Hey RVA! We would like to give a warm welcome to our newest vendor for the RVA to Go boxes: flavor-infused Keep It Simple Syrup. The president and owner, Susan Martinson, is here with us today to share her story.
Thanks for joining us, Susan!
What ignited the spark in you to start your business? Tell us the story of how you and your business idea first met! :-)
I’d recently relocated from Manhattan to Richmond to start a new job. If anyone had told me when I was in my thirties that I’d be living Virginia one day running my own business - promoting a premium cocktail mixer no less - I wouldn’t have believed them. I was happy living the life of a single girl in the Big Apple, where I worked as an IT consultant for top-tier professional service firms. As you might imagine, it was no small decision to accept a “permanent” position that required moving to a place where I had no connections, but I was open to change and optimistic. Just a few months after I got here, however, my entire department was eliminated! On my own in a new environment, I ended up with a lot of free time, which I spent cultivating an herb garden and using them in cooking and cocktails.
My personal motto became, “When life gives you lemons… make mojitos!”
,One day while doing so, I took a shortcut. Rather than muddling fresh mint leaves, I simply tossed a handful into a pot of boiling simple syrup and let them steep. “Keep It Simple Syrup” – a playful twist on the popular acronym KISS (i.e., Keep It Simple Stupid) – was at once a perfectly fitting name for my creation. This little shortcut prompted me to start reading the labels of popular flavoring syrups and cocktail mixers. I was shocked to discover that nearly all of them contained artificial ingredients: flavors, colors, sweeteners, and preservatives – even the fancy brands. Recognizing the uniqueness and versatility of my syrup, I set a personal goal to make it available commercially. Talk about venturing into new territory! It took time, persistence, and determination – not to mention, guts – but I DID IT (despite considering “complicated syrup” as a more appropriate name at various intervals!)
A few years later, Spearmint-infused Keep It Simple Syrup® (aka “KISS®”) hit the shelves as a premium cocktail mixer at 80 of Virginia’s state-run ABC liquor stores. While it also works well as a flavored sweetener for non-alcoholic beverages, a topping for desserts, and a specialty ingredient in savory dishes, it made the most sense to position it as a premium cocktail mixer because of its differentiation among products consisting of brightly-colored liquids loaded with chemicals.
So, you didn’t grow up in Richmond, but having been here a while, what’s your attachment to the city now?
I grew up in Larchmont, NY, which is in Westchester County, just north of New York City. From a demographic perspective, the West End of Richmond (where I live) has a familiar feel. On the other hand, the rich history and culinary tradition of the South have provided me with an unending adventure of discovery. I love the food scene here - and not just the restaurants. Home-cooked meals and new ingredients continue to inspire me, as someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen. And then of course there’s the tight-knit community of “foodtrepreneurs” – the individuals behind so many wonderful Richmond-based, Virginia’s Finest® products. I thoroughly love being a member of this group – what a transformation from having no connections to Richmond!
What are the principles, values, or motto behind your business? What impact do you want to have on the Richmond community?
Simplicity in general is our guiding principle, and we value quality ingredients. “Keep It Simple” applies to everything - from the package design to the ingredients statement on the label (just pure cane sugar, triple filtered water, organic and kosher-certified botanicals, and a pinch of citric acid – the natural acid found in citrus fruits) to the recipes on our web site and the style of entertaining that we endorse. Our mission is to improve the quality of cocktails and beverages with minimal effort.
Richmond’s beverage scene is exploding. From craft breweries to local distilleries, to the growing number of mixologists and beverage brands in general, Keep It Simple Syrup proudly stands with them.
What a great attitude. We love the idea of keeping it simple and using natural ingredients.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The moment I held the first bottle, fresh off the line – emotionally, I felt as if I’d given birth! Also, when I first saw it on the shelf in a VA ABC liquor store. Another rush.
What is your vision for the brand going forward?
I’d love the brand to be recognizable and available nationally in retail stores. At this point, there are five varieties: Cinnamon, Ginger, Lemon Zest, Spearmint, and Sugar Cane. Collectively, they’re available in the Mixers section at more than 200 VA Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) stores and select specialty retailers. Just last year, in 2016, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“PLCB”) added two varieties of KISS to its retail product offerings; the product is currently available in more than 400 PLCB stores. The web site includes a shopping cart feature, making it available for purchase anywhere in the USA.
Congratulations, and best of luck. Thanks for sharing your story!