Business in Vancouver’s “How I Did It” feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week’s issue, sommelier Lauren Mote and chef Jonathan Chovancek talk about their partnership in love and enterprise and how they came to launch their own brand of bitters – Bittered Sling Extracts.
Jonathan: “I’m the executive chef at Café Medina in Vancouver. Before Bittered Sling, we had Kale and Nori catering company, which actually owns Bittered Sling. My background is in flavours and understanding the nuances and building them.”
Lauren: “I am the bar manager of UVA Wine and Cocktail Bar. I’ve been bartending for close to 16 years. I was a certified sommelier running wine and beverage programs in notable restaurants in Vancouver. When I took over at The Refinery – which was a brand-new bar on Granville Street in Vancouver in 2009 – I curated a program of all homemade bitters, vermouths, naturally fermented sodas and lots of other homemade ingredients. It got a lot of media attention.”
Jonathan: I had been reading about these flavour combinations that she had been putting together. I came in and not only was I blown away by what we were tasting and drinking, but she was stunning – a six-foot goddess – and I knew that one day she would be mine. The next day we had brunch at Café Medina, where I am now the executive chef.”
Lauren: “We moved in together six months later and six months after that we opened Kale and Nori, a boutique catering and events company. About a year later, Ann Tuennerman – who is the founder of Tales of the Cocktail – contacted Jonathan and I and she said, ‘We are going to launch the first-ever bitters market in Vancouver, and if it’s a success we are going to take it to our festival [in New Orleans]. She said, if you can get your bitters to the Fairmont Pacific Rim February 12, 2012, then we will launch your bitters in Vancouver.
“This was in November of 2011. Jonathan and I started scrambling. We were making them and testing them but we didn’t feel like we were ready for retail. We ended up launching them at Tales of the Cocktail and the rest was history.”
Jonathan: “When we started as a catering company, we were doing really good sales. In 2012, we sold close to $400,000 in catering sales and of that about $10,000 were in bitters. The next year, in 2013, that was reversed.
“We were finding that the catering was either requiring us to grow into a bigger catering company ... and our bitters were inspiring us to grow into a bigger bitters company. And we realized, ‘Why do we have to grow both of them? Do we really want to cater?’ And the answer is, ‘No, we want to be a bigger bitters company.’ So we dissolved our catering company and launched as Bittered Sling. We financed it ourselves. Basically our catering company paid for the launch of our bitters company.”
Lauren: “We have over 275 retail partners across North America so far. Coast to coast across Canada we have several retail and bar partners. We are in the middle of a production run which is bottling close to 5,000 of each flavour that we make.”