Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Lisa Farr Johnstone, Co-Founder of OPTIMIST Drinks, located in Venice, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
OPTIMIST Drinks are non-alcoholic spirits inspired by the diverse cultures and landscapes of Los Angeles. Our complex drinks are artfully distilled and elegantly blended and happen not to contain alcohol or sugar, so you can keep a clear head and still drink in good taste. Our customers are as diverse as our range of botanical ingredients - our drinks are for anyone who enjoys flavor and craft but who, for whatever reason, doesn't want to drink alcohol or wants to drink a little less.
Tell us about yourself
I was increasingly aware that many of us drink alcohol by default. It is so embedded in our culture and social behavior that we consume booze unquestioningly, and we fail to realize that the buzz is often from the people around us, not the cocktail. Alcohol is actually a depressant! But there are so few viable options out there for anyone trying to drink less, or not at all.
At the same time, we are facing a mental health crisis that is particularly affecting our young people - levels of isolation and loneliness that the pandemic only served to perpetuate. A quarter of Americans don't drink alcohol at all, and those figures are even higher for the younger generations, but they are basically being overlooked, and it's easy to feel excluded from social situations if you aren't drinking alcohol.
My husband and I started experimenting at home, then found a distilling partner, and using traditional distillation methods as well as some modern techniques like C02 extraction, we created a range of complex flavors for grown-ups. The ambition was to create NA spirits that could be easily mixed at home but also that mixologists in leading bars and restaurants would be excited to use as a base for zero-proof cocktails on their menus to be available where people are hanging out.
OPTIMIST has won taste awards, and accolades from leading bartenders across LA and beyond, and we are stoked to be playing a part in shaping and growing this new category and offering people a real choice. We are making not-drinking socially acceptable!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
From the start, our intention was to create an ethical, mission-based business around mental wellbeing and social connection. Beyond the products, we also re-direct 2% of our revenue to non-profit partners who provide mental wellness services to youth in underserved communities. We are awaiting our B Corps status to ensure we operate to the highest environmental and ethical standards. We are in business for GOOD, and we are very proud of what we are building.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Every day throws up different challenges, the highs are high, and the lows can be pretty intense. We were creating a category and a product simultaneously - already a daunting task - and just as we were getting started, the pandemic shut the world down. Our distillery shifted to making hand sanitizer for the City, wildfires almost destroyed another distilling partner, our bottles were stuck in shipping containers for months, a polar vortex froze hundreds of our first orders, and the list goes on... And it is down to you to find a solution and work things out! Every single day. I am super grateful my partner is with me on this journey; it helps to share the load.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Make sure you are 100% committed, seek out a trusted circle and test your idea(s) with them. They may not share your vision, but even if it doesn't resonate with them, defending your plan is a key part of the process. Trust yourself but be willing to listen to critical feedback; it will sharpen you up. Know what else is out there, and be clear about why the world needs you and your enterprise. Develop a thick skin and decide whether you want to go this alone or whether you should seek a partner. Begin a meditation practice.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Finding balance is so difficult when you are building a business. There is never a good time to step away and take a break, but you need to make time for yourself and the things that spark joy for you, or you will burn out before you have begun. I surf and meditate regularly to stay sane and get perspective. Find your thing, and don't skip it.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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