Dry January Profile: Shelley Elkovich of For Bitter For Worse
Posted on January 23 2020
Meet the fabulous Shelley Elkovich of For Bitter For Worse. She and her husband Jeff have been on a crazy ride the last few months, but things really got wild five weeks ago.
Shelley and Jeff create ready-to-drink non-alcoholic cocktails with a roasted organic dandelion root base and natural flavors brewed from young Douglas fir tips and Saskatoon berries. After living in Ashland for twenty years, they have just this week moved to Portland, where they are diving into their business and stirring up all kinds of goodness.
TELL US YOUR ORIGIN STORY.
I’d just completed my MFA in fiction and was working on a novel, when our world tilted: the company where my husband Jeff worked abruptly closed—28 days’ notice, no severance. Once the shock wore off, we took the opportunity to reimagine our lives. We rented out our place and spent 6 months housesitting in the San Juan Islands, where we spent every day, all day, brainstorming business ideas (and also watching otters frolic, and ferry boats glide by). Some sort of beverage company was an obvious choice, due to our passion for flavor and all things drinks. Then, after a spectacular whale-watching trip with friends, I became ill with a rare neurological malady with a fantastic French name—mal de debarquement. I was constantly swaying; it was as if I was falling-down-drunk. That health challenge led to a commitment to healthier choices for both of us. We committed to mindful drinking as a permanent lifestyle change, and For Bitter For Worse was born.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS?
I love how we’re affecting people’s lives. We make drinks, but our mission is inclusion. As a longtime activist, mission is crucial to me. It’s rewarding to receive thanks for what you produce, and we get so many heartwarming thank yous. Also, for years, Jeff was the primary breadwinner; it’s gratifying for me to lead our next chapter. I love working closely with Jeff. We’d efficiently compartmentalized our life, and now at midlife, it’s rewarding to shake it up.
WHY DID YOU MOVE TO PORTLAND?
Our heart’s home is the Siskiyou, but the Portland food and beverage scene is among the most vibrant in the nation. We spent a week there doing two holiday sales and found ourselves with ardent fans and two retail accounts (Market of Choice and New Seasons). We moved to service those accounts, to make restaurant and bar connections, and to hang out with other makers.
THIS SHIFT HAPPENED FAST. WALK US THROUGH IT.
Everything about this business has been FAST. This is definitely a speeding startup train, and the decision to move to Portland (5 weeks from thought to execution) is an example of that. While I’m not normally much of a magical thinker, this time in my life has been a wonderful example of flow. We’re clearly on the right path for us, doing the right thing at the right time.
Here’s what happened in the past 5 weeks: we received our labels just in time to participate in two Portland holiday shows (Eat Oregon Now and Crafty Wonderland). During that week in Portland, buyers from Market of Choice and New Seasons approached us. We presented to those companies on the same day and landed both accounts. Suddenly we went from 0 to 28 stores. We told a friend we thought we might need to move to Portland. She found us a wonderful rental that very day! The next day at Crafty Wonderland, we met the great folks behind Good Wolf water kefir and mentioned we were moving to PDX and needed rental kitchen space. They offered us a home for the business. Upon returning to Ashland, we sent an email to friends, telling them of our decision, and that our beloved farmhouse would be on the market. Another magical event: dear friends bought our house and will raise their young family there. After nearly 20 years in that sweet home, it’s lovely to “keep it in the family.”
WHAT DO YOUR KIDS THINK OF THE BUSINESS AND THE MOVE?
Oh my gosh, our kids! My favorite people on the planet. Aubyn and Rowan are so supportive. They are creatives (an actor and writer, respectively), both living in Harlem. They cheer us on, and as 20-something adults, I think it’s cool for them to relate to us more as peers in the hustle, rather than parental authority figures who have everything figured out. We value their opinions and advice. We call them our New York Operatives: Rowan made Spotify playlists for each of our flavors, and Aubyn produced our video. We plan to integrate them into the business once we launch in New York.
WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THIS PROCESS?
One surprise is how entrepreneurial I am. I’ve never been that into capitalism, to be honest. But I love this work, I love our mission, and I love the pace and creativity of the business. And I’m wildly ambitious (I view acknowledging ambition as a feminist issue). It’s also surprising how all-consuming and intense it is. I want to hug every entrepreneur I know! It’s so freaking much. It’s a bit like having a baby. You just can’t imagine it until you’re in it. But you also can’t anticipate how much you’ll love it.
WHAT ARE YOUR 2020 GOALS?
We met some of our big 2020 goals in December, so we’re now revising the plan (as we move into our new rented kitchen space and our new PDX home)! I want to release another flavor, launch a line of drinks in cans, and make a strategic funding partnership.
Maya here. Visit ForBItterForWorse.com to learn more, and head over to @ForBitterForWorse on Instagram to follow Shelley and Jeff.