidewalk Side Spirits is a startup company founded by John Eason, a 30-year veteran of the wine and spirits industry; and Max Messier and Lauren Myerscough, the owners of cocktail syrups and mix company, Cocktail & Sons. Inspired by love for their hometown of New Orleans and the passion for creating unique and delicious spirits, they started Sidewalk Side Spirits during the Covid pandemic. The company’s first product, Gambino’s King Cake Rum Cream, has quickly become an iconic Mardi Gras spirit, with over $1.3 million in sales in less than three years. Sidewalk Side Spirits is also known for its nimble approach to product development, premium quality spirits, and strong relationships with major distributors. 

Follow the highlights of the interview conducted between Sidewalk Side Spirits and Business Leaders Review

What inspired you to start Sidewalk Side Spirits, and what problem is your company solving?

I’m a thirty-year veteran of the wine and spirits business. Not too many jobs that I haven’t done at both the distributor and supplier level. Like everyone, I’m a frustrated marketing person who’s always wanted to do my own thing. I’ve worked for distributors, supplier startups, and publicly traded multinational companies. Another one of my goals was to move back to my hometown of New Orleans. I absolutely love the place. I left kicking and screaming, but the opportunities outside of it were just too hard to ignore.

We started Sidewalk Side Spirits during Covid. I was the US CEO of a tequila company, and our brand was very popular on premise. Of course, when the bars and restaurants closed, the business suffered. I had an idea for a brand, and the tequila company ownership was gracious enough to allow me to do a side project. 

I was friends with Lauren Myerscough and Max Messier, the owners of Cocktail & Son’s, a highly respected cocktail syrup and mixer company. They had a King Cake Cocktail syrup. I thought it would pair deliciously with a rum cream. I was right! I then cut a licensing agreement with the folks at Gambino’s Bakery. They are famous for their King Cakes and are the biggest name in the business. Gambino’s King Cake Rum Cream was born. In less than three years, it has done over $1.3M in sales and has become an iconic Mardi Gras spirit. I had other brand ideas, and Max and Lauren were so amazing I asked them to become my partners. Prior to our entry into the market, the only Mardi Gras brands out there were some King Cake flavored vodkas. Taaka on the low end did the bulk of the business. I felt there was an upscale opportunity for something delicious. Mardi Gras is a time of celebration. Our King Cake Rum Cream hit the sweet spot. The brand showed so much promise that it allowed my wife and I to come back home to New Orleans and start the company full time.

Can you tell us about your unique selling proposition and how it sets you apart from other players in the industry?

Being a small company means that we can be very nimble. We can spot an opportunity and react to it quickly. I think we got the Rum Cream done from soup to nuts in 6 months. Our distillery partners Porchjam and Midwest Gallo are amazing at producing products. We have some super artists that we work with to create our packaging, and Max has a fantastic flavor pallet. We strive to create premium products that taste fantastic, are commercially viable, and pay homage to our Southern roots.

How has your company grown and evolved since its inception, and what milestones have you achieved so far?

With the launch of our 2nd brand Hardhide Ponchatoula Strawberry Whiskey, I think we are on target this year to do $1M in sales. We tested the brand in Louisiana and Tennessee with very strong reorder rates and look to roll out the rest of the South and Southwest this spring. Midwest by summer.

What are the key values that guide your company, and how do you ensure that they are reflected in your business operations?

Honesty, transparency, and a sense of humor take you far in our business. We want our customers to profit from our brands and look forward to working with us. We don’t have a bunch of employees, and it’s very much a family-run business. We all wear a ton of hats and must be ready at a moment’s notice to step into a presentation or account visit. For example, we recently did a series of distributor meetings that were in three cities on the same day. Max took one, I took one, and my daughter did the third. She has her own social media business and gives us a family discount. It’s also not unusual for our minority partners to show up and do tastings.

How do you approach innovation and product development at Sidewalk Side Spirits, and what new products or services can we expect to see in the near future?

Right now, we are very focused on Hardhide. We want to expand our distribution across the country and get as many people tasting it as possible. It’s a very different product from most flavored whiskies. It’s 86 proof and uses fresh Ponchatoula strawberries. Most are 60 proof and artificially flavored. It truly is a flavored whiskey for whiskey lovers. We are prepared with several line extensions when the time is right. The flavored whiskey category is very exciting, and we expect to be on the high end of it.

How do you attract and retain customers, and what strategies have been most effective for you so far?

With limited budgets, we believe social media is the way to go. We work with prominent bartenders to create delicious cocktail and frozen drink recipes that have been very successful. Both our spirit brands are very mixable and fun for bartenders and consumers to play with.

What are the biggest challenges facing Sidewalk Side Spirits currently, and how are you addressing them?

Since we don’t own a distillery, sourcing whiskey at an affordable price has been a challenge for us. As a new brand, we don’t have a history to rely on, and forecasting has been tough. However, we are actively working with several quality sources and tightening our forecast to overcome this challenge. It’s about building relationships and finding reliable partners to ensure a steady supply of whiskey for our brand.

Where do you see your company in the next 5 years, and what are your long-term goals and aspirations?

In the next 5 years, I envision Sidewalk Side Spirits to have a strong presence in the whiskey market with three or four flavors of Hardhide Whiskey. Our packaging is unique and our product tastes amazing at 86 proof. We may also explore line extensions under Gambino’s label, as Max, my business partner, has some original ideas of his own. Apart from that, I would love to have our own sales force and create more job opportunities in New Orleans, my city. I want our brands to be ambassadors for the city and the state, making them proud of what we create.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own businesses?

My advice would be to go pay some dues! It’s important to learn the business from the ground up and gain experience at other companies. The relationships you build and the knowledge you acquire will be invaluable in your entrepreneurial journey. It’s also crucial to stay humble and keep a sense of humor, as there will be challenges beyond your control. As a self-proclaimed control freak, I’ve learned that letting go of control is a valuable lesson. Lastly, remember that your success depends on other people. Treat them well, appreciate their efforts, and give credit where it’s due. Playing it forward and acknowledging the efforts of your team will always pay off in the end.

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