Two Clintonville moms ride the craft cocktail wave.
While exploring healthy popsicles as a potential business idea, Barb Stauffer and Leah Monaghan began creating simple syrups infused with herbs and other natural ingredients to enhance the flavors. They soon found other uses for the syrups, including in cocktails.
The response of friends and family to the drinks was so overwhelmingly positive, Stauffer and Monaghan decided to market the syrups as a stand-alone product. The partners, both residents of Clintonville, named the company Root 23 after the road that serves as one of the Columbus neighborhood’s main arteries and a nod to their focus on natural products. Stauffer and Monaghan, who met because their children attend the same school, began researching the proper guidelines for safely producing food products. During the process, they sought advice from many local entrepreneurs, Stauffer says.
“The small business community in Columbus is great,” she says. “It seemed like everyone gave us a nugget of information that made a difference.”
They also solicited advice from friends and family. They hosted an open house where guests sampled their 15 best flavor ideas in order to choose the top four that they would use to launch the company. Winning flavors included Cucumber Habanero, Grapefruit Basil and Vanilla Ginger.
“That was really helpful. There were flavors we really loved that other people didn’t touch. Everyone responded well to the idea of using the syrups to create fun cocktails,” Monaghan says.
The women used their own money to buy bottles and rent space in a commercial kitchen to make and bottle the syrup. They each invested about $5,000. Once they perfected the recipes, they took the syrups to local grocery stores. Every store they visited agreed to carry the syrup.
Weiland’s Market in Clintonville readily offered to stock Root 23. Everything about the product was excellent, says owner Jennifer Williams. She prides herself on carrying local products but knew right away that Root 23 was special. “They do a great job,” she says. “They’re not just a local product that people should buy because they’re local. The product is beautiful. It’s beautifully packaged. It’s at the right price point.”
The packaging reflects Root 23’s authentic brand story, says Adam Lehman, co-founder of Wonder Jam, the Grandview creative studio that helped develop the logo. “Some companies pay us to help them come up with their story. They knew their customer. They had big dreams for their brand.”
Stauffer and Monaghan made their first batch of syrups during their kids’ last week of school in May 2015. Once it was done, they loaded their minivans and delivered it to stores.
School was out for summer when customers started reordering the syrups. They began going to the commercial kitchen and making batches of syrup early in the morning in order to be home before their husbands left for work. They would bring the bottles home and their children would help affix labels and make boxes. “They still help us,” Stauffer says. “They are excited about the business. It’s been good for them to see our hard work pay off.”
The partners soon realized that their idea was marketable beyond central Ohio. They worked with a distributor to find stores willing to sell it. As demand grew, they found a co-packer in Cleveland that uses their recipes to create the handmade syrups. Today, their products are available at 150 locations in 13 states. The women continue to run the business without any additional staff. They spend time each week at their warehouse making boxes and packing them. They even still use their minivans to deliver to a few of their customers. They don’t have titles and share the workload, which often includes picking up each other’s children from school.
Moving forward, they would like to increase their distribution and sell to more bars and restaurants. “We believe there’s still a lot of growth potential,” Stauffer says. “We regularly field requests from stores on the West Coast. It’s just a matter finding a cost effective way to get the product to them.”
They’ve been fortunate that the launch of their business has coincided with the rise of the craft distilling industry, which sold nearly 7.2 million cases in 2017—an increase of 23.7 percent over 2016.
“They tapped into the market just as it was starting,” Williams says. “Craft cocktails are big. They caught the market at the right time and are riding the wave.”