Welcome to What’s Your Story?, a new feature about innovative entrepreneurs in the food industry. What goes into the launch of a new food brand, how is the product made, who designs the packaging? All these questions, answered…
What do you get when you cross two lawyer friends with a troubled economy? After a bit of career-change brainstorming, you get a very refreshing icy drink that’s made for adults. Zack Silverman and Alex Rein worked at a Manhattan law firm before calling it quits and trying to create healthy, natural versions of one of their favorite childhood treats. The two friends developed a few recipes and launched Kelvin the Kelvin Natural Slush Co. in 2010. It started out, like so many food and drink businesses these days, as a mobile truck. Now, the slushes can be found at Madison Square Garden — where they’re used as a base for frozen cocktails — at Whole Foods and at a number of retailers across the country (in addition to a NYC-based food truck and cart). Here, Rein tells us more about the genesis of the company, what it’s like seeing their product at one of the most iconic sports arenas in the country, and what it takes to make an all-natural slush.
How did you go about launching a company that makes slushes?
Zack and I were officemates at a large Midtown law firm, and we would kick around different ideas of companies we could start. At one point we realized that we both grew up drinking slushies and slurpees and that we loved them. Then you get to a certain age, and you stop drinking them, but we thought that in the summer they’re really refreshing treats. There is no reason adults shouldn’t be able to drink them. So we thought that we should reinvent the slushie and make it all-natural.
In 2009, I got laid off when the economy started to tank, and I figured it was as good of a time as any to give it a shot. I haven’t stopped since! Zack quit his job and came on full-time this past summer.
One day we were talking in the office, and Zack had just gotten back from a vacation. He was telling me about a slushie he had and how much he’d missed them. So we decided to start making slushies for adults. It’s just a product we love.
Did you have any experience in food manufacturing?
No, not really. I had worked as a busboy and waiter for about a year in college, but I had very little experience in the food industry.
How did you create your first flavor?
After we decided we wanted to start the company, we were testing recipes in my apartment. We bought a little slush machine and played around with it. Our first flavor was the spicy ginger, which is a ginger-citurs tea that we still carry. It’s one of our three base flavors. We started brewing ginger root and adding sugar and different spices, and came to that. Our two other flavors are tangy citrus and green and black tea. We also mix the citrus and tea to make an Arnold Palmer.
We have mix-ins which can be added in with those base flavors. We have fruit purées, chopped basil or mint, pomegranate seeds. Even though we only have the three base flavors, you can have a lot of different combinations, like raspberry-ginger or white peach tea. The white peach tea was actually named one of New York magazine’s Top 100 Drinks! That’s one of the awards we’re pretty excited about.
What goes into the base flavors?
It’s all-natural, so just citrus, tea, ginger and cane sugar.
What has been your proudest moment?
In the first year we were opened, we got nominated for a Vendy Award, which are the awards for food trucks. We were pretty new and didn’t really think we had a shot, but we ended up winning Best Dessert Truck.
With wholesale, the proudest moment was opening at Madison Square Garden. That was huge for us. Madison Square Garden now has slush machines in three of their bars around the arena. We work with them to make their frozen cocktails. They do a frozen sangria, a dark ‘n stormy, an Arnold Palmer and a ginger-citrus strawberry vodka drink. We also have our own stand down there. That’s been really exciting.
Now we’re also working with Whole Foods. It’s another one of these things that we always wanted to do, and when it happened it was kind of surreal. Currently we’re in five stores in NYC, Connecticut and New Jersey. There are plans for more in locations in the South soon.
What do you during the winter?
During winter we shut down retail operation because the truck is tough to run when it’s cold. Not too many people want slush. This year we did a lot of business development. The goal is to branch out and go to Florida, California or Las Vegas, places where the season is not limited.
What is your biggest challenge?
Probably the seasonality of the product.
What about the logo for Kelvin Natural Slush Co.? Who designed it?
We have a designer, who is also a friend, who has worked on all of our branding. His name is Aaron Harowitz. We’re very brand focused. We wanted our aesthetic to be sleek, clean and minimal. He is very involved with everything that we do from coming up with the name to the cups. The design process has been very collaborative.
What’s behind the name?
We named the company after the temperature scale. Kelvin is absolute zero, where all matter stops moving.
What advice would you give a food-centric small business that’s just starting out?
Be prepared for a lot of very long hours, lots of hard work. You learn as you go. Maybe work in the industry before you jump in.
When we went into this we had no idea that anyone would pay for a slushie. We liked the idea, but had no idea [if it would work]. Then suddenly we set up this company and there is a line for an hour outside the truck, so we thought, alright, this may have some legs!
What’s your favorite slush combination?
Virgin — it’s ginger and blueberry. And then the Arnold Palmer, white peach and bourbon.
Do you know of a company with an intriguing, original history? Let us know at email@example.com and we’ll consider your suggestions for future installments of What’s Your Story?
Previously in What’s Your Story?
What Goes Into McClure’s Pickles?