Simple Goodness Sisters: Tenaciously Growing Better Beverages

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Simple Goodness Sisters is a startup company that creates non-alcoholic cocktail syrups designers to add sparkle and flavor to your everyday. By harvesting goodness straight from the garden and keeping preservatives and chemicals out of all of the recipes, the Simple Goodness Sisters bring a Happier Hour to you. The syrups feature herbs grown on the farm and flavor profiles that are distinctly Pacific Northwest. The natural flavors include Huckleberry Spruce, Rhubarb Vanilla Bean, Berry Sage, Lemon Herb, Marionberry Mint, and Blueberry Lavender. Products from this line are always alcohol-free and family-friendly, so that you may mix your drinks however you like, for whomever you like.

Simple Goodness Sisters was founded by two sisters, Venise Cunningham and Belinda Kelly, who left the corporate world to pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship. After receiving repeated requests for their secret cocktail recipes, the sisters decided to bottle their talents in a line of specialty cocktail syrups. Their syrups feature herbs grown on their farm and contain flavor profiles that are distinctly from the Pacific Northwest.

Now Belinda and Venise are excited to announce The Simple Goodness Soda Shop which will be the booziest coffee shop you’ve ever been to, or the most family-friendly bar. The menu will feature ice cream, sundaes, shakes, Panini sandwiches with seasonal salads, homemade pickles, homemade pesto, spreads, and jams, hearty snacks, waffle sticks, and #gardentoglass cocktails. Follow them on Instagram @simplegoodnesssisters.

Venise Cunningham has a background in real estate; as an agent, she specialized in farm properties and is an active member of the local farm community. Belinda Kelly is the owner of the Happy Camper Cocktail Company, and co-founder of Simple Goodness Sisters. They recently discussed their experiences and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in the food industry and why did you start focusing on syrups in particular?

Belinda: Venise and I have both been interested in food systems since studying environmental science (me) and ranching (Venise) in college and grew up in households where food was homemade and homegrown. We grew up watching our grandmothers prepare food from scratch that brought their families and friends together and we recognized the magic in that. We also recognized, once we grew up and learned more about the American food system, how rare this lifestyle still was. It seemed to be a skill set that was draining from our communities, and we were both really interested in learning these skills once we started our own families. We started with interests in gardening, raising animals, making cheese from goat’s milk, canning, and preserving like our grandmothers had and we loved the process as much as the results. Doing things from scratch became a part of our daily lives and every time we did, the flavor was better, the food and drinks got better reviews from friends and family, and we felt a real connection with and appreciation for the food when we grew it and made it ourselves. We also knew by then that not only did these fresh “farm to table” foods taste better, but they were also healthier choices for our families.

Venise: When Belinda’s first son was born and her career in Microsoft recruiting began to seem impossible to continue due to the travel involved, she was searching for an exit that would bring her creative and personal fulfillment, alongside a paycheck. She was in love with the mobile food movement and identified a need for a fun, delicious, craft mobile bar in Seattle after searching for a better happy hour provider for years in her role at Microsoft. Belinda launched the Happy Camper Cocktail Company, a mobile bar serving craft cocktails with a seasonal “garden to glass” menu, in Seattle in 2016. She was one of the first mobile bar founders in the USA and the company grew quickly. This involved making fresh-squeezed juices, elixirs, and simple syrups in garden-inspired flavors and right away, the syrups became very popular. Clients understood that vodka, lemon juice, and Rhubarb Vanilla simple syrup cocktails tasted so great because of that unique simple syrup and they started asking if they could buy it to make drinks with at home. The syrups became our calling card and Venise knew and spent two years convincing Belinda, that they would make a great product line.

MM: Your flavors are such unique blends, so how do you think them up and how long does it take to perfect each one?

Venise: We think about a lot of things when building new flavors- will this help balance a cocktail? Do these flavors taste great together? Will these flavors be unique in the marketplace? Can we grow these ingredients on our farm with our limited space, climate, infrastructure, or can we find an excellent local farm source we’re excited about buying from? And most importantly, can we make these flavors into a shelf-stable product without adding preserving chemicals? Most of our syrups are preserved on acidity alone, which is both limiting and really pushes and thrills us creatively. We’ve tested the majority of our flavors for years through the mobile bar catering company before we bottled them, so we know well how popular they are, what kind of drinks to make with them, and have the recipe perfected. Releasing a new flavor takes a minimum of 6 months from official product testing for the FDA to sourcing, packaging, and launch.

MM: Which flavors are the most popular among consumers? Also, be honest, do you have a personal favorite?

Belinda: It’s funny because Rhubarb Vanilla, our flagship flavor, and the very first flavor to ever be requested in a bottle by a customer at an event, is still our top seller. That said, the online sales numbers are really similar among flavors annually because different flavors tend to sell better at different times of the year. Some flavors, like lemon herb, sell like crazy when you can sample them, people just fall in love after tasting it. And some flavors, like blueberry lavender, are more shelf friendly because people know and understand those flavors more and they feel “safer” to buy without sampling. My perennial favorite is the huckleberry spruce tip because it is so unique to us and to the Pacific Northwest where we live. It can be bottled in only a 3-week period every year after the deliciously citrusy spruce tips emerge from the trees, and before the harden off into a less appealing, resin-filled flavor. The huckleberries are hand forage in the mountains and we are limited each season in how many bottles we can make based on this harvest. It is just a rare, special, beautiful picture of this area, all in one little bottle.

MM: What is it like working together as sisters?

Venise: Sometimes it’s the best and sometimes it feels impossible, but at the same time, we wouldn’t want to be building a business with anyone else. All partners have difficulties, clashes, personality differences. And all businesses have their own points of stress. So, to have a business partner at all is always going to have times of challenge. The difference we find is that as sisters we know each other well and we have a foundation of unconditional love that means we will strive for one another and for our business in a unique way. As well, when we reach those inevitable disagreements, we can become more heated and the disagreement can be a more personal feeling than another business partnership’s squabbles, however, we can forgive and move on much more quickly. We also know each other’s strengths and know each other’s motivations. Working together as a family means you have to carve out unique family time that isn’t about work, and vice versa. You really need to remember your sisterhood and not only make life about the business. That said, it is wonderful in some ways to have them intertangle like we get to have our kids play together while we work!

MM: How did you establish your company and has it been tough to stay afloat during the pandemic?

Belinda: Our company evolved from the mobile bar catering business to a product line to our ultimate dream of a production facility/tasting room/tourism destination cafe and bar that we opened this year. We’re very excited about this diversification and the staying power these different revenue streams will give to our business long term. To build such a diversified business has been a big challenge though. We’re attempting to learn, create, and master 3 very different strategies and skillsets, simultaneously.

Venise: Opening a production facility and cafe during the pandemic was excruciating at times. We both agree it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done, including childbirth and working our way through a full college course load. The Simple Goodness Soda Shop was under renovation for two years prior and we’d done a Kickstarter to partially fund it, and the momentum was such that we couldn’t see it not opening at all.

Belinda:
The process was double hard as we faced office closures, delayed licensing, work stoppages due to quarantine, tried to juggle virtual schooling our kindergarteners and having childcare closed for our youngest kids, and running our online business while opening a new one. We opened 5 months delayed, in a modified way with a more limited, take out friendly menu. Ultimately, we are glad we did because it gave us a chance to connect with the audience who had waited so long for us to open and test out our menu and processes with a reduced staff and lower overhead so we could still turn a profit. That said, the entire staff was just us two and that’s been really exhausting. We’ve learned a lot about our own stamina and our limits. At different points, we’ve each reached them and we’re learning to allow ourselves to loosen our own reigns and take breaks as needed.

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MM: What flavors are you considering adding to the roster in the near future?

Venise: The production facility we’ve built at the Soda Shop gives us the cost freedom to bottle smaller batches of specialty flavors that we’ve been wanting to release for years, in a more fluid and quick to market way. We are going to launch these through Farm Club, a CSA for cocktails, with a quarterly subscription model for farm to bar drink mixers. Each Farm Club pack will have a classic syrup paired with a special release mixer, recipe cards, and other farm goods like our edible flower sugar rimmers. We’re thrilled to be able to truly offer the flavors of our farm for each season, for the most garden to glass drinking experience in the nation, right from your own home!

MM: How do you hope Simple Goodness evolves over the next five years?

Belinda: We’re really excited about growing the Farm Club community and growing the community around the Soda Shop in Wilkeson. There’s already such a joyful and welcoming feeling that’s emerged at the shop. It’s the booziest ice cream shop you’ve ever been to, or a family-friendly bar. Moms and dads and grandmas and grandparents bring in their kids and everyone finds something on the menu they’re really excited about and they connect with others while they’re there, and it’s just a really friendly place. We have customers who have become regulars in just our first 3 months and people who come every time they go up to hike in Mt Rainier National park, and we look forward to growing this in our second open season when we reopen in May. We’ll add an outdoor space this winter and we hope that the Covid situation allows us to reopen with the classes and events we’ve had planned. We want to invite people into our space and teach them how to create delicious drinks and food on their own at home. We want to share more of the knowledge we have around food, drinks, and gardening, both at the Shop and virtually through video.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

Venise: We want to create a lifestyle and a business that embodies our Poppi’s words about our grandmother, Nanny, in her eulogy “she was simple goodness.” We don’t want a fancy life, just one that’s simple and good. And we want to share it with our community, online and locally, along the way.

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To learn more, visit the company’s official website and Instagram.

Written by

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author of novels, short stories, and poems. She is also a produced playwright and an award-winning modern artist.

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