Is the Wynwood arts district brand strong enough to carry a whiskey?
Startup Competition judges thought so — at least in the hands of Tevin Soul Smikle, who generally goes by Tevin Soul.
A New Yorker by birth and with a family member in the liquor industry, Smikle was introduced early on to the spirits world. After graduating from Coral Springs High and playing basketball for Long Island’s Hofstra University, Soul transferred to FIU to finish his degree. But the couldn’t resist the idea of starting his own business.
He’d started visiting Wynwood, making connections for a business idea based on this cocktail-lovers’ sad lack: There was plenty of beer, but no whiskey.
“It needed to be something artful,” he said. “Whiskey is aged. You can make it in different ways, and with the Wynwood brand, it aligns with art.”
To add a twist, Smikle decided to add a flavor: honey ginger.
“My background is Jamaican, and I love ginger,” he said. “It’s also a huge popular trend now among bars — Moscow Mules, Dark and Stormies. The different spices, different type of expressions — and right now if you go to the whiskey shelf in a liquor store, ginger whiskey is non-existent.”
It was through his brother that Soul got connected with Fernando Plata, founder of Big Cypress distillery, one of a batch of startup distilleries in Miami-Dade.
Plata says he hears three to four ideas every day. Most he bypasses. But the timing was right: Whiskey is booming as the beer era peaks. The Wynwood brand was powerful. And the Smikle, he decided, has a rare talent for marketing. The two decided to partner.
“Tevin’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Plata said. “And he’s very optimistic, which is good — this is one of the toughest industries out there. And he has a good understanding of what you need to have to execute.”
That includes the relationships Smikle has formed with some of the hottest bars and restaurants in Miami: Gramps, Dirty Rabbit, Wynwood Diner and 1-800 Lucky, to name a few.
Since packaging is so important when introducing a new product, Soul went out and sought a Swedish firm to design the label, which he describes as simple but elegant.
“It gets to point,” he said. “The first thing you see when you’re approaching a bar, you see Wynwood, it’s teal. It’s something different; it’s already an eye-grabber. It’s a little different, but at the same time, simple.”
Smikle is in fund-raising mode, having already sold out of his initial inventory of more than 800 bottles. He thinks word-of-mouth will carry the brand into a local sellout.
“We’re not trying change world here,” he said. “We’re just trying to show it from a perspective of what Wynwood is, and what it’s growing to be.”