words by Mackenzie Wise | photo by Max Kelly Photography
Hella Co. is the kind of successful small business that most dream of creating. In the past nine years the founders of Hella have turned their niche hobby into a thriving business with a countrywide reach.
Back in 2007, co-founders Eduardo Simeon, Tobin Ludwig, and Jomaree Pinkard started experimenting with bitters as a way to have more control over their cocktails. Simeon, who describes himself as the type of guy to throw dinner parties on Sunday nights and make pizza dough from scratch, found it satisfying to have a bigger say in what he was drinking.
Ludwig, however, was the only founder with a background in bartending, and so Simeon says their early formulas were created using “a combination of Internet and trial and error.” Ingredients were sourced from all over the city, wherever they could be found.
At first the bitters were made in Mason jars and given to friends and family as gifts, but the hobby began to grow: “We had enough inventory to make sales calls to local specialty grocery stores, bars, and restaurants,” says Simeon. Then, in 2013, Hella attended the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show.
It was the first large trade-show Hella had ever attended. Held annually, the show invites buyers from around the world to view potential products for their stores and restaurants. According to Simeon, they had no idea of the type and scope of buyers they would meet – over 24,000 were expected to attend. The show was a success, though a daunting one. Their orders were so significant, Hella needed to immediately purchase 550-gallon steal tanks to mix their bitters, and move into a bigger production space.
Now Hella Bitters can be found in all 50 states, in stores like Sur La Table and Williams & Sonoma. When asked about the future of their bitters Simeon is reticent. There are plans to develop a new line of bitters with “a well reputed NYC cocktail bar,” but Hella is focusing on other products for now.
The next frontier is cocktail mixers. The five flavors currently in development are Bloody Mary, Spicy Bloody Mary, Margarita, Spicy Margarita, and Moscow Mule. The mixers are meant to be a premium alternative to mass-produced, low-quality mixers currently available.
In Simeon’s words, Hella is “all about accessibility. We want our flavor to be appealing and useful to all cocktail and food loving humans.” There’s no doubt the mixers will be a welcome addition to Hella’s growing arsenal of high-quality, delicious cocktail ingredients. hellacompany.com
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