CLEVELAND, Ohio – Like many bar and restaurant owners over the past year or so, Rebecca Styn has learned she needs to change her business model during the coronavirus pandemic.
Styn owns Room 33 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Take-out warrants were in effect as well as a ban on take-out alcohol. And 90% of the bar’s sales came from alcohol.
âWe had to pivot,â she said.
The result: Blind Tiger alcohol-free mixers.
The name of the Styn underground bar comes from 1933, the year prohibition ended. The Speakeasies were called Blind Tigers and Blind Pigs during Prohibition, with some far-fetched theories about the origin of the name.
To enter Room 33, she said, you have to walk through a small library to enter the bar – “very lounge style” with live music and silent movies. A painting of Al Capone hangs in the space, known for its craft drinks, she added.
âIt’s a marriage between before and after Prohibition,â she said.
She asked her team to bottle soft drinks “just to see what the answer was.”
The reaction, she said, was “super popular”. She started doing research and saw the alcohol-free approach as a trend. People were trying to drink less for a variety of reasons, said Styn, who said many Gen X and Millennials are opting for healthier lifestyles.
Her team came up with several pre-prohibition cocktails, and she started working on how to make sure they could be stable to market.
Finding a co-packer has proven difficult. She looked at over 60 of them and ran into various obstacles. Some did not have the capacity. Others couldn’t handle the bottling. Some had too high minimums. Then, through mutual contact, she met Tim Skaryd, president of Cleveland Hospitality Sales and Marketing. He connected Styn with Kelly Dimacchia from Erie bone broth, also from Cleveland.
âIt was really very fortuitous,â Styn said. âCleveland is an hour and a half from us. It was perfect timing. She (Dimacchia) was able to work with a startup; she actually prefers to work with startups because it’s very difficult to find. It all kind of came together.
The way the relationship works is that Styn provides the majority of the ingredients, and Erie Bone Broth fulfills and labels.
As food and non-alcoholic beverage sales increased in Room 33, alcoholic beverage sales dropped to around 60 to 65 percent, she said. A residual effect: the restaurant menu is gaining notoriety, with small plates such as bruschetta and arancini for starters such as rack of lamb and short rib. And the arrangement with Cleveland works perfectly for Styn.
âI love Cleveland; I’ve always been a Cleveland sports fan so it’s good to have that connection there, âshe said. “In Erie, you’re either a Pittsburgh, a Buffalo, or a Cleveland (fan).”
The product – which launched in April – has just acquired its first major national distributor, Superior Beverage in Cleveland. And the genesis of Blind Tiger mixers actually dates back two years before the product was launched.
âI had registered the name ‘Blind Tiger’ because I had this really weird desire to create a candy-making business that would mirror the flavors of Prohibition cocktails,â she said. âAnd it really is a niche. I haven’t really been anywhere, and sort of put it aside. It just brought him back to life in a different capacity.
Styn’s interest in the era is rooted, above all, in his love of music. She’s a musician, she studied it at university, and her grandfather was a musician.
âI was so in tune with the music of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s when I was growing up,” she said. “It kind of started there and then just the glamor, the perceived life of it all.”
This perception is clear in the Gatsby-like font on the Blind Tiger’s four flavor labels:
Bee knees: Lemon, slightly sweet, pieces of honey and juniper. Origin: Traveldistilled.com says the gin-based cocktail is attributed to the bartender of Austrian origin Frank Meier, who worked at the CafÃ© Parisian of the Ritz hotel in Paris in 1921, or perhaps the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the socialite who has survived the Titanic crash.
Ward 8: A smoky citrus blend with hints of apple, orange and cherry. Origin: It would have been created in 1898 in Boston to celebrate Martin M. Lomasney winning a seat in the state legislature. Liquor.com calls it a âwhiskey sour riffâ.
South side: Mint and lime with juniper. Origin: One site says it could be named after the Southside Hunt Club, or a tribute to the south side of Long Island. But it could also be rooted in Al Capone, the synonymous gangster of the time. Legend has it that Capone’s smuggled gin from the south side of Chicago was a bit harsher than its counterpart on the north side, and needed citrus and sugar to cut through the rough taste. And Capone would have loved that.
Sidecar: Sweet and sour with hints of brandy, orange, lemon and bitter. Origin: Like many drinks, its beginnings are a bit hazy. According to alcoolprofessor.com, the drink actually has roots with Brandy Crusta, which dates back to the 1860s.
Bee’s Knees and Southside are the most popular, she said, although people who like “a smoky Manhattan drink” will appreciate Ward 8. Flavors could be added.
âThis is our hope. We’re still in that kind of customer discovery process, âshe said, addingâ that there are so many drinks around this time that we could suggest that people could use as an NA (non-alcoholic) cocktail. or as a mixer. “
I am on cleveland.comlife and culture team and cover topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills from WTAM-1100 and I talk about food and drink usually at 8:20 am on Thursday mornings. And tune in at 7 a.m. on Wednesdays for âBeer with Bona and Much, Much Moreâ with Munch Bishop on 1350-AM The Gambler. Twitter: @ mbona30.
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