Hella Bitter is a leader in the craft bitter space and a catalyst for the Brooklyn foodie scene. They make all-natural craft bitters with noticeably potent flavors that are well… hella bitter!
The team is equal parts Tobin Ludwig, Eduardo Simeon and Jomaree Pinkard, and they are on a mission to bring artisan craftsmanship, mixed with bitter deliciousness, to the people.
We were excited to chat with Eddie to learn how they are helping to bring awareness to the evolving craft bitter space. We really dig how the company burgeoned from a hobby to a full-fledged business. It just goes to show you that a dash of ambition, a spritz of resilience and a whole ‘lotta persistence is a recipe for success!
(Mmm. Success sure looks good in a frosted glass)
CogniTea: 1) Let’s start with the basics, what's the Hella Bitter story?
Eduardo Simeon: Its funny to think this all started as a hobby. We started by giving out bottles as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. When we decided to try making our largest batch ever [in 2011], Kickstarter happened. We finished with almost 250% of our $900 funding goal. So not only could we make product for backers, but we even had a small surplus. It was that first tiny inventory that we took to local stores in New York.
As for The Bitter Boys, our friendships predate HB by years and years. Tobin and I met in the high school days. In 2007, Tobin and I both found ourselves living in NYC. That was around the time that the first batch of bitters was made -- alas, the bromance began.
We met Jomaree around 2007 as well. Very formative time, I guess! This was before Jomaree went off to B-School and he was managing his brother's hip hop career. He hired us to produce a music video in Queens. Tobin played an undercover cop and I was on set as a producer. Long story short, the entire cast and crew ended up spending 11 hour in jail together. Charges: Trespassing. Talk about a bonding experience!
With Hella Bitter, we want to change the way people think about their beverages. We want people to use our product to make their food and drinks a little bit bitter. Whether that’s a classic cocktail or a tasteful marinade, we think HB has the potential to bring much more awareness to the world of bitters, and to help sophisticate the American palette. We’re starting small, and we’re dreaming big.
(The "Salt and Pepper" bitters)
1.5) What makes a good bitters?
While people's taste in bitters vary with each unique palette and preference, we believe the best bitters are those made with real ingredients like whole spices and fresh fruit. It's also very important to us that our products are approachable and user friendly. That's why we focus so much on any bar's two core flavors: Citrus and Aromatic flavors. Or as we like to call them, the salt and pepper of drinks.
(From left to right: Jomaree, Eddie, Tobin)
2) What have been your big lessons learned in building your company from a side hobby to a business? What have been the challenges?
I think one thing is clear: Our greatest asset is our team. Learning to work with people that you're already close with can be a big challenge. Honesty, open communication and clear expectations are indisputable requirements for the "three guys in a garage" startup experience.
As for challenges, we run a lean operation here at Hella Bitter. In the earliest stages, it was simply a struggle to make room for all the bitters we has to produce to meet demand. Our first commercial kitchen space was in an awesome shared facility called Hot Bread Kitchen. Storage got tight when we started producing in 30 gallon barrels. Luckily, we were able to maneuver and relocate into our own space in Long Island City where we have plenty of space... and it's a good thing too because we now product in 550 gallon steel tanks.
3) Now that you’ve gone through the process of building a successful company, how do you inspire other people to take action towards their own goals?
It's really great when people starting up their own thing get in touch to ask about our experience. Or story includes no end of people who have offered their support, wisdom and resource. We take any chance we can to pay it forward. Whether that's one on one meetings, phone calls, classes, panel discussions, or events hosted at places General Assembly, we know that "all ships rise with the tide."
How can the CogniTeam community help?
As things progress and the company grows, we will stay true to our roots and continue to make authentic products that are valuable to a broad audience of cocktail lovers and foodies. Today, we're excited to be working on a handsomely produced bitters making kit for the home. We call it Craft Your Own Bitter - or CYOB.
We’d love for your support and backing!
Check out our Kickstarter campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hellabitter/the-craft-your-own-bitters-kit
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Aaron is leading the charge with Marketing and Sales here at CogniTea. He is deeply passionate about helping people become their best versions of themselves, and loves being in the great outdoors. You can find him running around Boston/Cambridge/Somerville, organizing meetups, hiking, meditating, writing, and generally exploring the world!
You can follow him on Twitter: @aarongerry