Bryan: Well, we’re both vodka drinkers. And the craft-brewery market is so saturated. We looked at distilling when we first talked about it and there was no one doing it. Matt set out and wanted to be the Yuengling of vodka. When we started, we had no idea what we were doing... we literally Googled how to make vodka. But we’re the type of people that figure out how to do something.
How were the first few years?
Bryan: They were good. We immediately started doing everything that we could, going to different distilleries; we went to a beer shop, bought some parts, and made a makeshift distill in our parents' basement. They had a workout room downstairs that they never used, so there’s no reason for them to go down there. A couple of months went by and we started making some pretty good vodka -- we were really impressed how good it was, but Pops came downstairs one day, I don’t know why, and found our makeshift distill and mad science lab…
I've read in interviews that your parents thought you were making drugs in their basement. They really didn't know what was going on?
Bryan: Oh no... we told him what we wanted to do and he said ABSOLUTELY not. You’re not burning down our new house. So we said OK, sure. Well, he came downstairs, saw what we we’re doing, and kicked us out of the house. He was pissed. After that, I sent Matt to Michigan State -- there’s a distillery out there contracted by bigger distilleries that's a launch pad for high-flying distillers in the industry.
Matt: They select one apprentice every summer and I was lucky enough to get selected as their apprentice. So when Bryan says "I sent him out there," he really means that when I was selected, he financed the whole trip…
Bryan: And he still hasn’t paid me back.
Matt: Probably never paying you back. But I was living and partying out at MSU, living and partying on Bryan’s dollar, distilling everything -- gins, vodka, bourbon -- and came back here and was able to position myself as a consultant in the industry and got picked up by a Polish vodka company doing private research for them here and a bit in Poland. And truthfully, we were running down distillery projects that we wanted to run for our own company. We do a crazy mineralization step here, an aeration step, and that was all things that I got to research for a whole year. When I finished my contract with them, it was right at the point where we were finalizing our investment for this company.
And the whole process took around two years?
Bryan: From the initial idea to funding took almost two years exactly. During that time, we took around 50-60 meetings with investors and across the board it was the same thing: "We love you guys, love the package, love the product, but we know nothing about the industry." So they said they would give us X amount of money, and we’d come back with, "We need 70 to 80 times that." I mean, it’s bad enough being in business with your brother, but to add 60 other decision makers...
How did you ultimately find the funding?
Bryan: We had a friend that knew a lot of people and helped us to distribute our business plan. We put up this terrible crowdfunding video. It was like a stupid cartoon where Matt did the voiceover, which raised like $400, and our goal was like $750,000. Matt loved it though. He thought it was everything.
Matt: But our friend offered to help spread the business plan around and he was going to our now-investor's birthday party, Clement Pappas. He took a business plan with him and left it in his office, and a couple days later, Clement called and asked us over to his house to talk. We went over, ended up whacking a whole bottle of vodka that night. Obviously, there was really good initial chemistry there. We spent a few hours talking about the business, drinking, and what we envisioned for it.
Bryan: Clement’s background, he used to run a third-generation juice company out of Vineland, New Jersey. Big juice conglomerate. And he sold the company a few years ago and had a 10-year non-compete in the juice industry, so this was sort of a way he could get his hands back in the business and share his knowledge of the industry and his network of distributors. Our other investor is his brother, Zack Pappas, who’s our silent investor -- he’s just a fun-loving, really nice guy.