An interview with Brooks Reitz, founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. in New York, on starting a small business, his love of gin cocktails and the tonic syrup that started it all...
ON FOOD AND CHILDHOOD:
Food was wildly important. We NEVER went out to eat, probably because I had two brothers and it would be expensive to feed a family of five. That being said, both of our parents cooked from scratch all the time. We enjoyed family dinner every night, and usually the topic of discussion was the food on our plates, and how much better it was than most restaurants. Our vacations were planned around food. Dinnertime, for sure, was the most enjoyable time of day. And breakfast. And lunch on the weekends.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO START A BUSINESS?
I loved gin, but was savvy enough to care about the things I put into my body. I didn't want to put a bunch of crappy tonic into my drinks, and I didn't want to serve crappy tonic either, so I set out to make my own. I never intended to start a company.
Customers at the restaurant I managed were asking if they could buy it. I thought if I sold 5 bottles a week then that would be pretty cool. I sold it all. I made more, and sold that, too. Then, Chef Sean Brock committed to serving my tonic as his house tonic at HUSK in Charleston, SC. I knew production had to grow, and that I might need to get an LLC. From there, we scored a few other local restaurants. I never said, "I'm gonna start a company," it just sort of happened. Two years later, we are on the cusp of releasing product number two, making some money, and having a blast.
HOW IS THE TONIC MADE?
We source all of our ingredients from an American company that specializes in selling the best botanicals from across the globe. When I started, we produced it in one-gallon batches in my home kitchen. From there, we moved into a catering kitchen and began to produce 5-gallon batches, and then, soon, bumped up to 10-gallon batches. Today, we produce our tonic in 250-gallon batches here in Charleston. The basic process remains the same, but the kettle is 15 feet tall rather than 3 feet tall.
Keeping up with demand. We've been very fortunate that a lot of people have wanted to sell our product, and along the way, we've had to say 'no' a lot because we just didn't have enough. We've grown slowly and carefully over the last two years, and while we produce much more today than we did then, we're still very much ‘small batch.’ I'm very comfortable with our current production rate, as it forces us to continue to be careful about who we go into business with.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE BUSINESS?
The learning curve is steep, but creating a profitable business that people love has been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I've ever done. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. aims to be a producer of quality bar goods. Period. Of course, that could grow to be so much more in the future. For now, our guiding principle is to imagine what products would be in our great-grandfathers bar cabinet, and reinvent them for a modern drinker.