The Business of Alternative Beverage
January 30, 2023
Podcast: Download (Duration: 16:32 — 22.7MB)
Welcome to Dana Delivers by Aprio podcasts, the podcast that helps restaurant owners and operators learn from industry experts about trends and opportunities. On every episode, Dana Zukofsky, the leader of Aprio’s restaurant advisory team, explores a topic impacting our industry in a candid conversation. And now, let’s hear what Dana is serving up on this episode.
So on today’s episode of Dana Delivers, we have Emily Heintz from Sèchey based in Charleston, but also in New York. And I wanted to have Emily on when I met her last year at FAB at the conference. And I don’t know. The time got away from me, and I realized that this episode is going to be released at the very end of January, on the 30th. So I figured, what better time to have Emily on than to end off the month of dry January? So Emily, thank you so much for joining us.
You’re welcome. It’s so good to talk to you and share a little bit more about what we’re doing at Sèchey. The end of dry January’s perfect. We hope people try dry all year. That’s a good time to be chatting with you about how we’re supporting health and wellness.
Awesome. So why don’t we start with, tell our listeners, who might not have been to your locations yet, what exactly you guys do.
So Sèchey is a nod to the French word for dry. Technically, it means dry-ish. We are an alternative spirits beverage company. We carry multiple brands across the non-alcoholic and functional category. And functional beverages mean there’s something in the beverage besides alcohol to replicate the feeling that alcohol might give you. So maybe ashwagandha for stress relief, CBD, also plant-based Botanics like black ginger. Our store in Charleston carries a variety of these products. And people come to Sèchey because it’s a confusing category. They don’t know what alcohol-free gin tastes like or even looks like. And they come in to learn more about how to drink less and live more.
Right. And that’s, I mean, what’s better? And as I mentioned to you before, when I first heard about your store it was because you were presenting at the conference and you were pouring alcohol-free wine and I was just like, ‘What is this? If I’m going to drink wine, I want wine. If not, I could have water.’ But then I went to the store. And I was just completely blown away by the experience and everything there because it wasn’t a juice store or a mixer shop. It really is so much deeper than that. So besides for just the alt spirits, right, and some of the things that you could mix, like we spoke about with traditional alcohols, you have a tasting area, you have so much more. So how do you curate what the space is besides just an alcohol-free, an alt spirit shop?
Yeah, well, we want everyone that walks in our doors, regardless of their relationship with alcohol, to find something. So we carry high quality bitters, mixers, what I call hero spirits, which are hero mixers that can be used with traditional spirits, wine and beer, or alternative. So as I look at products, I kind of think about, well, flavor first, right? Like we all want something that tastes delicious, but also something that looks great. Like the branding in this category is phenomenal.
Well, not only the branding in the category, but your store is just so beautiful also.
We want it to be an experience when you come in and to surprise and delight you with the thought of, ‘Okay, I may have a bottle of traditional wine, and I want to keep the party going, but I have an 8am meeting. So I may switch to an alcohol-removed wine which was actually wine, they just removed the alcohol after they make it and so then you can keep the party going. We also, again, regardless of your relationship, you can choose to drink traditional spirits or our alternatives. We have customers across the gamut, all ages, all mindsets that shop with us.
Right, and I know that my generation, right, we have a different relationship with alcohol. Not to stereotype, than Gen Z. Right? I speak to a lot of people in Gen Z and they don’t want to drink. They like an alt beverage. They will use CBD or THC as it becomes legal throughout the country a little bit more in each state. But what does your customer typically look like? Is there a typical customer?
There really Isn’t. I mean, this category is so new and there’s so many products that appeal across all ages. So we’ll have students from the College of Charleston who do not drink, and they’re looking for something like Kin Euphorics, which has naturally occurring caffeine, it has 5-HTP, it has Gaba, and all of these things provide that euphoric feeling that alcohol might have. Then we have older generations who may be on new medication that interacts with alcohol, or, new moms who didn’t drink during their pregnancy and have newborns that still want to celebrate, but not with something with alcohol.
So, and also, like you said, a lot of the stuff there, like for example, the bitters – how beautiful El Guapo Bitters package is and how the packaging is so important too, not only for liquid merchandise, but how you really, you’ve gotten into all the accouterments that goes with it, too. So really, it isn’t just a beverage shop. It’s so much more.
Yeah, we want to be a destination for celebration. And part of the allure with alcohol is that you’re connecting socially, you might be out with your friends and family celebrating a moment. But we find that if you have an alternative to alcohol, you’re more likely to choose something without alcohol just to stay connected. So that was really the mindset that I had when I started Sèchey. We can increase the awareness, the availability and the convenience of alcohol-free alternatives. People may choose them more. And we’re starting to see that in restaurants. I don’t love the word mocktail, but there’s a mocktail menu. The way Sèchey looks at things, there should be cocktails. Whether or not there’s alcohol in them is up to you. They should taste great on their own with or without traditional alcohol.
Yes. So do you have a name for what you call those? Is there a name that Emily loves instead of mocktail? I think it’s kind of – sometimes I think of what my 11 year old niece is like.
Sophisticated, trained bartenders should be able to make a cocktail alcohol-free without much effort. They’re discovering that now with all the complex ingredients. I just say, order cocktails and ask for them unleaded.
Oh, I like that.
Yeah, an unleaded cocktail. A mojito or a margarita should be really easy to make without tequila or rum. Because you’re muddling lime, mint, club soda, maybe a little triple sec. It would be fine that way.
Right? So yeah, that makes sense. If you’re using good fresh ingredients, it’s like anything else. It’s like a vegetarian menu. If you use good fresh vegetables, people aren’t gonna mind.
I use the analogy, you can order a salad without protein, and it’s still great. You should be able to order a cocktail without alcohol and it should be great. And not full of sugar.
Right, I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s amazing. And tell us about what’s happening in the New York location, a little bit different than the Charleston location.
It’s a little bit different. When we looked at expanding across the country, we knew we needed to be in New York. Our brands are there, our customers are there. And they’re 5 million people during the day coming to the city of Manhattan.
Maybe a little less now than there used to be. But there’s still a lot.
Maybe 3 million. Yes, still a lot. So we looked for a space where we could really bring our vision to life and opened a tasting salon in the West Village. It’s very event driven. This month, every Friday, there is a speakeasy open downstairs. The brands will come in from overseas. We just had Ish in from Copenhagen, and they did a big press event.
Oh, yeah, it was really fun. And so we look at it as a place that people can come in, have a beverage, try the products. Our longer term vision is almost as though you go into a winery where you can order a flight of gin or a flight of wine and try the different kinds to see what you like.
That’s so fun. So again, dry January, I find it’s always interesting, right? Everyone has their own version of what a dry January is. Some people do it for a little while, some people do it for long, everyone, to your point, can have their own relationship with alcohol. And then all of a sudden, it’s February 1, and the floodgates open. If you were talking to somebody about what you would consider to be an ease in or a soft entry, what would be one of your favorite products that you have or favorite cocktails that you make out of the products in your location that you would tell someone to drink?
To your first point on the question, we’re easing into February as functional February.
If you didn’t try dry January, you should try functional February, which is replacing alcohol with the beverages that I just talked to you about. Some of them have ashwagandha, they have naturally occurring – like maybe it’s mushrooms, like reishi mushroom is a big one. Try something like that, or CBD. I would encourage you if you haven’t gone dry for seven or 10 days or you haven’t tried functional, just see how you feel. In my recommendation, my favorite thing and everyone knows, is this Aperol alternative called Wilfred’s. It’s the number one Aperol alternative in the world. It’s out of the UK, it has bitter orange and rosemary.
So easy to make a spritz with it with club soda. I’m a lazy bartender. You don’t have to be a mixologist to drink low alcohol or no alcohol. I also have another favorite out of California called bonbuz. And it literally gives you a buzz, naturally occurring caffeine in the drink. And some nootropics and adaptogens that support well-being. There’s a spicy one that makes a tremendous spicy Margarita.
Could you drive after you drink these?
Yeah, it’s called bonbuz slowburn.
I love that and then we’ve got some canned gin and tonics. That’s literally the brand I was just mentioning, Ish, as a gin and tonic in a can and it’s so easy.
I love that idea. So continuing on cans, so canned beverages, super popular, super well-known. I think we’ve spoken, easy to carry, easy to bring somewhere. A lot of places, depending on what’s in them, are sold in the drugstores – not the drugstore – in the supermarkets or, I mean it’s because they’re not malt beverages and not alcohol and I don’t know, a whole different line of stuff. Canned beverages on your side, tell me about what else you guys are doing or thinking or rolling with?
Well, we have, I mentioned a hero mixer. Avec is out of Brooklyn. They have this phenomenal line of different hero mixers, which means you can mix with spirits or just drink on their own in a can. I also love Ghia. Ghia was on Shark Tank a few weeks ago. They are bitter aperitivo. So a lot of times people are asking me about sugar content, and they don’t want sweet, so we do have things that can be poured into a glass and you feel like you’re drinking a cocktail. I also love Figilia, Rasāsvāda is a plant-based botanics line source from all over the globe. There’s a lot of things that are actually good for you. In a can, we also have Ferm Fatale. It’s a zero sugar probiotic cosmopolitan or mojito.
I wish right now this was video and not just speaking because my jaw just hit the floor because I’m so excited to try this.
Yeah, it’s like a kombucha but a cocktail. Ferm Fatale.
My next stop when I leave work today I’m going down Hudson Street. What’s next for you and the brand?
So we are currently raising a seed round to expand this concept nationally. Also working with a national retail to partner and bring the multiple brands that Sèchey carries to a wider audience across the country. And we do currently ship from our site Sèchey.com. It’s S-E-C-H-E-Y and so we’ll expand who we ship to, where we ship. Right now, our primary thing was getting the experience right in the store and the response has been tremendous. So we know we’ve really hit a need.
And what about your own branded beverage?
Yes, we are launching a private label. We are working on a Sèchey 75, which is my personal favorite drink.
I love it.
If anyone’s had it, it’s basically a nod to the French 75, which is champagne, gin, lemon juice and sometimes elderflower.
My sister just smiled the biggest smile.
She loves her French 75 too?
Loves her French 75.
Yeah, yeah. So we’ll do that. Barware, book, really build out the assortment so you can find things for any celebration. The store in New York also has a pop-up, a flower pop-up, so you can literally come in and get a handpicked bouquet of flowers, a card and a bottle of alcohol-free wine.
Oh my god. One stop shopping. I love it. Could you tell us the address though? Because I said Hudson but I need the exact address.
In New York, it’s 632 Hudson, between Jane and Horatio. We are open Wednesday through Sunday.
And in Charleston, we’re open seven days a week, 10 to seven, and we are at 540 King. And as you know, Charleston has this huge resurgence right now, like amazing food, tons of tourists. We love hosting visitors.
Yes. I’m excited to be one soon, again. Like I mentioned, we met at FAB. And I will be back in June. I’ll make sure to stop in the store, buy a whole bunch of goodies, because last year when I went in, everyone loved what I brought back. And I’m just so happy that everything’s going well. And the New York Times keeps talking about you and other publications. And it’s so amazing not only to just see someone who’s so passionate about something, but being able to see them succeed is just awesome. So, Emily, thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you for promoting you and your business and everything happening. And anyone who’s listening, as Emily said, she is raising a seed round. And with the alt spirit world taking off the way it is, it’s probably worth emailing Emily just to find out a little more. So thank you so much.
Thank you for the interest. Yeah, so fun.
Of course. So I will speak to you soon, and thank you again for joining me today.
Thank you to all of our listeners to the Dana Delivers by Aprio podcast. If you liked today’s podcast, please hit the subscribe button. Dana Delivers is brought to you by Aprio, a premier accounting and business advisory firm with offices across the US and clients around the globe.
About Emily Heintz:
Emily Heintz has over 20 years of professional experience in a variety of roles from store manager and merchant to online store founder, fashion school professor and recruiting industry talent. She has spent much of her working career in retail, innovation, and business. In 2022, Heintz launched Sèchey to bring alternative spirits beverages to the modern drinker, and has already had major success in Charleston and New York.
Emily graduated from the University of Georgia in 2000 with a degree in Public Relations.
About the Author
Dana Zukofsky is the Restaurant, Franchise & Hospitality Practice Leader at Aprio, providing advisory, accounting and consulting services to help foster profitability and growth.