Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. co-owner and restaurateur Brooks Reitz remembers the early days of his small-batch bar goods company, which turned 10 in October.
“I would go home from the restaurant at midnight and pack boxes until 3 a.m., so it was a real grind for several years,” Reitz said. “Here we are 10 years later, [and] we’re still hustling.”
That hustle has paid off during the last decade, when creating craft cocktails at home exploded in popularity. Jack Rudy, named after the Kentucky native’s great grandfather, has responded by expanding its bar accessory product line from one to over 30 since debuting the company in 2011. Customers can now order anything from lavender bitters and elderflower tonic to maple syrup, vermouth-brined olives, bar spoons and even “golf ball” ice trays.
For the first few years, Reitz provided enthusiasts with classic cocktail complements like bitters and his famed tonic syrup, a frequently asked for customer favorite during his time at FIG, but a turning point came when his cousin, Taylor Huber, entered the fold, Reitz said.
A certified CPA, Huber helped scale the company by securing a production facility and establishing distribution partners.
“The big difference that really took us to the next level is my cousin. As you can imagine as a CPA, his business acumen is very strong. The last six, seven, eight years have been consistent growth every year,” said Reitz, adding that Jack Rudy distributes in 43 states, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Even more impressive than the growth is the fact that Reitz and Huber own 100% of the company — that’s right, no investors, bank loans or debt.
“Our approach has always been let’s grow it thoughtfully, and we hopefully one day may be able to sell our company,” explained Reitz, who says that selling isn’t necessarily the goal but could be an option in the future. “These days, so many new internet based direct-to-consumer businesses grow in a really sloppy way. The difference is when we sell it, we’ll own 100%.”
Jack Rudy has significantly grown its product line and revenue, but the company still has just three employees. Production, fulfillment and shipping work is completed by contracted workers and facilities, allowing Reitz to focus on product development, and his four local restaurants: Leon’s Oyster Shop, Little Jack’s Tavern, Melfi’s and Monza Pizza Bar.
“We had the chance to either own the production facility ourselves, and we would of course get better margins on our products. But I didn’t want the headache of managing the equipment that it takes to produce our products. I’m a huge advocate of finding other people who do that well,” said Reitz, adding that 60% of Jack Rudy’s products, like the mixers and tonics, are made in Charleston, while Jack Rudy’s olive oil, cocktail cherries and other niche products are produced elsewhere in the United States.
As Jack Rudy has grown, so has the at-home bar business, Reitz said.
“The renaissance of course started in New York and L.A., and it kind of bled to the rest of the country. There was a while there where it got a little insufferable,” said Reitz, adding that the cocktail culture became snobby and exclusive. “I think we then came through that and now,” he said, citing bartenders like Joey Goetz, whose following led him to recently open Last Saint downtown. “So in that process, consumers became very intelligent about drinks. They’ve been drinking homemade cocktails in restaurants, and they want to have that same experience at home. That’s benefited our business big time because that’s what we want to do.”
It’s this renaissance and the pandemic that led Reitz and Huber to add eight new products in the last year, including a Bloody Mary mix, orange flower honey aged in bourbon barrels and extra virgin olive oil.
Reitz calls Jack Rudy “trend-averse,” meaning he aims to sell products that pair with timeless cocktails, like the old fashioned or gin and tonic.
“A lot of it’s stuff that I’m interested in using in my own home, so that’s the big reason we’ve expanded to the Jack Rudy Kitchen Line,” said Reitz, pointing to accessories like the “ultimate bar tool kit,” a package that comes with weighted cocktail shaking tins, a strainer, jigger, barspoon and ice tray. “A lot of it’s just feedback from my own life. Cocktails, drinks and the world around that make it approachable for the amateur users.”
Jack Rudy recently added two new bitter trios: the “light and bright” for use with vodka, gin and tequila, and the “dark and rich,” which pair with bourbon or Scotch. Expect more new products in the coming months and years from Jack Rudy, a company that still has room to grow, Reitz said.
“I’m just excited that the business continues to be strong, and I’m hoping, 10 years from now, we’ll still be around and we might even be able to create a business that succeeds for generations.”