While growth in the beverage industry (expected to be worth $9.1 trillion in 2021) is mainly due to prominent, more established brands, a new breed of young beverage startups are disrupting the market. In the saturated field of pre-mixed, canned cocktails, Fishers Island Lemonade (FIL) is a stand out among its kind and a name you should get to know.
The story of Fishers Island Lemonade begins when founder, Bronya Shillo, began bartending at her family-owned bar, the Pequot Inn, on Fishers Island, N.Y. At 18, Friday afternoons were often spent mixing large, 15-liter batches of the bar's signature spiked lemonade cocktail. The drink was very popular among the locals. So popular that the liters would barely make it through the weekend. During one bartending shift, a lightbulb moment occurred. A question that changed the fate of this family's secret lemonade started with, "What if I canned our lemonade?" And the rest is entrepreneurial history.
In 2012, the journey to take this family recipe and create it for mass distribution began. Two years later on Memorial Day weekend, Fishers Island Lemonade made its official debut. The spiked lemonade beverage, a blend of premium whiskey and vodka with all-natural honey and lemon juice, locks summer and a dose of East Coast nostalgia in a can. The brand has grown from its Pequot Inn days but despite its success, has remained true to its roots. The female-founded business has a strong philanthropic focus to its business model as an active partner of 1% for the Planet and a supporter of the local Fishers Island community. In 2018, Fishers Island Lemonade was able to give back to all 16 not-for-profit organizations on the Island.
Organic Authority recently caught up with Fishers Island Lemonade Founder Bronya Shillo for an exclusive interview.
Organic Authority: What was the inspiration for starting Fishers Island Lemonade?
Bronya Shillo: Late nights or early mornings, however, you want to look at it! I grew up bartending at my family's bar on Fishers Island, NY, The Pequot Inn and learned a lot about life. When I was 18, I started bartending and making large batches of our staple recipe of vodka, whiskey, lemon, and honey to get us through the weekends. Seeing that Fishers Island Lemonade was what flowed the most and what we were known for, I wanted to come up with a way to keep up with demand. One late night I was making another batch of our famous recipe to keep up with the crowd and thought, "We need to can this!" I thought of the ease and quick turnaround of opening a can and serving it to the customer. So, little-by-little, I put together a business plan to mass-produce Fishers Island Lemonade. Canning was a no-brainer because it was friendlier for the boat environment and island living. We launched Fishers Island Lemonade in the can on Memorial Day 2014, and it came to the mainland in 2015. It was exciting to be ahead of the canned cocktail trend, and FIL is now distributed in nine states and growing more every day.
OA: As a female-founded business, what are a few challenges your team faces in the beverage industry dominated by older, predominantly male, brands?
BS: It is exciting to be a female-founded and run business, but it has its challenges. I've grown a lot as a person since starting Fishers Island Lemonade and have learned so much from mentors, customers, accounts and many other forms of [often unsolicited] feedback. I am more confident, especially when talking about the company and the product to anyone, but yes, the beverage industry is still predominantly male. I'm also a 6 ft tall woman, so you can't miss me.
More-so than being female-founded, Fishers Island Lemonade comes from a real place, a real person, and a real story, rather than a board room. It has been a grass-roots effort to grow Fishers Island Lemonade into what it is today. It is incredibly gratifying to see so many people, both men and women, love and support the brand. I'm proud to share my experiences and trials to empower my team and those around me to take risks and keep learning.
OA: What is your advice for future female founders in the beverage industry?
BS: My advice for future female founders in any industry is to find great mentors and listen. Network your butt off, do the research, ask questions, be confident, yet humble. Hard work and time will pay off!
OA: What organizations does FIL support through the 1% for the Planet partnership?
BS: Since day one, it has been important that Fishers Island Lemonade would have a philanthropic business model. We're proud to partner with One Percent for the Planet to identify and give back to environmental causes. We also have deep ties to the Fishers Island community. So in addition to protecting the Island's land and the surrounding waters of Fishers Island Sound, we want to make sure every non-profit on the Island is touched. It takes the work of each organization to keep the Island viable for year-round living. In 2018, Fishers Island Lemonade was able to give back to every non-profit on Fishers Island (16 in total). The work of each organization touches all aspects of everyday life. From ensuring locals have affordable housing and access to healthcare and emergency responders to culture and arts through the work at the community center as well as protecting the health and history of the Island itself. We are also proud to provide a scholarship for Fishers Island School graduating seniors with interest in entrepreneurship. As our business continues to grow outside of New England, we hope to expand our philanthropic model and give back to outside communities as well.
To learn more about Fishers Island Lemonade's philanthropic outreach, see this video of their work.