NEW YORK (FOX 5 NEWS) - The idea was very simple: a group of friends loved getting together, making cocktails, and cooking, but they didn't love what products were available when it came to cocktail bitters, so they made a mason jar's worth. That was 2011 and the Hella Company was born, right here in New York.
But let's get something out of the way first. What are bitters? Hella Company Co-Founder Tobin Ludwig says they're an alcohol-based flavor extract traditionally used in cocktails, but are also broadly applied to food recipes and club soda.
Now back to business. Ludwig, Jomaree Pinkard, and Eddie Simeon started the Hella Company with just $10,000 and built their business from the ground up.
Pinkard says they bootstrapped it, taking the small batches of bitters that they made and any profits that came from them, and re-investing those profits into bigger batches of bitters. They did that for two years, with no salaries, no employees, and no marketing.
When Pinkard says bootstrapping, he's not kidding. He typically spends his days packing boxes and filling orders, while Ludwig spends most of his time making bitters and peeling fruit. That hard work is paying off.
Hella Company just finished its 4th year in business, and booked $1million in sales for 2015. Hella Bitters works out of the Organic Food Incubator in Long Island City, a crowdsourced space that provides everything they need from offices to storage.
Another key for their growth? American Express, which featured Hella Company's story in a commercial. Pinkard says they've used the card to fund day-to-day operations. It's their budget for everything from procurement of product to transportation.
Today Hella is in the process of recruiting their first investors. They're selling their products on their website and have landed in some pretty big stores. Locally you can find them in the Meadow or Whisk. They're also in Whole Foods and Sur La Table.
Hella has expanded from bitters to mixers, even an Old Fashioned Kit, to make one of their favorite drinks, but they're still keeping it simple: no colors, flavor extracts, or artificial flavors. What you taste is their proprietary blend of spices, citrus peel, and bittering agents---a simplicity they're proud of.