This is a follow up story for Simple Goodness Sisters. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello! We are the Simple Goodness Sisters and we grow Happier Hour. Our mission is to help people celebrate their lives and build a community with a round of drinks. We are a lifestyle brand that brings the farm to the bar through our handcrafted, small-batch simple syrups (launched in 2017) and our brick and mortar Soda Shop (just launched in the fall of 2020). We are real-life sisters and co-founders. Belinda is the younger sister (by four years) and the master mixologist. She is the creative genius behind all our flavors and recipes. Venise is the farmer and farm networker. She runs the Simple Goodness Farm with her husband and sources all our ingredients from her vast network of farms in the area.
Our syrups are crafted using ingredients we grow on our farm and the farms in our area. We use local ingredients and preserve all our syrups the old fashioned way, without any chemicals or preservatives. We use whole ingredients, always. Our syrups allow our customers to craft delicious cocktails at home, simply. We sell our syrups through select retailers, on our eCommerce website, and through our newly opened Soda Shop.
Our Soda Shop is a tasting room for our farm to bar syrups. We are located at the foothills of Mount Rainier in the small rural town of Wilkeson, Washington, and are open seasonally when our farm is in peak production. We serve seasonal craft cocktails that feature our syrups. But we don’t stop at just cocktails. Our syrups can be used in a variety of applications and we use the Soda Shop to showcase their versatility. Our menu includes waffles, ice cream, milkshakes, mocktails, and homemade sodas. We also serve paninis that feature ingredients and spreads we grow on our farm and make in house.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
In September of 2019, we launched a Kickstarter campaign intending to raise $15,000 to open a tasting room for our syrups. High-quality food and beverage products like ours sell best when people can actually taste them. We knew through our market testing that when people tried a craft cocktail with our syrups in them, they wanted to know how they could make the drink at home and were eager to buy a bottle of our syrup when we explained the secret is in the complex and balanced syrup flavors. The difficulty was figuring out how to showcase our syrups in delicious cocktails given the liquor laws in our state. We can’t just go around handing out cocktails on the street corner. So, we took a page from the brewery, winery, and distillery book and decided to build a tasting room. But, unlike a brewery, winery, and distillery that have special tasting room liquor licenses available, we had to build an entire restaurant with a full food menu to serve cocktails.
In the 30 days of our Kickstarter, we raised over $17,000 thanks to the support of our most loyal social media fans and followers. We got to work right away remodeling a commercial building in Wilkeson, a small rural town about five minutes from our farm that our grandma had helped us purchase three years prior. The building is historic and needed quite a bit of work to be a functional restaurant again but we set a target opening date of June 2020. And then, I am sure you can see where this is going, the Pandemic hit in March and everything came to a screeching halt. We are located in Washington and we were one of the first states to shut down. Our contractors had to stop work, our food establishment applications were put on hold while the health department scrambled to reallocate resources and we were hunkering down at home baking sourdough bread due to Stay at Home orders. Luckily, our community rallied behind our syrup business and in April and May, we stayed busy shipping syrups to everyone who was stuck at home forced to mix their own cocktails at home.
Opening a restaurant is difficult at the best of times, opening one during a global Pandemic felt dang near impossible and honestly, foolish, but we had come so far, we were determined to see it through. After pushing the Soda Shop opening date out a few different times we were frustrated and had no clear idea on when or if we would be able to open so we decided to ditch the timeline, enjoy the summer the best we could and open when we were able. Finally, in September we got our liquor license, our food establishment license and we passed our final building inspection. We set our grand opening date of October 8, 2020, and luckily the COVID-19 restrictions had eased a tiny bit and we were able to serve people in our new space even though it was at a very reduced capacity and looked very different than the service we had envisioned.
We had zero ideas what kind of turn out to expect when we opened. All the projections we had worked up were thrown out the window as soon as the Pandemic hit. We were opening when restaurants were struggling to survive and closing all around us. It was daunting and pretty scary, but again, we had come too far so we leaped faith and our amazing community caught us and lifted us up! During was even more successful than we had predicted. People who had supported our Kickstarter and had been following our journey on social media drove hours to make us their weekend outing. People who were out exploring Mt. Rainier stopped on their way happy to see something open. The community of Wilkeson and those around it took the time to visit us and share their experience with friends and on social media. We were featured on Seattle’s Komo News Evening television segment as a fun place to stop and get a drink on your way to Mt. Rainier.
In November we were preparing for a very busy Christmas shopping season when new government mandates came out restricting us to take out the only service. After a year of constant pivoting, it was a pretty big blow, but we were committed to getting through the Christmas season before taking a break. And even though it was incredibly challenging emotionally and mentally to continue to adapt and pivot, we are happy we stuck it out. We learned lots of valuable lessons that will help us grow when we reopen for the 2021 season in May.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Oh my gosh, 2020 has been the year of lessons learned! I think more than anything else we have learned the importance of building community through sharing your story. Since the beginning, when we first started the farm, we have been committed to sharing our successes and failures with our followers and fans. We started building a community before we ever had a product to sell. Though a blog in the early days and now social media, we would let people into our lives. And in telling our story, we have created a following that is more like family than “followers”. That family has been the driving force behind our success and it is what motivates us when we doubt our journey.
When the business is your own, it’s really easy to want everything to be perfect because you care so much about it and the company is a reflection of you. But, when you are starting and wearing all the hats you have to learn to prioritize getting the job done over being perfect.
When we opened the Soda Shop we had people tell us we were “trending” on their Facebook feed. We obviously weren’t actually trending on the platform but people were visiting the Soda Shop and sharing it on all the local community pages and groups. They were posting photos of their visit, cocktails, and food and word got around fast that there was a new place in town. We all know that this authentic, human-powered marketing is the best kind of marketing but to see it in action was really cool!
The other thing we continue to learn is to trust our gut. Neither of us has any formal food business training, but we are learning we have really great intuition. We know our target market because we are our target market! We are incredibly observant, and we try to be good listeners.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
This upcoming year we are really excited to launch our Cocktail Farm Club! This will be a subscription program similar to a wine club. We will ship quarterly cocktail kits that feature our hyper-seasonal, small-batch syrup flavors we produce in-house. We experimented with releasing small-batch, seasonal flavors this year and the response was overwhelming. We sold our entire batch of over 200 in a week! Launching the Cocktail Farm Club will help us better plan for and meet the demand for these limited-edition flavors and will enable us to flex our creative muscles and try new recipes featuring bumper crops we have on the farm.
We will also be focusing on our first full season at the Soda Shop and increasing our farm production to support our growth. Having a farm backed business adds a lot of complexity to our sourcing and production strategy that has to evolve every year because of the nature of farming. We are also in the middle of a large website redesign and improving our packaging and shipping processes. We package our syrups in glass bottles that are recyclable which we love but they are heavy and breakable so figuring out our best way to ship has been a journey.
Over the next few years, we have plans to continue the work on the Soda Shop. Our building has two different suites. The one we are in now was built in the 1980s so it’s in good shape. The other one was built in the 1920s and needs some work. We also have a large outdoor area that will make really great outdoor seating but needs some fine-tuning. We plan on starting the outdoor renovations this winter because we know outdoor seating will be important in 2021.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
With the business, the farm, and our kids we don’t have as much time as we once did for reading. We find Podcasts work into our schedule a little easier. We both enjoy the Cherry Bombe, Second Life, Home Cooking, The Pitch, and the How I Built This Podcasts. We usually listen to these on our way to our production facility when we are stuck in Seattle traffic!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Belinda’s advice she always gives is don’t quit your day job right away. We both came from corporate HR jobs at technology companies. We both had decent salaries, well-stocked break room pantries, and really great benefits. But we had horrible commutes, travel schedules that didn’t work with our new roles as moms, and a feeling that we wanted more time with our families. It took us a couple of years to let go of the careers we had worked really hard to build and start over. We grew up in an entrepreneurial family so working for yourself was something we were familiar with, but it still wasn’t easy. Taking our time to transition helped us learn a little as we went and took off a lot of the pressure.
Venise’s advice is to let go of the idea of perfection and get used to good enough. When the business is your own, it’s really easy to want everything to be perfect because you care so much about it and the company is a reflection of you. But, when you are starting and wearing all the hats you have to learn to prioritize getting the job done over being perfect.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We will hire our first employees this year to help us in the Soda Shop. When we opened the Soda Shop in October we didn’t know how busy we would be and since it was such a new venture in a really weird time we decided we would work it ourselves so we could experience the kinks first hand. And oh man did we experience the kinks! We did end up getting help for a couple of weeks in the end but we learned that when we reopen, we need real staff.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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