“The point where we started to accelerate was going outside our comfort zone. You can take that idea, that mentality, and transcribe it into anything.”
– Shayne Labis
“Somebody should write a book on how to grow a product company because it’s just like a needle in a haystack trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to be doing.”
– Nicole Barron
This week’s guests likely have the best-stocked home bar you’ll ever see. Nicole Barron, “Pour Director,” boasts a background as a bartender—plus a business education and plenty of Instagram savvy. Shayne Labis, “Chief Shaker,” is also a bartender, as well as Nicole’s partner in crime, life, and business. He credits Nicole as the catalyst behind the transformation of his passion for bitters into a thriving venture.
Born to Shake is a Kelowna-based company that proclaims, “Life's too short to drink sh!tty cocktails.” Through extracted bitters, hand-crafted syrups, and cocktail kits, as well as catering, private events, and mixology classes, they make cocktail-bar quality accessible to everyone, every day.
In this episode, Nicole and Shayne are joined by Vitalis’ Dexter L’Amarca and Jason Laronde. They sip blood orange margaritas and discuss the ups and downs of entrepreneurship in the COVID era, the chemistry and extraction of bitters, and the strategy behind marketing to millennials. Hidden among the business know-how are tips to elevate your own mixology game. And of course, given Vitalis’ expertise as an extraction specialist serving a wide variety of industries, a central theme is the research and development of innovative equipment solutions for Born to Shake’s unique needs. Because after all, a person can only peel so many oranges by hand!
[0:00] TEASER: “Partners in crime and life and business.” Nicole and Shayne discuss the origins of Borne to Shake, a passion project born from Shayne’s love of bitters that would have remained just a hobby if not for Nicole. Shayne noticed that at catered events, food and wine would be excellent but cocktail quality would often lag behind, so the business started with an events focus—until the world shut down due to COVID. The duo took a few days off and then pivoted into selling products, starting with bitters and syrups from their cocktail classes. Born to Shake’s point of differentiation in the cocktail kit realm is making it an experiential activity.
[4:44] Jason and Dexter welcome you to The Extraction Insiders, the show about entrepreneurs and industry innovators sharing “aha” moments, pitfalls, and tough lessons they’ve learned along the way—so others don’t have to. Today the hosts are joined by Nicole Barron and Shayne Labis, entrepreneurs who launched Kelowna-based Born to Shake in 2019.
[5:18] Nicole talks about the origins of Born to Shake’s online cocktail classes and DIY kits—and their popularity with corporate groups across Canada throughout COVID. Shayne highlights the diversity of the business’s target market, a function of the versatility of each kit and its contents. From Instagram DIY enthusiasts to seasoned bartenders, there’s something for everyone.
[8:15] How does one get started? Of course, Shayne and Nicole maintain an extensive home bar, but Nicole emphasizes that you just need the basics before adding one of their versatile products, like the blood orange syrup (currently being enjoyed by the podcast participants in the form of a blood orange margarita).
[11:14] The point where Born to Shake started to accelerate was when Shayne and Nicole ventured outside of their comfort zones. Product development, too, is full of trial and error. Making a tincture is essentially “putting a bunch of crap into a solvent and hoping that it’s going to come out okay.”
[12:08] Bitters and syrups are Born to Shake’s primary product lines. Shayne talks about their traditional-style production process which involves using a high-proof spirit as a solvent to strip colour and flavour over a multi-day period. This offers an advantage over sugar-based methods, because the resulting product changes only one variable of a cocktail at a time, something Shayne appreciates as a methodical mixologist.
[13:42] The challenge—and fun—of scaling up. As a hobbyist at home, one Mason jar of bitters will last forever. Currently, the business is run out of a commercial kitchen and Shayne and Nicole’s home.
[14:45] How does Born to Shake find their customers? “I have a Nicole!” Nicole crushes it on Instagram, driving web traffic and sales. Nicole and Shayne are also immersed in the Kelowna scene, with Shayne still working the occasional cameo shift at Jack’s.
[15:44] Dexter talks about Born to Shake’s “buy a server a drink” initiative which fundraised over $1,000 in 24 hours. Having previously been completely reliant on the industry for their income, when the second lockdown hit, Nicole and Shayne found themselves in a privileged position to give back.
[18:13] Let’s back up a little bit. What is a bitter and why do you use it? Shayne gives a primer about this “very cool variable” in a cocktail and the chemistry involved. Think of bitters as the spice rack for your bar.
[20:38] When making bitters, Born to Shake use solvents to extract super-potent flavours from herbs, roots, and botanicals. Nicole walks through an example of making orange bitters. Does this involve peeling citrus by hand?
[22:50] What can the “average human” do to spice up their everyday cocktail? Well, they can invest in Born to Shake! The duo shares a surprisingly simple one-spirit margarita recipe—no Margaritaville required.
[24:30] R&D: To Shayne, it’s all about identifying gaps. Gaps in product lines, in flavour profiles, in coverage of new trends, and more. Nicole shares the recipe that Shayne successfully wooed her with, and Shayne teases a brand-new syrup, coming soon.
[27:35] What is a party pouch and why do you need one for your next beach trip? Shayne highlights this product as a great example of solving a “gap” problem with innovation, and elevating customer experience at the same time. Keep an eye out for party pouches version 2.0!
[32:00] What excites Shayne and Nicole about the industry and what it’s doing right now? Quality cocktails are a “millennial thing,” but also an “old-school thing,” and now both realms are fusing. How does Born to Shake cater to a millennial market that’s searching for quality but also a good deal—people like Dexter, who will tattoo their bodies for a discount?
[36:42] Hindsight is 20:20. If Born to Shake could go back in time, what would they change? Pivot to linen tea towels or cat toys? The group discusses the regulatory challenges and barriers to entry of producing consumables—especially two types of consumables like bitters and syrups—and the convoluted liquor manufacturing licensing process.
[43:47] You can only peel so many oranges by hand! To scale and grow the business, there will have to be some equipment decisions…that Vitalis may or may not be developing for. How do Shayne and Nicole feel about the prospect of expanding beyond their current commercial kitchen?
[46:53] Solving production challenges with purpose-built equipment. With nobody out there doing exactly what Born to Shake is doing, how have they approached the hunt for equipment that can solve their problems—even if it’s currently being used in a different industry? Plus, the journey of producing two very different products from the beginning, and the difficulty of finding space to accommodate where they’re currently at.
[51:12] Questions for Vitalis (ones they can talk about, of course). Where do Jason and Dexter see synergies between Vitalis and Born to Shake? Now that Vitalis knows how bitters are made, how would they go about it? And can they answer that question without being censored?
[55:54] “The molecular group extraction business.” Shayne is impressed at how versatile Vitalis equipment can be, and the many potential applications outside of the cannabinoids and terpenes market.
[57:02] Everyone is faking it until they make it, and there is no road map for anything. The group reflects on recent COVID-induced isolation and how much we need conversation and interaction in order to share new ideas and solutions. A lot of cool ideas came out of lockdown collaborations.
This episode was filmed in March of 2021.
Selected Links on Topics Mentioned in this Episode:
Born to Shake’s “buy your hospitality worker a drink” initiative
The chemistry of bitters
Born to Shake Party Pouche
Hosted by Vitalis, we bring you wise, humorous, and sometimes shocking conversations with entrepreneurs and extraction industry innovators on 'The Extraction Insiders'.