Stephanie Sanoja’s great-aunt Gladys made the best bloody marys. Friends and kin who dropped by Gladys’s home in the New Orleans Garden District would quickly find a bloody mary in their hands. “She would always have a pitcher of this ready,” Sanoja says. The former marketing director always protected her great-aunt’s recipe because she thought she might bottle it one day. Near the end of 2008, Sanoja was burnt out from her job in the advertising business and wanted to spend more time at home with her young son, so she started making plans to bottle Aunt Gladys’s mix. “The whole strategy fell into my head, and I started talking more and more about it,” she says. In February 2009, she quit her job, thinking she would launch her bloody mary mix in six months. It actually took two-and-a-half years. But her Garden District bloody mary mix is now available in liquor stores and boutiques, including Talulah Belle and Brumley Gardens. The product took longer to launch because Sanoja was stubborn about certain aspects of it. She didn’t want a standard bottle, for example. Garden District is sold in carafes because that’s how Aunt Gladys served hers. Plus, the uniqueness of the bottle helps customers remember it, Sanoja says. She was also a stickler about the recipe, which manufacturers told her again and again they couldn’t produce. “I’ve been very persistent on every little detail of this thing,” she says. Sanoja started with her first run in October 2011 with a holiday campaign. Every bottle of Garden District had a gift tag that read, “Have a bloody mary Christmas!” The mix is formulated to taste good with vodka, but it also goes well with beer, gin and tequila, she says. So far, the bottles, which retail for $11.50-$20, are selling well, especially in gift stores. Sanoja financed her venture in part with a home equity loan, and she’s confident Garden District will be profitable some day. “I’m having fun with it,” she says. “The minute I launched this the way everyone told me was impossible, that to me was a success. Everything else is gravy.”
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