Jomaree Pinkard is a man who always had visions of success like most. He has traveled. He has been educated and has always had a goal to create and own something that he could be proud of and the world could appreciate. Truth be told, he is "hella" proud of his business endeavor Hella Cocktail Company, which he created with his friends Tobin Ludwig and Eddie Simeon.
Born in New York, but having the chance to grow and learn from attending The University of Virginia and The University of Pennsylvania, Jomaree has always strived to learn as much as he could while preparing to one day be the success he always envisioned. He considers himself fortunate to have been able to experience different forms of life and people through work, school, or the 20 or 30 countries he has traveled to. He has been able to build his sociability, business knowledge and then apply them to the current path he is on.
In between experiences, Jomaree would often get together with his friends, which led them to create a hobby that would eventually grow to become something so much greater than they expected. When they would get together, they would watch sports, make homemade pizza and then try to one-up each other making cocktails with a secret called cocktail bitters, which is a flavorful infusion of spices, root and sometimes fruit. If you are familiar with cocktail preparations, the simple definition is the spirit, water, usually ice, some kind of sugar and bitters. "It was a hobby amongst friends that was never meant to be a company but completely got out of control and became Hella Cocktail Co." says Jomaree.
What inspired you to turn your hobby into a company and share it with the world?
You know what's crazy? You just actually hit the keyword on its head, which was share. I think for me and my co-founders, what we realized was that we enjoyed sharing things. Some of us wanted to share the flavor. Some of us wanted to share the visualization of it, what it looks like, and how beautiful you can make things to eat and drink. Then for me personally, I wanted to share the knowledge of how to build something. My challenge to myself was, can I take a marketplace that's very niche and most people might not be aware of and turn it into something that does have some staying power. So for me, it was like that challenge, of how to build something and then how to communicate, how to build some of the people that were like also in the, how do I build this business? So it was sharing that was actually the inspiration for turning it into more than a hobby.
Is this your first go at entrepreneurship and what led you down the entrepreneurial path?
It's definitely my first full-on fledged entrepreneurial pursuit. I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur I've always thought about and daydreamed about what I would do. What led me this way was really the desire to know how things work, first and foremost. I was always that kind of kid who tinkered and wanted to understand how the world work and how the house systems work. And so for me, a lot of this was about understanding how a system could truly work from zero to a hundred from building something from absolutely nothing to something, and that was going to give me the confidence and the know-how to never have to work for somebody again, that was kind of like my inspiration for like turning this into something else. It was also, I didn't want to be at the behest of someone else's opinion of how good I was, you know what I mean?
So this was my own way of controlling my own kind of feed. And it's like, well, you learn and you can take out what you put in. But not at someone else's opinion of how good and how smart, how diligent or whatever their quantifiers are of your success. And so for me, it was a lot more about taking control of my destiny out of my own hands. The other thing I thought about, over the years, before I got into it was I always wanted a business that could kind of scale without me. And what I mean by that is there's a lot of businesses that are in services, which are great but the wealthier businesses are in unit-based businesses, meaning you build it, and then you can replicate it. You don't have to build it again, in terms of creating the product. And so for me, I was wanting to be in a unit based business. And so this hobby solved so many desires early on. It was like, Oh yeah, this solves this, this and this. And so it made it really easy for me to go like, okay, this is something I can try out and put my passion into it and literally see what I get.
What challenges have you or the team faced when it came to starting the business?
The number one challenge that we faced was access to capital. Because you're starting something from zero and my network is not that of wealthy individuals that you could tap and say, "Hey, I'm starting this new project ship me 250,000, ship me a million, and let me test this thing out." We started our company with our credit cards. So, luckily enough for us, we had some finance background and understanding of how cash flow works and business mechanics theoretically could work. Using that and our credit card, we actually built this business into a multi seven-figure business. The other thing is not having a network and just being like an odd person out of the bunch, meaning like, I'm specifically, Black male and that's not something that's too... What's the right word, regular, if you will, it's not something that you see a lot of in the food and beverage business. So, therefore you're starting from a place of a disadvantage with who's who in the ecosystem. Because this is not the place that you exist in, everyone's not sitting and standing there, like, ready to pat you on the back and push you forward?
So that's a tough spot that we were in for a long time. And we're still in that a lot of the times, but that's definitely a challenge is like just being an underdog and being underrepresented in the actual industry you're in. And so those two things are really big and what that leads to is like, now your communication style is off. Because you communicate a little bit differently, I communicate a little bit differently than a lot of the older white males in the industry. Are you a visionary, or are you an aggressive Black man, which one is it? Those are the kinds of challenges you have to figure out and how to surmount on a day-to-day basis.
Are you the only Black man as far as you and your business partners?
I'm the only Black male and it's actually three of us. Eddie is a Latino and then Tobin is a Caucasian man. So we are a three-headed monster of different cultures, which is actually kind of a beautiful thing because we see the world in completely different ways all the time. It gives us a perspective on so many things, not only internally, but as we communicate to our customers. I think for us, it's like one of those things that wasn't planned because it was a hobby and it just wasn't something that we were thinking about and plotting out and try to take over the world, it's something that actually happened amongst friends. It's just been such a cool journey to have that happened and have all those kinds of perspectives, it just goes into the company.
So for you what advice would you be able to share with minority business owners being one yourself?
So what I think is super important is that everyone should value their experience. I think a lot of times because our culture doesn't get the outward praise and glory, we then don't vision and envision ourselves as valuable. Unless you're a rapper or an athlete you don't get that love and respect of some that is a visionary or someone who's brilliant. I think we need to embrace the fact that our experiences are super valuable because we see the world from a different lens and a different perspective that you can't buy. I think the second is that our networks are actually stronger than we think they are if we stick together, you can see this during this time. I think any business that has had some light and was black-owned got an amazing amount of love just now from the community of Black people themselves. I think that what we will see is something that can be replicated and can be constant. But I think we don't value and understand how important we are collective. I think that's something that small businesses and entrepreneurs can understand, when you're a collective, you're actually so much stronger and you can not be knocked down.
I think another one is that success is your own making. A lot of times we're looking to our left and our right to see what the next man is doing or the next woman is doing but really, success is choosing our own destiny. Manifest your own and stop trying to worry about what everyone else is doing because it doesn't have to be the same for it to be unique for it to be powerful for you to make money doing something it doesn't have to look like everyone else's. I think that everyone's trying to copy and paste because they've seen someone else doing it but that's not actually what's going to make you successful. What's going to make you successful is diving into what you feel passionate about, finding what makes you a little bit different, and then using that to your advantage.
How do you guys continue to grow and prosper?
There's an old marketing or ad saying from back in the days that says, "meet your customer where they are". So for us, from the very beginning, when it was a hobby up until now, we're always talking to our customers and asking them, where are they? Meaning what is their behavior? What do they do during the day? How do they enjoy their beverage or their non-alcoholic beverage? Who do they enjoy it with? Where do they enjoy it? What kind of occasion? And meeting them at those places. During COVID, obviously, we know that everyone started shopping online much more than they probably did before. We just found ways to meet them online that's not necessarily a shopping cart like happy hour zooms and different experiences that were online. So although COVID changed a lot of our business we were able to like rebound in a big way by just talking to our customers.
What can we expect from Hella Cocktails Co.?
Over the years, we've created this line of tools to enhance your cocktail along your cocktail journey. If you're a novice, we have a margarita mix that you just open and add tequila. We have our craft cocktail, which is more for the cocktail enthusiast who is like a home bartender who really wants to understand how to build a cocktail from zero to a hundred. We have also created this new product called Bitters and Soda. It doesn't have any alcohol in it. It's super bitter, but it's super delicious. So think of an adult soda that makes you feel like you're having a drink, feels like it has a taste of alcohol but it's not that.
To learn more about Hella Cocktail Co. visit online.