Blackberry Tea Vodka Sour + Chat with Curate Spirits Founder
My interview with Francesca Marciano, CEO and Founder of Curate Spirits discusses all things delicious and navigating the highs and lows of being a business owner.
Picture this – it’s the weekend and you’re throwing a dinner party for some of your friends. As the host, you have a million thoughts running through your mind for the preparation and execution. You have the appetizers in the oven, and the apartment cleaned. All you have left to do is make your cocktail – no party is complete without the drinks. But, where did you put your ingredients for the specialty cocktail?
When you realize you don’t have what you need, you have two options – run to the store (no, thank you) or get innovative and revert to using some ingredients you’re all too familiar with. You reach into your tea cabinet and brew something up, which you top with some ice and vodka. Great news, everyone loves this drink, it’s a hit and your party’s a success!
This situation is all too familiar to Francesca Marciano, CEO and Founder of Curate Spirits – a tea-infused spirit brand! She explains her story in our interview and the perseverance she found to bring her creations to life.
The advice Francesca gives to other young women. She says, “just go for it… everything is going to be a gamble, so you might as well just do something you’re in love with!” The ultra-creative entrepreneur contributes her success to the support of family and friends who have championed her along this two plus year journey.
Check out our full interview below!
Carolyn: Tell me about yourself and your brand!
Francesca: “Our brand, Curate Spirits – we are a tea-infused craft spirit’s company. I’ve always been into tea – I studied it for about seven, probably eight years now.
One day, I was having a party and just kind of realized I didn’t have the ingredients for my cocktail, so I was like, “what do I have a bunch of that I can make really quick?” I have a whole tea cupboard in my kitchen, and I started brewing some of my tea and mixed it in with my cocktail and people went crazy for it, they were like, “you have to bottle this, this is amazing!” So, it ended up becoming one of my signature things. I tried different variances of it with different spirits and people were just in complete shock with it. Who knew that tea and alcohol would be such a good combination?
… I wanted to start off with vodka and a gin… We have an Earl Grey Vodka and a Moroccan Mint Gin Tea; I think they are both fantastic and so different. I think they appeal to a lot of different palates.”
C: I have to know, what was that first initial cocktail that you made with tea?
F: “I made a Cranberry Pomegranate White Hibiscus tea with vodka.”
C: What’s your go-to cocktail that you make with your products?
F: “Surprisingly, I didn’t like gin too much, but our gin – I love it. It has a powerful mint kick to it. For me, a Bee’s Knees is amazing with it and also a classic G&T… add some lime and you’re all set!”
C: You said before that you worked with your brother and father, was that something that you imagined doing? Or once the idea came, it all came together?
F: “A little bit of both. My father and my brother come from the wine and spirits world. So, going into this I wanted to be smart about what I was going into, I mean tea is my realm, but I’m not going to jump into a new industry that I’m not that familiar with… I knew if I was going to go into business, I wanted to go into business with them.”
C: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
F: “Yeah, for me I’m just an ultra-creative, I just can’t work in a typical setting and I have a lot of ideas and a lot of passion especially towards this. This is the right path for me. When it feels right, it just feels right!”
C: Did you jump in full-time or what did your path look like when you started Curate Spirits?
F: “I was working as an events person for a wine and spirit magazine and I actually didn’t jump in until the product was completely ready, we had done a few focus groups to make sure that this was something that appealed to people – we wanted to test the market a bit. I didn’t leave until all of that was secured. Then, I jumped in. I was just like, ‘you know what, let’s just do this.’ This is my path I need to take. Once we had the actual bottle in our hands, my brother and I quit our jobs. It’s been a rollercoaster, but so worth it. I’ve learned so much.”
C: Would you say the focus groups played a large part in the final product?
F: “Definitely we had about three or four products and the focus group actually narrowed that down to down to the two that we put out there. As well as our signature cocktails, we did a blind tasting and those are now the signature cocktails on our website.”
C: You definitely laid the groundwork, which is super important. But, then what happened?
F: “Then, I decided it would be important to submit to a few competitions… I did want people in the industry’s opinions and tasting notes. So, we submitted to a few competitions. We received feeding notes and a few medals! We started reaching out to various restaurants, bars, and stores. And then, of course the pandemic hit! It’s been a little bit of a trek, things are picking up. But we’re holding off for the moment on restaurants and bars.”
C: In general, how are you doing with everything?
F: “It’s definitely been challenging. What’s been really amazing to see is that everyone in the industry has come together to support each other. There’s so much hope, we’re going to get through this for sure!”
C: What are your other strategies you use to get the word out about Curate Spirits?
F: “Instagram is our number one way we get the word out and we’re doing a lot of collaborations. Surprisingly, I’m finding a lot of international people are really interested in this product, which is amazing. So, it’s on our radar to get our product overseas. We’re starting out locally distributing in California. The next step would be the larger cities that I think this would do well in – and then eventually, overseas. But, definitely social media, more awards, and collaborations are the best way to get us out there.”
C: What has your journey been like? Was it what you expected?
F: “It’s so scary and exciting at the same time! We hit a bunch of hurdles. We had a lot of back and forth with the TTB. With our label, it felt it was resubmission after resubmission and even just down to the details of classifying our beverage. It took us over two years just to get our product out there! It’s such a niche product that people at the TTB didn’t know where to place us. Getting the right recipe that took a long time too, it took about eight months to get our recipe right where I wanted it.
We definitely encountered hurdles, I wouldn’t say bad challenges, just amazing learning experiences. But, the biggest thing I learned throughout the journey is patience! Everything has been worth it.”
C: What kept you going during those two years?
F: “I think it was just my belief in this product! I know it was so good and I was so excited about it… I feel like mine is just so different because it doesn’t have any coloring, any preservatives, any sugars. It’s just exactly what we are saying – it’s tea-infused spirits.
Other people’s excitement kept me going as well! Anytime I would tell people about the products they would get excited and ask where they could buy it.”
C: What do you believe contributed to your success?
F: “Honestly, I think it’s really forming those connections. I’m always going into these places and calling these places, showing my face, and shaking hands with people (when we were allowed to) and telling them how my product would fit in their store.
I never wanted to hide behind someone else selling my product because you’re the one who believes in it the most. I always check-in with them personally, write them hand-written thank you notes. So, I think it’s those personal touches and really feeling like we are accessible to them has made the difference.”
C: Have you grown your team since starting?
F: “Yes, we are a small business still, but apart from my brother and father who are involved, we are an all women’s business, I love it!”
C: What is the best business advice that anyone ever gave you?
F: “I think it’s to have perseverance. When things are tough they’re going to be tough. But, if you really just work hard and put that effort in, you’ll make it through!”
C: What advice or message would you give to young women that have similar dreams to you but maybe lack the confidence to make it happen?
F: “I say just go for it! It’s tough because you want to research or dip your toe in to make sure it’s the right path. But everything is going to be a gamble, so you might as well just do something you’re in love with!”
C: Is there anything else you would like to share?
F: “Hopefully, next year we’ll be coming out with two new spirits. We’re hoping to have that out on shelves soon! Our goal for January 2021 is to be in New York, Miami, and Chicago.”
You can purchase Curate Spirits here: