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The CulinaryWoman Newsletter for May 28, 2023
Opening a spirit free boutique
A Shop For The Sober
Before I spoke in Nashville last month, I took a moment to look over the refreshments, as one does. There were potato chips, pickles, Zingerman’s Candy bars, and a surprise. A bowl full of different kinds of spirit free beverages. The person responsible for them introduced herself when she came up to have me sign her copy of Satisfaction Guaranteed.
In her 20s, Stephanie Styll told me, she lived a party lifestyle. But on her 30th birthday, she quit smoking. And about five years later, she began thinking about eliminating alcohol. She realized, “I was surrounded by people who were drinking. This isn’t working for me.”
After exploring a sober curious lifestyle for about five years, she stopped drinking alcohol in 2020, on her 40th birthday. “Since I’ve made that decision, it’s gotten easier and easier,” Stephanie says.
Now, she is making a move away from alcohol possible for other people. In April, Stephanie opened Killjoy, an alcohol-free bottle shop in Nashville. (Bottle shop refers to places that sell packaged beverages, what might conventionally be called a liquor store, or a party store here in Michigan.)
She had been mulling starting an alcohol-free business for about two years, as dozens of sober and sober friendly bars began to appear in other cities like Austin and Chicago. In 2021, “I was taking a bath and I thought, ‘we really need something like this in Nashville – a way to gather socially without alcohol.’”
She told her husband, Elisha Caldwell, ‘I have an idea that is going to change our lives.’” Elisha and his brother John, a song writer, encouraged her to bring the idea to life.
From bar to store
Killjoy was originally going to be a sober bar, but Stephanie had “zero experience in hospitality” and she also doubted Nashville had enough of a sober community yet to keep a regular drinking establishment going. “I couldn’t make the numbers work,” she says.
As zero alcohol products began to proliferate, including beer, wine, and mixed drinks, the idea of a bottle shop became more appealing. In January, she held her first product at a multi-purpose building that houses an art gallery and a coffee shop. Learning that a 300-square foot retail space was available, she and her brother-in-law decided to take the plunge, pooling their financial resources.
When she began stocking the store, Stephanie followed every ZA brand she could find on Instagram. I can attest that as soon as you keep track of one, Instagram regularly dumps ads for others into your Story and stream.
She asked manufacturers for samples and scouted the wholesale websites that carry spiritless beverages. Stephanie also discovered a Slack channel run by women in New York who sell spirit free beverages. “This community is in a phase where everyone is trying to help each other,” she says.
In choosing her lineup, Stephanie decided to emphasize wine, which is far less available in Nashville than zero alcohol beer and mixed drinks. One wall is stocked with zero alcohol spirits, and she sells a variety of single canned drinks like those served at my event.
She picked a deliberately ironic name for the shop, and stays away from the kitschy and cute approach that permeates “mocktail” culture. .
“I didn’t want to be like that. A lot of people who were heavy drinkers think of themselves as edgy people. I wanted to be a little bit edgy, a little gritty,” she says.
Among faux spirits, her most popular is NKD LDY, pronounced “naked lady,” a whiskey alternative that is akin to Kentucky bourbon. “Specifically, because it’s a Kentucky bourbon, people want to try it,” she says. “This is not an Amaro town.”
Who comes in
Her clientele is predominantly female, including a number of pregnant women looking for something to replace their favorite wine, but Stephanie suspects some are buying them for the men in their families.
“These products are really a gateway for people who are considering not drinking,” says Stephanie. She doesn’t pry into shoppers’ reasons for buying alcohol free beverages, but says some volunteer information about their clean living milestones.
As a result, she’s stocked greeting cards and stickers - “Happy Sober Birthday” and “One Year Sober” among them - that celebrate their accomplishments.
Lots of shots
Since her products do not have alcohol, Stephanie has freedom in offering samples. The shop has a tasting bar cart where customers can get shots of different products.
“When it’s slow, I can walk around the coffee shop and offer people a shot of ‘tequila,’” she laughs. Local customers can place orders for pickup; she is not yet able to ship nationally.
Stephanie isn’t sure yet whether her shop is scalable, and says it’s too soon to think about expansion. “It’s really important to me to create this community here in Nashville and usher in this movement,” she says. “I would love for it to grow but I don’t know what direction it takes.”
However, she’s confident that the emerging zero alcohol market is more than a fad. “My goal is to shift the culture so it’s very much normal not to be drinking,” she says. “A lot of us consciously or unconsciously believe that you don’t quit drinking until you’ve hit rock bottom. I don’t mind people thinking that, but it’s not the case.”
Since Stephanie quit drinking alcohol, her husband has also quit and her brother-in-law lives sober. “It’s positive peer pressure,” she says. “You can’t convince anyone else to change, but you can show them that they can have fun” without alcohol.
Follow Stephanie on Instagram (@) killjoy_nash
Our Next Giveaway: Veg Forward
No matter your view of Martha Stewart, she has been an undeniable force in American entertaining for the past 40 years. Many of Martha’s food-related ideas came to life throughwho was the food editor at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia from 1991 to 2003.
Since then, Susan has become an in-demand food stylist, responsible for films such as Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated and Eat, Pray, Love. Along with those activities, she’s an accomplished author, and she has a Substack Newsletter. Her latest book, coming this Tuesday, is Veg Forward.
In it, Susan features meals that put vegetables first, perfect timing as the summer farmer’s market scene bursts to life. The book has 102 recipes, from main dish salads, to cool soups for hot and humid days, to tarts that use seasonal fruit, and snacking cakes that can be enjoyed any time.
Her recipes are both tasty and pretty. I’m especially interested in following her suggestions for more unusual ingredients, like kohlrabi, which was in my CSA box this week, and nettles, which are growing profusely in my neighborhood.
You can pre-order Susan’s book here. I have one copy to give away to a paid subscriber. You will receive it directly from the publisher. Current paid subscribers are automatically eligible and you can join them by clicking the button.
The QR Menu Code Is Disappearing: Is That Good Or Bad?
Last week, the New York Times declared that QR menu codes are disappearing from restaurants. A number of people in the restaurant industry and many diners cheered that news.
The same day that the Times story appeared, I attended a trivia night sponsored by Michigan Radio at Conor O’Neill’s, an Irish pub in Ann Arbor. Our group sat down to find a QR menu code on the table. After we’d explored the offerings, a server came to take our order.
I don’t have as big a problem with QR codes as some customers. For one thing, I like being able to look at a menu privately, without someone hovering, waiting for me to decide. I’ve always felt there’s a lot of wasted paper when menus are printed daily, and I don’t like handling a menu that’s beat up or sticky from previous use. I am perfectly okay with restaurant chalkboards.
But I know people feel passionately about physical menus, and I can see the appeal. Dining out at a sit down restaurant can be a memorable experience, and a traditional menu is part of that. Other people say that menus are easier to read than QR codes (although a solution is simply to enlarge the print on your screen).
Do you have strong feelings about QR codes? I’d love to hear your thoughts, pro and con.
Keeping Up With CulinaryWoman
This is Memorial Day weekend, when gardening takes place in earnest here in the Midwest, and the menu includes traditional cookout food. It’s also a time to remember the fallen. However you are celebrating, I hope you’ll have an enjoyable day.
You can reach me at culinarywoman at gmail dot com. My Instagram account is (@) michelinemaynard and I’m also on LinkedIn under my full name.
I’m booking events for the rest of 2023. If your group would like a speaker on small business or the latest trends in the food world, please get in touch.
I will see our paid subscribers tomorrow with Red Beans and Advice, and everyone else next week. Stay well!