Martial arts fighter takes Bloody path to biz success
Entrepreneur finds the time is right for a healthy twist on a familiar cocktail.
A year ago, Emily Griffen was still a Muay Thai personal trainer. Now, she’s making Bloody Mary mix.
Griffen was heavily involved in the martial art for six years, including fighting and training in Thailand for all of 2012 — until she saw a niche in the Bloody Mary business.
So she started the health-conscious Brewt’s Bloody Mary last fall after experimenting with recipes in the summer.
“This is not anywhere I ever saw my life going,” Griffen said. “I’m an avid Bloody Mary drinker and have been for years, and I noticed there was something missing.”
Noticing the trend of Bloody Marys on menus across the country turning into meals rather than cocktails, Griffen desired a healthier version that wouldn’t pack on the pounds. She and partner Luke Alan spent an estimated 40 to 50 hours crafting a version they were proud of. They ultimately named it after their Chihuahua, Brewtus.
The resulting mix is made in Lawrence, Michigan, of locally sourced agricultural products, contains no added sugar and is one of the lowest-sodium mixes on the market, according to Griffen. Recently, the company secured distribution to more than 100 retailers across Michigan through Kalamazoo-based distributor Imperial Beverage.
Griffen spends half her time in Los Angeles and said the mix is available at some retailers in California, but concentration is currently on Michigan.
“We’re locally made here, and Michigan is a very responsive market, and people are just so excited about Michigan-made products,” she said. “As we expand, we need to find more partners who seek what we’re seeking and do what we’re already doing.”
The state’s brewing, coffee and distilling industries have been helpful in building awareness of Griffen’s Bloody Mary mix, she said.
“It’s a great time to be in the beverage industry. So many people are starting these companies and really working to promote each other,” she said. “People are so willing to meet and talk about what works and what doesn’t. It’s such a huge movement, and it has made this whole experience so much more enjoyable.”
Brewt’s Bloody Mary saw the state’s excitement for locally made products early, beginning with a representative from the Grand Rapids Wine, Beer and Food Festival finding out about the product.
The company was invited to take part in the show in November, and Griffen said the response from customers was overwhelmingly positive, affirming the compliments she’d received from friends.
She hand-filled 17 cases of the mix in one day and researched four distribution channels as a “bidding war” erupted to carry the product, which ended up with Imperial Beverage becoming the distributor.
She was still working as personal trainer until the second week of January this year, when she realized Brewt’s was becoming a full-time career.
Now the mix is manufactured and bottled in a factory in Lawrence, and Griffen has a warehouse in Grand Rapids. Currently, she’s the company’s only employee, but she knows that might have to change in the future. For now, the freshness of running a company making Bloody Mary mix is enough to keep her running full time.
“It seems really natural to be working 12 hours a day right now,” she said.
Brewt’s has yet to make it to any big-box retailers, and Griffen is unsure of how hard she’ll push for that. She said the price point for the product is a bit more than for most Bloody Mary mixes, largely because of the health aspect and for the “specialty product feel.”
The specialty, to her, is the product’s all-natural and 100 percent Michigan ingredients.
“My main objective is for the consumer to feel like they can have more than one of them,” she said.
With Michigan distribution underway, Griffen said she plans to continue growing and be nationwide in five years.
She also said other product lines might come out of Brewt’s.
“I have a few things in the back of mind,” Griffen said. “Right now, I’m just trying to capitalize on Bloody Marys.”