The trio of Raleigh businessmen behind North Carolina’s newest craft distillery bonded first over entrepreneurship, then coffee, then martinis.
And it was the latter that prompted the business they all left jobs to run full-time earlier this year. Launching this summer in ABC stores across North Carolina is Social House Vodka, a brand inspired by their friendship, opportunity in the craft distilling industry and of course, an affinity for vodka.
By year’s end, a plant in Kinston will be prepped to distill and ship up to 30,000 cases of vodka in 2018, making Social House the largest vodka maker of the dozen or so located in North Carolina, the founders say. $1.7 million of a planned $4 million investment round is already in the bank helping make it happen.
But the larger goal is to expand Social House to other states, and through a parent company called Social Beverage Co., to eventually add other liquors. The men believe they can build a brand that contributes to the growth of the craft distilling industry, which has already reached 3 percent marketshare in the U.S. There are 38 members of the Distillers Association of North Carolina, up from just six in 2011.
“We enjoy a good martini,” says G Patel, a Social House managing partner who also owns Eschelon Experiences restaurant group. “We saw distilleries taking the same path as breweries, and room for growth there.”
Patel met his two business partners through the local restaurant and hospitality industry—while all have relevant experience, they also have complimentary skill sets. Patel has opened about a dozen restaurants and bars in the Triangle area over the last decade and still operates six with various concepts, from sushi to barbecue and billiards. He’s serving in a marketing role for Social House.
Mark Mullins, the vice president of sales, spent years as a sales manager for Stirrings and Bacardi and most recently led the sales team at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits—Patel was his customer when Eschelon operated downtown Raleigh nightclubs. Cary Joshi is a real estate developer who, up until January, worked for Hunter Lane. He and Patel met through friends while sipping champagne at Solas in Raleigh one evening. He’s president of the new company and leading the redevelopment of the historic city power plant in Kinston.
The men had a standing Wednesday morning coffee meeting that eventually led to larger group dinners with other restaurateurs. Four years ago, they started learning about the distilling industry and hatching plans for Social House.
Where they lacked the chemistry experience to craft a vodka, they leaned on food scientists at NC State University. And where they lacked the knowledge to produce liquor and operate a factory, they leaned on vice president of operations Bill Heafy, who previously ran plants for Yamco and Covington Spirits. He’s helping achieve sustainability goals like net zero energy usage by 2019.
Branding is inspired by their friendship and social circle—it’s meant to make social gatherings more enjoyable.
Patel says the partners funded the new company for the first 18 months, but it hasn’t been difficult to find investors for the venture since then—nearly all come from the Triangle region. He expects to close the round soon, which will let the fast ramp up occur.
Expansion outside the region will be happen with distribution partners, which will be announced soon.
If all goes as planned, the team will hire 34 people at the plant in Kinston in coming years, and they’ll eventually open a downtown Raleigh tasting room. For now, you can find the vodka at local ABC Stores and celebrity chef Vivian Howard’s restaurants in Kinston.
Patel believes Social House Vodka, like any craft liquor, is best served straight up. But it’s also good his way, “a little dirty”, or, “however floats your boat.” First and foremost, it’s meant to be enjoyed in a room full of friends.