The Man Bringing Professional-Grade Cocktails to Home Bars
Modern Bar Cart has humble beginnings. Originally a side hustle to help three college buddies stay in touch, the brand developed a cult following ranging from home cocktail enthusiasts to career bartenders and everyone in between. The brand has enabled CEO Eric Kozlik to remain creative while addressing his customers’ desire for an easy, delicious way to make great cocktails. Since originally launching with a line of bitters, Modern Bar Cart has developed new lines of cocktail syrups and bitters flavors, as well as a home bartending podcast.
Read more from our interview with Eric below.
Tell us a little about Modern Bar Cart.
Modern Bar Cart started out as a small cocktail bitters company called Embitterment. With very little overhead and an enthusiastic local following, my co-founders and I saw it taking off before our eyes. It was at that point that I left my job in legal marketing and took the reins full-time. Within a month, we pitched Whole Foods Markets, who gave us a great review of our product, but admitted they’d never had success selling cocktail bitters, which sent us back to the drawing board. The result was our brand pivot to Modern Bar Cart, which is a single-shelf cocktail solution for retailers and consumers. We are on our way toward building the whole cocktail shelf, complete with cocktail mixers (like bitters and syrups), tools (like muddlers and glassware), and knowledge. We’re building a community of cocktail enthusiasts through our educational medium, The Modern Bar Cart Podcast, and the community reception to this relatively new project is really inspiring. We’ll continue to release new products and content in the coming years as Modern Bar Cart helps retailers and consumers alike to get excited about cocktails and home bartending.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
I come from a family of small business owners. My grandfather was a mechanic, farmer, and salesman who always had a side-hustle. I never thought I had all that much in common with him until I failed to fit in with traditional office jobs. I needed space to create. And I needed to be in a situation where I didn’t have to ask permission to do the work I knew needed to be done. Starting a business has given me a place to exercise that creativity and to stretch my work legs a bit.
How did you pick the product?
The product picked us. We started experimenting with cocktail bitters casually and at home. Then we made them better. And then we thought, “damn, we could sell these.” The rest is history.
What do you like about food? What drew you to the food industry?
Flavor is my favorite way to participate in the world. It’s nourishment that tells a story. And with cocktails, there’s the added challenge that you’re nourishing the mind, and not really the body. How does that work? Is there some sort of food pyramid for cocktails? I believe there is. The biggest rush I get is when someone I don’t know comes up to me at an event and tells me our products have changed the way they drink at home. That’s a story I’m proud to be a part of, and I think you can really only achieve that sort of molecular intimacy through things you put into your body.
What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced to date?
Packaging is always a huge challenge. Modern Bar Cart is dedicated to a clean, modern look with impeccable precision and consistent execution. You’d be surprised at the sheer number of things that can go wrong between the branding ideation phase to the final product-on-shelf moment. Incorrect UPC codes, late deliveries, typos, labels that don’t stick — we’ve seen it all.
What does your typical day look like?
No two days are alike. Sometimes I’m out pitching prospective clients. Sometimes I’m interviewing a distiller, bartender, or author for The Modern Bar Cart Podcast, and sometimes I’m at Union Kitchen at 6:00am getting ready to bottle a run of product.
What is a piece of advice you wish you’d been given before starting?
Go in with three times as much money as you think you need to scale. Even with a lean business model and good guidance, money still solves problems. I think there’s value in learning how to bootstrap your operation. But that value results in lost sleep, gray hair, and a lot of anxiety. That’s why the companies with big budgets are in control. They can throw human AND financial resources at their problems.
What was it like pitching your first buyer? Any tips/advice?
The best advice I can give about pitching a buyer is to listen three times. Before the interview, go to their website, read their promo materials, and listen to what those materials tell you about their brand. Also, listen to what other people are saying about them. Then, when you pitch, give your potential client the information that’s most relevant to what you already know about their company, and then listen as they fill in the blanks for you. This should give you enough information to either finish the pitch successfully or to understand why your product is truly just not a good fit. Both types of outcomes are valuable.