Founded in 2015 in Brooklyn, NY, by two designers with an overfilled liquor cabinet, Shaker & Spoon was born out of the desire to make complicated cocktails without needing to buy all the ingredients. Now, with their monthly cocktail club, mixology enthusiasts can pick up their spirit of choice and Shaker & Spoon will take care of the rest.
Mix and taste approved, the Brooklyn based team has gone through the trouble of making sure all box pass the trial and error test. MiLLENNiAL caught up with the founders Mike Milyavsky and Anna Gorovoy to learn how they started this unique box service and what it takes to get these perfect cocktails to your doorstep.
Tell us about Shaker & Spoon! How did you both meet?
MIKE: Anna and I met in high school and were good friends at first. We went to different schools in different states for college but we’ve been a couple for over ten years now.
What sparked the idea to create a cocktail subscription box service?
MIKE: I would say I’d been feeling the itch to start a business for some time and had noticed how popular the meal kit subscriptions were becoming. I was especially intrigued by Blue Apron’s mission to teach you to cook by giving you recipes and ingredients and just having you cook. I’m very much a “learn by doing” person, so this was very appealing. The only problem was that I had already been taught to cook by my parents and grandparents; I’m no master chef, but going over the basics just didn’t excite me.
What I realized I really wanted to learn to do was to make all those amazing drinks that bars like Amor Y Amargo, Employees Only, and the Dead Rabbit were serving. Now that would be a subscription I could get really excited about. Seeing that there really wasn’t anything like that available at the time, I decided to start my own. That was more or less the spark, the hard work started after!
What makes this box dynamic and what do consumers get out of it?
MIKE: We work with new bartenders every month and have them develop drinks specifically for our box. We do our best to mix it up and work with new and different spirits alongside bar staples. While we’ve of course done bourbon, gin, vodka, and rum boxes, we’ve also done boxes focusing on mezcal, sake, cachaça, and pisco as well, for example.
Beyond just learning the how-tos of mixing up amazing drinks, subscribers also get to try recipes from bartenders all over the world, something they’d never be able to do otherwise without traveling to so many different places, which isn’t an option for many people. They’re given a chance to step outside their immediate comfort zone and play with ingredients and spirits they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise. When talking to our subscribers, that’s usually the biggest point they make, that while getting a Shaker & Spoon box is always a delight, learning about a new spirit and how to use it and then tasting something they’ve never tasted before, that’s the real highlight.
ANNA: I would add that different people definitely get different things out of it, there are a lot of aspects to our service and that’s actually one of the things that makes it so dynamic! Based on a survey that we did at the beginning of 2017, for a quarter of our fans, their favorite thing about their subscription is the learning aspect—being taught new techniques and upping their mixology game.
For another quarter, it’s the convenience, getting a curated experience delivered to their mailbox and not having to leave the house to enjoy it. For another 30% it’s what Mike touched on, the adventure of discovering new spirits, ingredients, and flavors that they may not have tried otherwise. For everyone else, they enjoy the uniqueness of getting to try original recipes from top bartenders, the value of being able to have bar-quality craft cocktails for less than $6 each (counting the alcohol that’s purchased separately!), and the flexibility to skip boxes they’d rather not try.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to get to where you are now?
MIKE: One challenge happened just as we were launching Shaker & Spoon. We originally started with three founders, one being a bartender who was going to create all of our boxes for us. He made four for us to start off with, but pretty much right after we launched, basically prior to us even having any subscribers, he was offered an amazing job out in Chicago.
While we did manage to work remotely for a time, the workload just ended up being too much and he had to leave the company. At that point we were already selling some subscriptions but we only had those four boxes and we didn’t know what number five was going to be. Those first few months were stressful.
Thankfully, Russell Davis found us, loved our brand and concept, and eventually joined the company. He and his team find new bartenders for us to work with each month and I think that model is actually a lot more sustainable in terms of keeping our boxes and recipes interesting and fresh, so the whole thing ended up being a blessing in disguise because I think with just one person creating all of the boxes, eventually he would’ve run out of creative steam.
What were you doing prior to launching your own business?
MIKE: I was an animator mostly doing commercial work in New York. I absolutely loved it but I realized as my career progressed I didn’t really love the more managerial side. I had to do more and more of as I got to the senior level. I just wanted to be left alone to animate, but that would mean my career would flatline. That’s really why I started looking to make a move.
ANNA: I actually still have my day job—in publishing, designing books—on top of running the business.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions of being an entrepreneur in the subscription box space?
MIKE: Since Shaker & Spoon is my first real entrepreneurial venture and it, at least initially, was very much conceived of as a side hustle, I’m not really sure what the conceptions (or misconceptions) in the subscription box space are. My biggest misconception before starting all of this was thinking that we’d build up a subscriber base and then could just focus on creating amazing boxes each month, but it’s turned out that we have to work very hard to maintain our base and grow it each month.
Since our subscriptions are so often given as gifts, we end up losing a lot of people due to their gift subscriptions ending and especially right after the holidays it feels like such an uphill battle to just keep up and not have our subscriber base shrink relative to the previous month. Most companies have this problem, but with subscription boxes you’re also launching a new product every single month, so having to focus on both of these issues simultaneously can be quite challenging.
Out of fun, who (between the two of you) best represents the ‘Shaker’ and who best represents the ‘Spoon’, and why!?
MIKE: Really curious what Anna would say here but I’d like to think I’m the Shaker, just not really sure where that leaves her…
Shaker & Spoon box subscriptions start at $40 per month. To learn more or join the cocktail club, visit Shaker & Spoon.