Pioneering Mamajuana for the American Consumer With Alejandro Russo of Candela


by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Aug 11, 2022

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Last Updated on August 11, 2022 by rise25

alejandro russo headshot
Pioneering Mamajuana for the American Consumer With Alejandro Russo of Candela 11

Alejandro Russo is the CEO and Founder of Candela, a Miami-based producer of exotic spiced rums. As CEO, he uses his entrepreneurial and leadership backgrounds to create Candela’s brand, which is well-recognized for making the Dominican Republic’s legendary native drink a household name. Alejandro founded his first company at 19 years old and has owned and sold many companies including SoyGourmet.com and Klooff.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • What is Mamajuana and how is Candela revolutionizing it?
  • Alejandro Russo shares how he discovered Mamajuana
  • Candela’s process for crafting unique Mamajuana rum 
  • Alejandro’s key to success in launching his rum brand in Chile
  • How Alejandro overcame the challenges of introducing his brand to the US
  • Candela’s primary markets
  • How Candela navigates the spirit industry’s three-tiered shipping system
  • Alejandro’s biggest business mistakes and his advice for entrepreneurs 
  • Alejandro’s exciting endeavors for Candela

In this episode with Alejandro Russo

As a liquor brand, it’s important to craft your product with originality and authenticity. So, how can you create a unique and innovative product to position your brand at the forefront of your industry?

Alejandro Russo is reenvisioning the rum industry by revolutionizing the Dominican Republic’s native Mamajuana spiced rum. While traditional rum is made using molasses, Alejandro crafts his product from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice and natural spices and sweeteners such as rosewood, cinnamon, clove, and honey. Through his passion for the drink, Alejandro’s brand is now a highly-coveted product among American consumers. Now, he encourages other entrepreneurs to create their brands from a consumer’s perspective. 

In today’s episode of Legends Behind the Craft, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon sit down with Alejandro Russo, Founder and CEO of Candela, to discuss how he utilized his passion for Mamajuana spiced rum to develop a distinct brand. Alejandro shares how he discovered Mamajuana, Candela’s process for crafting unique Mamajuana rum, and how he overcame the challenges of launching his brand in the US.

.Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.

Barrels Ahead is a wine and craft marketing agency that propels organic growth by using a powerful combination of content development, Search Engine Optimization, and paid search.

At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:03  

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show

Drew Thomas Hendricks  0:19  

Drew Thomas Hendricks here, I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. past guests of Legends Behind the Craft include Ryan Thompson of 10th Mountain Whiskey, Josh Jacobs of Speakeasy and Yuan Ji of Erstwhile Mezcal. If you haven’t listened to these yet, be sure to check them out and subscribe. Today’s episode, sponsored by Barrels Ahead Barrels Ahead, we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy when the highlight your authenticity tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more today, Bianca Harmon’s joining us again, she’s one of our direct to consumer marketing experts. How’s it going? Bianca? 

Bianca Harmon  1:06  

It’s going good Drew, excited to be here and talk to Alejandro. And learn all about Mamajuana I think yes, I always say it. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:16  

I wanna Yeah, I am super excited to talk today with Alejandro Alejandro Russo he’s the founder and CEO of Candela Mamajuana. What is mama Hana? Yes? Well, it’s a legendary spice room from Dominican Republic. And today we’re going to delve deep into that we’re going to talk to Alejandro about his entrepreneurial journey from founding and exiting a social media company to running a premier spirits brand. Welcome to the show. Alejandro

Alejandro Russo  1:43  

Drew Bianca, thank you so much for having me. It’s great being here. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:46  

Looks like you have a glass of warm I know right in front of you. 

Alejandro Russo  1:49  

Oh, yes, they do. It goes down smooth.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:53  

We got to start off usually I’d say how did you get into the industry? I gotta know right. Now what? Tell us tone listeners. What is Mamajuana? 

Alejandro Russo  2:01  

Okay, so a lot of people eat most people, including myself before I got into this. You don’t know what Mamajuana is never heard of mama Fina. I was one of them. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  2:11  

I was too old. So I saw the pre show here. So I admit it. I’ve been in it forever. I thought it was I thought I read marijuana. 

Alejandro Russo  2:19  

But a lot of people think isn’t marijuana. No, it’s Mamajuana. And it’s a very special drink. And I’m here to tell you all about it. So the easiest way to understand that is I like to say that it’s rums sexy cousin. Okay. So it’s rum sexy cousin, and it’s an all natural spiced rum. That is typical to the Dominican Republic. It’s a some people and publications that say it’s the Dominican Republic unofficial drink. And it’s what millions of people drink when they go to the Dominican Republic every year. And it’s a mix of rum, natural spices and honey. And it’s been around for over 400 years. So it’s a legendary recipe. It originally started as a medicinal drink by the shamans of the Taino people which inhabited the Caribbean. They were the first ones to make Mamajuana. Then the Spaniards came around, they added booze to it, and now and now you have Mamajuana with booze, which is how most people drink it today. 

Bianca Harmon  3:27  

Oh, wow. Okay. Is it drank just over the rocks? Or is it mixed with something? Or is it already kind of a mixed? 

Alejandro Russo  3:36  

Yes. So that’s a great question. If you go to the Dominican Republic today, you will most likely get them on the finest served in a shot and at room temperature. When we did that, in Candela, we kind of changed the game a little bit. It’s still great as a shot if that’s your thing. But we made it a little bit more rummy than medicinal. So it’s actually just a fantastic and premium spice drum that you can make Mojito pina coladas Moscow mules, you can make anything with it. So it’s great and cocktails, but I personally sip it on the rocks just like this. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:12  

Yeah, looks fantastic. Now. So I may have experienced this. So I had a co worker that was from Bliss. Used to bring these bottles of wine called Belizian. Bush medicine, which had sticks and twigs and you pour the alcohol into it. Is this similar to that? 

Alejandro Russo  4:31  

It is and it’s very important to note that the native people that inhabited all of the Caribbean, they’re the Taino people. So Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, all the way down to Colombia, Venezuela and all the way up to South Florida even they were there Taino people and they’re the ones that would make them I’m a foreigner. So each island then you know, they started calling it something else. It’s basically the same thing. You go to Haiti you go to you go to Any one of these islands and they all have their version of it, though regional expression. Yep, exactly how. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:59  

So Candela how? What’s that expression? Like? We kind of got into it, but what sort of herbs are going into this thing? 

Alejandro Russo  5:04  

Yeah, so Candela, we are the only premium brand and making this Candela for those of you who are not native Spanish speakers like me, we’re not Latinos. Candela means fire, it means flame. When something’s sexy, when something’s on fire, you say that’s Candela. And a lot of the reggaeton sounds actually taken all the time. That’s why when you listen to my music, you’ll hear the word Candela a lot, but candela is the first premium brand of mama foreigner. So we kind of did what you know mama, fauna was very artisanal and not commercially available before before we came around, you couldn’t really buy it off the shelf, you had to make it at home. So Candela was born to change that. We are the first mom of Fina, that we like to say, we took my phone out from under the bar to the top shelf, you know, a drink that was never actually seen on the bar, it was always hidden under the bar. You know, now we share the shelf with the Don, Julio is the diplomatic was and the other great spirits of the world. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  6:24  

What’s the price point a Candela. 

Alejandro Russo  6:28  

You can get Candela add Total Wine and more, for example, for $30. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  6:32  

Very reasonable. 

Alejandro Russo  6:33  

Yep. 2949. 

Bianca Harmon  6:35  

I’m really curious to hear the story of how it all started with you and Mamajuana how you let’s take a step Mamajuana came into the United States 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  6:47  

go even a little further back. Let’s talk about social media company. Yes, yeah. Let’s go to the start. 

Alejandro Russo  6:54  

Your day, we found each other it was one of those things, you know, like it was destiny because it actually started from my previous company. So it’s important to note. I don’t come from a big liquor family, I didn’t inherit any big distillery or anything like that. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, but mostly in consumer internet, mobile apps, that kind of that kind of area. And right before I started Candela, I used to run social media company. It was very popular, it had, you know, millions of people using it. We were doing great. We were even on Shark Tank, we had won a bunch of awards. The company was crushing it. And then unfortunately, something happened to, you know, personal tragedy to one of my co founders. And we had to wind down the business. Because she was the only American, I wasn’t able to work in the United States, I didn’t have a work visa. So we basically had to close down the company and I had to leave the United States. And it was a really painful experience. Because you know, right, as the company was doing really well, we actually had to wind it down. So I was going through this horrible experience back home in Chile, which is where I’m from. And my mom says, You know what, let’s go on vacation, you your sister and me. You could do some time off, you know, because me and my sister were both major workaholics. So, my mom says, you know, you gotta take a second. So we go to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, okay. Beautiful place. It’s, you know, if you haven’t been highly recommended, I

Bianca Harmon  8:40  

go in there after I first talked with you a few weeks ago, and I was like, wow, how have I never wanted to come here before and now Yeah, on my list, it gets sent to audible to 

Alejandro Russo  8:52  

it’s the best value for money you can 

Bianca Harmon  8:54  

oh my gosh, 

Alejandro Russo  8:55  

you can be in paradise for half the price of any hotel here. 

Bianca Harmon  8:58  

I was my I was flabbergasted because I had just gotten back from PV you know, in Mexico and I was like, I think that’s even cheaper than go into PV. 

Alejandro Russo  9:06  

It is and in my personal opinion, I think you’re gonna like get a little more 

Bianca Harmon  9:11  

Well, it’s, I’m going to be going soon. Anyways, I just needed you to know that you’ve never done that to me, 

Alejandro Russo  9:16  

you can count on me that you know suggest the best hotels and places to go but you go you go here you know, you step off the plane. The moment you step off the plane, you get this warm, humid breeze, it just smells like the island. It smells like you know you’re on vacation. Everything is just covered in palm trees. It’s it’s incredible. So you know as soon as we got off the plane, we disconnected and we get to the hotel, beautiful hotel. It was a sunny day so we get into the pool, and at the cinema bar before all these guys are like, come on in and join us Come on, have some shots and they’re all having a great time. And they’re all doing I’m not Not a shots kind of guy. But obviously, you know, in a group of people, you know, they’re all doing shots. I’m like, Okay. And I didn’t even ask what it was. So we have a shot. And I’m like, wow, what is this? This is great. And the Bartender goes, this is mama Juana said Mama Juana. And I didn’t give it much thought, because you know, we were all like fooling around with these guys. And I didn’t ask too many questions. Long story short, that ended up being a crazy, crazy day, a lot of crazy things happened. A lot of blurry memories. But the thing is, the next day, I went back to my bartender, and he said, What the heck did you give us yesterday? Those shots were amazing. And he goes, I’m gonna wanna Yeah, you’ve never heard of this? And I said, No. And he started giving me the story. Turns out, a lot of people use it as an aphrodisiac. And we can’t make any claims. But we like to say that we can confirm or deny any of the rumors about mama Fina. This guy starts telling me all these funny stories. He’s like, you’ve never heard of the the bed breaker, the baby maker, and he starts giving all the cinema like no, never heard of any of this stuff. I think it’s hilarious. But it just tastes amazing. Like, give me another shot of this. So it becomes my go to shot every single day that I’m on vacation. And as I was leaving on the last day, I go back to my bartender and they said, Hey, I’d love to take a bottle of this home with me. Where can we buy it? And he goes, Hey, come behind the bar with me. And I’ll give it to you. Okay, so I go behind the bar, this guy opens up his backpack. And he gives me a bag of sticks. I got Oh, man, I don’t want to get into trouble. Like, I don’t want drugs. I don’t want my mama one of the stuff that you’ve given been giving me every day. And he goes, Yeah, this is it. I said, What do you mean, this is it? And he goes, Yeah, you just add some RAM, add some honey to the sticks, wait two to three months, and then you’ll infuse them on the one. And that’s the amount of fun. And I said, Listen, buddy, I’m a millennial. I come from, you know, the Netflix or Spotify, the YouTube generation. I don’t want to wait three months for this stuff. I need it ready to drink? And he goes, Yeah, sorry, I can’t help you. We don’t we don’t sell this stuff. And I was shocked to think Wait, you’re telling millions of tourists are drinking this stuff every single year? And you’re not selling it? How could you not be able to buy a bottle of this stuff? Just couldn’t believe it? And at least six? You can Yeah, you could buy this. 

Bianca Harmon  9:16  

You at least take them when he gave them to you? 

Alejandro Russo  12:18  

Yeah, of course I did. And I made it at home. It sucked. Did it didn’t even taste remotely similar to the one that I had tried it the sort of bar. And I said, Man, no, I have to get my hands on a bottle of the liquid that I tasted there was amazing. So that’s where my drunken epiphany came about. And it was a eureka moment. I said somebody needs to make this because I’m sure that like me. There must be millions of people that want to try the stuff, just like I’m trying to hear.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  13:20  

To me. So what were those sticks? What are the sticks? 

Alejandro Russo  13:27  

Okay, so what’s fun about mama Juana is that there’s no one standardized recipe. So everybody kind of makes their own and some add more thing. So at last, I can share specifically what’s in our own special blend, because we take we literally take, say said I’d say over 80 recipes to get to this point. But it’s a core group of Native spices, tree barks and leaves that are only available in the Dominican Republic. Okay. So you know, there’s, there’s one called Balota seal, which I think the translation is resilient to stick. There’s rosewood, there’s cinnamon, there’s clove, there’s a bunch of things that go in it all locally sourced. And if you infuse it with rum, let it rest, all these flavors and qualities will come out of the sticks. And they will flavor your rum. So the way that we made Candela it’s actually pretty special because for those folks who enjoy a spice from, you know, most mass brands, spice drunks that that you can find on the shelf. They basically start with a flavor profile, and then they deconstruct and say how can we make this you know, fast and cheap, right? Okay. And Candela starts the other way around. We actually start with the finest Rum that you can find in the dominator voice. Oh, hello, can you hear me? Yeah, I can hear you. I can’t. Okay, how about I can hear you. All right. So Candela is made the office good way. So we actually start the process by saying what is the finest rum that we can source. And we found this fantastic production partner that makes the rum that goes into Candela. It’s very, very unique. It’s made from distilled, fresh pressed sugarcane juice, not molasses, which is it’s kind of a big deal. I mean, not coming from the rum world, I had to learn a lot about rum. As of I was, it was a crash course. And would one of the rum masters told me said look, most trims that you buy on the shelf are made from molasses. And that’s like drinking like an orange juice from concentrate. What we make, which is just fresh pressed sugar cane juice, it’s like a fresh squeezed orange juice, the difference is noticeable. And he actually gave me a sip of, you know, a rum from molasses and rum from fresh sugarcane juice, and the other one was like velvet compared to the molasses. So that’s the first thing you know, our rum is made from sugar cane juice, and it’s all acetate grown, so it doesn’t even have to travel anywhere in the same place where the sugar cane grows, it’s chopped, and then it goes straight to the to the press and then to the distillery. So it says, you know, farm to bottle as it gets, and then it’s aged in ex bourbon casks. So it gives it a very, very special body. And then so we start with this rum. And then starting with this rum, we just infuse it with all these natural spices and flavors and sweetened it with tiny. So it’s so different from the the other spice from study you get that have artificial extracts, artificial colors, artificial flavors, this is just infusing natural spices in super premium rum. That’s all that we do. Wow. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  16:49  

Hello long has it aged in the bourbon casts.

If you describe it, so as to the base ingredients. It’s kind of like the I mean, the Colonel Sanders special recipe for chicken that’s, you know, the 26 spices, it’s just the mix of those. How would you say without disclosing your proprietary blend of base ingredients? What would you say your Candela is, yours is more? What? Which of those is more forward? Like if someone was to blind taste yours against another group of normal whiteness? 

Alejandro Russo  17:31  

That’s, that’s a great question. So a lot of them have one as they taste very medicinally you know, like they have like a very medicinal profile. A lot of them have blindness or more of kind of like a sangria, you know, some of them had wine and it’s just like very, like whiny. We went the route of saying we want this to be very rum forward. It’s you know, primarily a spiced rum that happens to be infused with natural monophonic spices, but it does taste like rum. But the special thing about it is that number one, it has a lower ABV than most drums. This is a 30% alcoholic by volume product instead of a 35 to 40 which is what most drums have the flavor profile and the type of rum. Make it so that it is a very smooth and palatable experience that most people that drink this are folks actually you know what’s funny Drew is that most of the people that bike and they’ll add tastings add Total Wine, for example. There are folks that are going in to get some wine, and they say, I don’t do hard liquor, forget about it. Then we give them a sip of Candela just on the rocks and they’re like, Wow, I’ve never been able to drink something on the rocks. And you can enjoy just like this. It goes on very smooth, it doesn’t have a bite. And the first flavor that you get is this. It’s a little bit of cinnamon with like a very strong wooden note. And it’s just very earthy. It doesn’t feel too alcoholic. It’s just like a very strong, earthy cinnamony feel. Then as it goes down it, it warms up your chest. kind of you know how like menthol feels on your skin. That’s how your chest feels after you drink Candela you will feel a very nice warmth in your chest.

Bianca Harmon  19:25  

And is it be good for me to bring when I’m snowboarding right in my Oh yeah. It’s my new my new whiskey. 

Alejandro Russo  19:34  

The we meet you know most of our customers that they’re not based in Florida or Miami or in any any tropical place. They’re actually in cold places in the Midwest. You know, all the places that are cold, Michigan, all these places are where we get most of our customer inquiries and an orders online. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  19:55  

Awesome. That’s amazing how I got it. I mean the getting stocked on the shelves, and actually breaking into a category is competitive His room is just tremendous. How did you do that? 

Alejandro Russo  20:07  

Yeah, not gonna lie. It was such an uphill battle. It was so difficult. First of all, first of all, I had no clue what I was doing. Okay. That’s the starting point. I’m not from the industry. You have a great episode about Michael, who started the Barefoot Wine company. Oh, yeah. And it really reminded me when I was listening to that episode, it reminded me of my journey a little bit, because I also went into this not knowing anything about it. And literally going door to door trying to sell this. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  20:38  

Do you think that helped? Because you didn’t know what how difficult it was going to be? 

Alejandro Russo  20:42  

Oh, absolutely. If I had known how hard it is to bring a new liquor to life, I definitely would have not done it. I would have done something else, right. i There are easier ways to make money than than selling any type of booze. But it was just so passionate about it, because I loved it as a consumer. So what happened was, is that once I said, You know what? I think we want to do this and bring it to market. I started the company with my mom, because I had the idea. And she heard about the idea. She was in Punta Cana with me. And she said, You know what, that’s a great idea. I want to be your partner. And my mom’s a very smart businesswoman. She always looks at my business endeavors from afar and kind of like, okay, I see what you’re doing. But this time, she was in Punta Cana, she saw how people were enjoying this. So she said, You know what, this is a great idea. I want to be your partner. So we started it together. Well, not as involved in the day to day as I am. But you know, she’s very much involved in the strategy and high level initiatives that we do. But the thing is, is that I needed to find out if there was a market for this, because I certainly enjoyed this. But maybe I’m not your average consumer. Maybe I have a different taste profile than most people. So I was living in Chile at the time. And I imported my first test batch of the listening. 

Bianca Harmon  22:02  

We’re all in you were in Chile the whole time. This was you started all of this. That’s right. Because you had Yeah, this ties, okay. 

Alejandro Russo  22:08  

1000s of miles away from the Dominican Republic. I wasn’t pleased that it was cold. It was nothing to do with this Caribbean paradise that I would dream of. And it was really interesting as a test market, what I thought would be a disadvantage, turned out to be a huge advantage and I’ll tell you why I do. Chili is one of the toughest markets to crack when it comes to the onpremise Oh, it’s because people drink only two things in Chile, wine and Pisco. That’s it. So and Pisco they only drink be scoreless, so which is Pisco and coke. You know, most people they’re not even making pisco sours, which is what you would normally drink at a restaurant. If you go to someone’s house or pregame, you know, with your friends. No, they’re all drinking Pisco. Okay, so very tough market. It’s even hard to sell a vodka. They’re okay, like vodka soda doesn’t even. So, a friend of mine, he does huge college parties. He moves around, you know, 1000 to 1500 college kids every single weekend. So when I imported my first test run, it was it was a pretty, I say test run it was 225 cases. So it was pretty big. It was having a container. Yeah. So it arrived. And I’m like, Alright, now we gotta sell this. And I go to my friend and they say, Hey, this weekend for your college parties. Could you not buy anything? keylock or Jager Meister? Can you just buy this amount of wine? I just want to see if people like to drink it. And he goes, Yeah, sure, why not? Whatever. He was my college buddies, I just did it to help me. And this was from a scientifical scientific method point of view, it was a perfect test, because it was an open bar. There was no price discrimination, branding, discrimination. It was just drink college kids coming up to the bar and getting their favorite for free. So we started putting this and they said, You know what, 99% of people are going to drink the scholars. But I guess if we could replace just the Jager and the tequila in this bar. You know, I guess we can say that it was a success. Can you believe that? They brought out the first tray of shag glasses. And have you ever seen like these zombie movies like where, you know, the zombies come out under eating anything that they can. That’s how these college kids were? They saw the shots and after tasting one, they were just waiting right outside the bar after every new tray of shot glasses would come out. They you know, devoured them and amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I said wow, that’s weird. And then my friend the next week and he said, Hey, why don’t you bring the five cases this then the next week and he said give me 10 cases of this. And then by the fourth The weekend. He goes, how many cases do you have in Chile? And I said, like 215 left? And he goes, All right, I’ll take all 215 Oh, I couldn’t believe you’re taking the entire, you know, bad, same person. Yeah. Like, you know, these guys love the strength. So that’s when he said, You know what, this isn’t going to be a hobby, this is going to be a real business. And I’m gonna bring this to the United States, which is, you know, the big market for us. We’re not, we’re not going to limit ourselves, we got to launch this. And do it big.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  25:34  

Is it still? Are you still importing to Chile as well? 

Alejandro Russo  25:39  

No, not anymore, unfortunately. But we really want to get back there. Now. It’s just because of, you know, we’ve been struggling to keep up with the demand. And we’re always running out of inventory here in the States. So we haven’t had the opportunity to go back to Chile and sell there. But we will very soon we just expanded capacity. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  25:56  

How did you break into the United States? So you’ve had some success? You had tremendous success in Chile. So you’re able to base it on that. But convincing us, us? Us distributors and US stores based on success? And choice got to be a 

Alejandro Russo  26:12  

yeah, they didn’t care about it. That’s the first thing we’re gonna say. So I walk up to the first liquor store. And I’m like, you know, writing off of my success. And they’re like, yeah, no, we don’t want it. I’m like, What do you mean, tastes? Like Yeah, it tastes good. But I’m not interested. Then I go to the next store. They go, No, nobody’s coming in asking for a moment. I said, Yeah, of course, nobody’s asking for it. Because they’ve never tried it before. But like, yeah, sorry, you’re not interested. And that was like, one after the other. It was no, no, no, no. said, What the heck are we gonna do so 

Bianca Harmon  26:49  

by the bars? Or did you just do liquor stores? Or did you try bars. 

Alejandro Russo  26:53  

So I realized this is one of those things where you need the rocket, and you need the fuel tank, and you need both at the same time. So we needed to keep on pushing liquor stores, but doing tastings, so we would guarantee we’d say like bringing a case, I will move this case, guaranteed the first week that it gets to your store, you know, I will do enough tasting so that you don’t have a single bottle left. So there’s no risk, you know, you have 10 days for Florida law, you know, they can pay it in 10 days, bring it in, I will get rid of this bottle view this case for you before you even have to pay it like alright, fine. So that’s how we kind of like, you know, lowered the risk for them to bring it in. And as soon as we were doing demos, you know, we knew that customers would love. So as soon as the liquor store owner saw the customers liking it, they were like, Okay, we believe in this. And then at the same time, gaining respect from the trade bartenders, restaurant owners, bar managers. And to be honest, we are the type of product that bartenders usually really love because the quality of the juice is second to none. And it is something special that we’re not bringing them another tequila where they need to take one out of their program to put ours in. It’s something that doesn’t compete with anything else on their program. Whether it’s from the moment quantum perspective of things, or even spice drums, you know, none of none of the bars and restaurants at least, here in Florida, they don’t have a single premium or super premium spiced rum. They only have super premium rums. So, you know, any account that’s using Don Julio is further margaritas, but they’re still using a $13 Rum, spiced rum for their mind ties or pina colada. We come in and we’re just a better alternative for them. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  28:43  

I could I could see the mixologist. Candela being like the the secret ingredient. 

Alejandro Russo  28:49  

Yeah. So that was the first and it’s true. It’s like what’s in this, you know, like, what’s in this and it’s, it’s like using a normal run, but it adds an extra layer of complexity to the flavor. So we very slowly started to break into, you know, the Miami market. Then Total Wine picked us up. That was like our first big break here in Florida. And then things really started to take off when we started selling the product in the Dominican Republic. Because when we got into the resorts, I came, you know, to the bar managers and said, How many bars do you have in this in this hotel? They’d say 17 bars, all right. How are you serving? How are you making your mama fun? And they go every bartender makes their own and it’s, you know, a mess. And I say, All right, what would you say if I give you a FDA compliant TTB approved ready to drink Mamajuana they can just crack open as soon as you run out of the previous one. They’re like, I love it. So we started selling mamma fina and all these big all inclusive resorts. And all of a sudden we had 1000s of Americans that were trying our product on vacation, they would come back to the United States and then they would see it on The shelf. And that really, really made a huge difference.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  30:06  

standardizing the hotels Mamajuana is probably good for that for sure, 

Alejandro Russo  30:10  

we solve a huge pain for pain point for them, because you know what it is for a beverage or FMB director to figure out if every single bartender at one of these bars is making it the right way. Like, you don’t want to deal with that. You know, they want things cleaned, they want things standardized. So we came in, and we solved the problem for them.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  30:30  

And that’s it, that’s I like to solve the pain point. The other thing is you brought up a common theme that comes up with all the spirit of wine to with barefoot wines, it’s in that navigating that three tier system. And a misconception that if you build it, suddenly it’s gonna get distributed and sold. It’s really boots on the ground that get makes it happen. 

Alejandro Russo  30:54  

Exactly. It’s, you need the right distribution. And at the same time, you need to create the demand for your product. And, you know, that’s what the Dominican Republic did for us. It’s not that we’re making a fortune in the Dominican Republic, it’s that in the Dominican Republic, we are tasting and getting 1000s of people every single day, tasting our product. And that’s, you know, the best thing that could have happened to us, because we realize that, you know, that’s how it has to be it has to be an organic growth, it has to be an organic demand, people that tasted on vacation, they realize how good it is. And when they come back to the United States, they need to find this. You know, there’s over 60,000 Google searches per month, every single month in the United States. And that’s from people that come from the Dr. Come back and are searching for it. So we are that go to brand for the people that are looking for my appointment after they come back to the United States. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  31:50  

That’s brilliant. I can see why how you could kind of organically get a foothold in Miami and some of the Dominican population areas in the US. But the fact is, there’s a ton of snowbirds across the whole country. It is winter vacation in Dominican Republic. So you’re getting and you said,

Alejandro Russo  32:08  

Well, it’s exactly and that’s what it is most of the people that are drinking Candela and buying it online. They’re not Dominicans are not Latino. These are snowbirds from Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:22  

St. Paul, Minnesota, middle of December, they’re going to soda and Republicans. 

Alejandro Russo  32:26  

Exactly. Those are our biggest fans. And they’re the number one consumers I found out. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:32  

I like that brings a little bit of sunshine to their winter day. 

Alejandro Russo  32:36  

Exactly. That’s what it is where we’re all about sharing the Latino spiciness of everybody across the United States. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  32:42  

That’s great. So as far as your sales now, like, where’s the where are the biggest numbers? Where’s your where’s your largest sale base. 

Alejandro Russo  32:50  

So we’re still a very small brand. We’re only distributed in Florida, California, in New York, but only in a handful of retailers. So total wine. Total Wine is very important. For Candela Costco, we just started selling Costco in New York, and now Costco in New Jersey starting in June.

Bianca Harmon  33:11  

And Costco in California, that’d be great. 

Alejandro Russo  33:14  

And very soon, we want to get it to Costco in California and Costco in the southeast. Because Costco is a great place where people try new things. You know, it’s a great place where people go to experiment with new products. And a lot of our customers are already shopping there. So we can’t wait to get in there. But I’d say you know, those, those chains are the biggest ones. And in Florida, big daddies, which is a local chain, it’s been fantastic to work with as well. We got a lot of independence, too. 

Bianca Harmon  33:46  

So where are you actually in it now? Now, new.

Alejandro Russo  33:51  

In the Dominican, we’ve always manufactured in the Dominican Republic, we just moved to a new facility. It’s in a beautiful place, which I hope that one day we can do like a big Candela field trip, all of us and I can take you there, but it’s really fun. It’s in a place called San Pedro and macaronis which is smack in the middle of a sugarcane field. You drive it’s like an hour drive from Punta Cana and you just drive you know an hour just surrounded left and right by sugar cane and then you get to this place and it’s it’s a wonderful place you know, once you’re there you actually see like how fresh the product this because you’re in the middle of it. It’s it’s definitely worth going and I can’t wait to take you guys there. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  34:40  

Sounds fantastic. Is it a place where you can set up like a a tasting room or tour the facilities for local people visiting Dominican if they want a day trip? 

Alejandro Russo  34:49  

Oh, yeah, yeah, there’s a there’s a place in right next to the aging warehouse where, where where you can do host you know beautiful taste things, it’s all set up exactly for that. It’s a place designed to welcome visitors. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  35:06  

That’s exciting. Now going back to the US in just the breath that you kind of on both coasts, right now, how do people in in Minnesota or Colorado find your are online, online, 

Alejandro Russo  35:19  

online, so if you go to drinkcandela.com, that’s where you can buy our product online, we shipped to 47 states. So you know, most most states, you will be able to get Candela delivered to your door orders are fulfilled and, you know, between one to two business days and then shipped between three to five days. So pretty quick, 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  35:41  

what service to use to fulfill that.

Alejandro Russo  35:43  

We’re using a service now called axle pay. Okay. Yep. I’m always curious about pretty similar to, you know, speakeasy casket and barrel. There are a lot of great services there. We just switched to Yep. Excellent. 

Drew Hendricks  36:00  

Okay. Yeah, I gotta check that out. I’m familiar with speakeasy. But I’m always curious how spirit companies can navigate the three tier system? 

Alejandro Russo  36:08  

Oh, yeah, it’s look, these companies are doing a great job. I’m a huge fan of Josh at speakeasy in the work that he’s done bringing, you know, all these spirits to consumers, Gabby and Lauren, and cask and barrel, they’re doing a fantastic job as well. You know, it’s not easy navigating this three tier system, there’s, there’s a lot of change happening every single month as well. So a lot of you really have to adapt quickly. But it is something that’s growing. And I think more and more, these companies are professionalizing themselves enough so that they comply with the three tier system and they’re able to really cover as much market is possible within the confines of the law. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  36:51  

It’s so good that you’re able that companies are able to navigate it now, taking a step. Kind of a step sideways here, is you’re now you’ve ramped it up, you’re selling all around, you’ve grown. hustled, what would what would you do differently? If you were to launch another brand today?

Alejandro Russo  37:10  

What would I do differently? I’ll start with that. I think I did more things wrong than I did right. Now, but in all seriousness, I think what I would do differently. I think from the get go, I would have probably invested more in brand identity and packaging design, which when I started this, we were so scrappy, that all I could afford was a 99 designs, kind of $100 logo situation. And then me trying to learn Photoshop to tweak it. And it was just, it was horrible. And then anything that we needed to do so the labels and all the POS and the shelf talkers, and it was just a lot of a lot of pain because I had to do it myself. So I did everything from visiting liquor stores, you know, from morning to five, and then do the tastings from, you know, five to eight. And then at night designing and ordering and all the logistics and operations side of things. So I went through every part of the process. And I think the biggest mistake that I made was probably not investing in a more solid brand, DNA and foundation from the start. So that when we had to do sell sheets, when we had to do shelf talkers, when we would launch new expressions of the label, there would be guidelines where we could do this and scale it more easily. So that’s one thing. Second, I think it’s hard to shift your mindset from being a one man show to becoming a CEO and Managing your team. Because again, initially you’re so scrappy, that I had to do everything myself and become the bottleneck. And you become the bottleneck figuratively and and literally. And I guess there’s a book that I always revert back to in my mind, which is called the E Myth like, Yes. Which tells you that you need to work on your business, not in your business. And I always try to remind myself when I’m doing too much day to day operational duties to say you know what, focus on working on your business and in your business. And that’s something that I learned too late in the game probably, you know, a few years in and it would have been nice to have that mindset from the get go. Would have also saved me a lot of a lot of headaches. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  39:52  

Mindset makes so much sense but it’s so hard. I try it every day. I’m like crap, I’m working in my business again.

Alejandro Russo  40:00  

And it’s true. And look, it’s not because you know, we’re doing it something wrong. It’s just because when you start a company, you need to go, it’s part of the growing pains transition from the operator mindset where you do have, you have to do every single thing to the manager mindset where you can manage a team that does anything. And the transition between one to the other is a pain point is the puberty of a company. And it’s like, nobody looks good during puberty to raise an athlete period. Most of our lives, right? You’re kind of awkward, you know, like, you’re an adult, you’re a kid, nothing fits you. Well, you know, your clothes seem too big for either too big or too small. And I think the same thing applies to a company where you have to go through those pains to really understand okay, my company’s growing now now’s the time to hire an operations manager a sales now, and you need to you need to really shift your mindset once you go through that process. Right? 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  41:00  

Yeah, for sure. What, um, what’s next?

Alejandro Russo  41:05  

What’s next. So we’re in a journey to really give everybody a taste of what this is all about. We really, we really want to create a special brand that embodies this land, vibrancy and shared with everybody. And we have, you know, new business partners in the company. We’re starting to partner up with great artists. We’re starting to do a lot of great things, we just scaled to a bigger distillery and production facility. So now it’s just a matter of lighting this on fire and setting ablaze. On on, on this fire that we want to extend throughout the rest of the United States. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  41:53  

I have a feeling it’s going to catch on quite a bit. Because what I got back, I gotta back up one second, though, what’s your favorite? You’ve seen a lot of mixologist come up with drinks. What’s the most unique one you’ve come across? 

Alejandro Russo  41:53  

unique, unique. I’ve seen a lot because, you know, thankfully, we work with a lot of very talented bartenders. And I remember we did a bartender competition once. And it was so amazing to see the stuff that people bartender would come up with. One of the most impressive ones is a bartender named Monica he he made this drink, which was like an old fashion infused with rose water and all these things, and it came in a little coffin. Like a pirate’s coffin, and it had a love letter and it was this crazy concept. So bartenders, you know, they’ve had a lot of fun with this. But I’m a very I’m a simple guy. I like to drink just simple drinks that you can make at home that tastes great. And honestly, that’s the beauty of I can tell you don’t need a lot to really enjoy. I drink it on the rocks. It makes a mean old fashioned bitters, I wouldn’t think you can add a few I like to add the orange Angostura bitters which but honestly, look, Mohit knows. Moscow meals we call them Lada or Moscow meal. But the drink that I think is going to be the drink of the summer, this would be called the mama Sita. Okay, the mama Sita, the mama See, then you gotta try a Drew Bianca you’re gonna love this. It’s so easy. It’s only one ingredient. You got you put Candela on the rocks. Okay. And you get grapefruit soda. Oh, grapefruit soda. It could be Fevertree Q mixers, maybe Trader Joe’s. Whatever, grapefruit soda, you find it’s Candela and grapefruit soda. That’s, that’s the MSC that you’re gonna love. 

Bianca Harmon  43:53  

Okay, I’m about to like have my fiance pick up a bottle this on his way home. I mean, please think about two. I will like sit here this whole time like, wow, 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  44:04  

my wife loves grapefruit soda. Hi to two grapes. It’s right beta refrigerator fullest, squirt right now. It’s the best, right? So here’s.

Bianca Harmon  44:14  

I just drink like grape or sparkling water and all of that. But I’ve like grapefruit. I’m like a C and I’m like, Yeah, gotta get 

Alejandro Russo  44:22  

it’s the vast it’s fresh. It’s. So here’s the thing, because, you know, we have great cocktails, and we were figuring out okay, what can people drink when they’re having a pool day? Candela, it’s mostly it’s better served next to a body of water. That’s what we always say. So if it’s the pool, if it’s the ocean, or even a YouTube channel that’s showing you the ocean doesn’t matter the height of the next value or like a fountain or something right, like try to be nice to have it on water. And it’s a drink that served socially. And hopefully in a mode of celebration or having fun. This isn’t your leather and library and cigar type of spice drum situation. This is about having fun with friends. This is about de drinking. This is about enjoying fun by the pool, great music, great vibes. That’s what Candela is all about. So we were trying to say, Okay, what is their recipe that you can just put in a pitcher on a nice summer day by the pool, it doesn’t need a lot of preparation. And you can have five, six of these throughout the entire afternoon and you’re still going to feel good, you’re going to feel light. It’s not going to be like too sugary. And we tried it with the grapefruit soda. And we were blown away and we’re like, This is it. This is the drink of the summer. And last weekend, we tested it here in Miami. My mom was visiting. We went to the pool, and she had like four of those and I’m like, Man, I can’t believe that there’s booze in this like this tastes amazing. And we’re like yep, that’s that’s the test. You know what when when you feel like you can have three four of these. And you’re just having like fun buzz. And you feel good. Like that’s that’s a district su fantastic the mama Sita the mama Sita that’s what it is.

Bianca Harmon  46:13  

I love that. Well that’s that’s very ironic too because I don’t know if you know this but it’s mama Sita that but the whole Mamba Sita for Kobe Bryant’s daughter, she just turned 60 And the one that passed away and she’s like the mamba Sita so when she the mamba shoes that just came out so now you’ve got the mama Sita. 

Alejandro Russo  46:32  

Yeah, we thought it was a great name because you know, it has the mama from the mama fina, right, it’s a mama. But also mama Sita because it’s a, you know what a mama Sita it’s, it’s somebody that’s young, that’s having fun, that’s full of life, it’s youthful. That’s what a mama Sita is. So it really goes well with our drink. And with the spirit of our drink, which is all about having fun and enjoying yourself. It’s not, it’s not a complicated drink. You know, if you’re a mixologist, if you’re a rum Master, you will obviously recognize all the beauty that’s in this Rum and why it’s so special and why it’s different from the others. But most importantly, it’s the consumer. I started this not as a master run blender, but as a consumer. And what this is a drink that the common person, whether they know about Rum or they don’t. If you don’t know how to tell a Rum from a bourbon from a whiskey, you will enjoy this anyway, you don’t need to know that much to enjoy it. Kind of sewers, you will enjoy this even more because you will be able to tell what’s special. But honestly, and this is a drink that’s very approachable and anybody will be able to enjoy it at home. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  47:43  

Sounds fantastic. I am thirsty. As we’re coming towards the end of this thing I always like to ask give me a chance to shout out anybody that’s helped you or respect most in the industry right now. 

Alejandro Russo  47:55  

Oh, man, I There have been so many people that have helped us. We couldn’t have gotten here where we are without the help of everybody. You know, it really does take a village. So you know, starting from our production facilities. Veronica Coulson briquettes, they’re the ones that run it. They’ve done an incredible job. In my team, we have Alex into Dr. We have you know, friends who leases in Indiana here in Miami, they’re you know, they’re killing it every day out there, sharing the love. We have we have great investors. Pitbull, he’s our partner, he’s also been you know, a huge part of this journey. He’s he’s really pushed this and help us get to where we are. We’ve, we’ve had the help of incredible people in, you know, the entire chain of the trade. So I don’t know I’m just incredibly grateful for all the people that have helped Candela be where it is. And then you asked me who I admire in the industry and I want to name an historical, historical with it wasn’t the end of it, not gonna say Napoleon or anything more recent than that, but I guess when I was starting this company, I would always go back to the Sidney Frank’s story and really admire what he did because he made the most unsexy, unattractive drink in the history right some German digestive liquor. The nobody was drinking, he made it Jager and made it sexy and made it cool. And then he did the same thing with you know, super premium vodka with gray groups. And I just really admire how he saw something in the market that nobody else saw. Yeah, and say when you will about if you like, Gager if you don’t, or if you like Grey Goose or not. That’s not the point. The point is that he made an iconic brand out of a product that nobody else saw. Yeah, and that’s what I want to become. I want to make Candela the most iconic brand and spirits and coming from an angle that absolutely nobody saw. And I want people to look back and say, wow, like, that was so unlikely that you made it from this obscure ROM that they only make in the Dominican Republic. I’m like, yeah, that’s how we find. That’s where we found it. But now everybody’s hooked on this stuff. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  50:15  

It’s an amazing story. Alejandro Where can people find out more about you and Candela? 

Alejandro Russo  50:21  

Well, you can go to drinkcandela.com It’s very easy. It’s drink, and then Candela. It’s like, Can c a n d e l a drinkcandela.com. That’s where you can learn more about the brand about Mamajuana. You can also check us out on Instagram @drinkCandela. And that’s that’s it. And if you’re in Miami, please, you know, shoot us a note. Send us a DM we’re here. We’re based here in Wynwood. Which also shout out to the overproof team, which led me share their offices with them. They’re a fantastic company in the spirit space overproof. Highly recommend them for anybody that’s looking for analytics and wine and spirits. Yeah, they have six offices in Wynwood, which is the coolest neighborhood in Miami. And they let us use it and crush their offices. So shout out to overproof, Mark and Jasper. And yeah, if you’re in Miami, shoot us a note. We’d love to, you know, have you at the office and have a few drinks with you. 

Drew Hendricks  51:21  

Sounds fantastic. Thank you so much for Alejandro for joining us today.

Alejandro Russo 51:26  

Drew it’s been an honor Bianca, I love this podcast. So it’s so cool to finally be on this side, the side of the table and not be a listener. So I really do appreciate it. And I can’t wait to share the the future and exciting things that we’re going to be launching in the next few months. So we’ll check back for an update. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, guys.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  51:50  

Thank you have a great day.

Outro  51:59  

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