Keith Davis, the founder and operator of the four Golden Pear Cafes in the Hamptons, is now pushing to get into the homes of discerning cocktail drinkers with his new venture, Keith’s Nervous Breakdown Ultra Premium Cocktail Mixes.
The origin of the business — and its name — goes back to May 2015 at Southampton Golf Club, when Davis, 54, missed a 3-foot putt on the 18th hole to lose a match.
“I went into the bar and ordered my margarita the way that I like it,” with some cranberry and pomegranate and fresh lime juice, Davis said. “My buddy walked in and went, ‘Davis just had a nervous breakdown on the 18th hole.’ And it just came to me. I said, ‘This could be very serendipitous. I’m going to name this cocktail a nervous breakdown margarita.’ ”
Over the course of the summer, he told friends the story and suggested they order the drink at the golf club’s bar.
“Then in October of 2015, I went for my morning walk, and it just really started to come to me.”
He procured a trademark for “nervous breakdown” in the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage categories and negotiated the purchase of nervousbreakdown.com, then set up a separate Delaware-based LLC.
So far, he’s invested $50,000 of his own money and raised about $600,000 from friends, family and business associates. He plans to raise another $500,000 by Sept. 1 to expand distribution.
The products are currently served in six restaurants on Long Island and sold in about 100 stores, including three Stew Leonard’s, six King Kullens and three dozen 7-Elevens. The mixes, which retail on average for $15 ($16.95 at The Golden Pear) for a 25.4-ounce bottle, are made at Wayne County Foods, a small-batch bottler in Irvington, New Jersey, and distributed by Big Geyser Inc. of Maspeth, Queens.
First off the line in November was Keith’s Nervous Breakdown Ultra Premium Margarita Mix. It was joined earlier this month by a rum punch mix.
For the next year, the company will target retailers and supermarket chains on Long Island, in New York City and in Putnam and Westchester counties. Davis also is in talks to expand into Fairfield County, Connecticut.
The dream goal is to make it to Florida by the end of the year, then on to Texas, California and Arizona next year, when he’ll need another $1 million in capital. “The year after that, I’ll probably need another $2 million,” he said.
Long-term, he wants to be a national player in the specialty cocktail mixers business, using all-natural citrus concentrates and organic flavorings that are non-GMO, gluten-free, non-allergen and free of high-fructose corn syrup. A bloody mary mixer is set for a July launch, and he’s hoping to add a cosmopolitan mixer soon.
Davis is working to convince potential investors that the company is a category changer that can scale quickly.
“Their biggest concern is that there is a lot of competition,” including from giants like Jose Cuervo, he said. But he argues that competitors’ products are unhealthy and the market for them is diminishing. “People are demanding, even when they have a cocktail, high-quality, all-natural juice ingredients.”
He also asserts his mix’s flavor profile is superior, and he’s quick to point out the Nervous Breakdown name is not meant to offend anyone dealing with mental illness. “We see this as a sophisticated, fun marketing effort,” Davis says. “Obviously people with mental illness need to be cared for and treated sensitively. But the term nervous breakdown is just an everyday, normal-stress life experience.”
Jeff Bass, founder and CEO of Executive Strategies Group in Great Neck and chairman emeritus of the Long Island Capital Alliance, said investors may be wary about the challenge Davis faces in running one successful operation in the Golden Pear Cafes while also building a new one — something Davis admits “is definitely not an easy thing to do.”
To that end, he hired Danny O’Connor, an investor and executive with experience at national companies such as Glaceau, maker of VitaminWater, this month as executive vice president/director of national sales.
Another potential obstacle for the company is that there are fewer distributors due to consolidation, and they are carrying larger portfolios than ever before. “And as a new product, even when you have consumer demand or retail demand in place, it can be very difficult to get visibility and attention from distributor partners, because there is so much demand for their time and their expertise,” said Helen Gregory, a branding and communications expert in the food and beverage world who is president and founder of Manhattan-based Gregory White PR.
“We believe that the brand and the product line that is being created is going to be a platform for our future success,” Davis said in response. “Ultimately, consumer demand is going to determine our success.”
Noting his Golden Pear experience in the Hamptons, Gregory said Davis has a better chance to succeed than many, “because he understands the audience he is marketing to.”
- NAME: Keith’s Nervous Breakdown Ultra Premium Cocktail Mixes
- FOUNDER: Keith Davis
- EMPLOYEES: 6
- SALES TO DATE: $100,000
- PROJECTED 2017 SALES: $975,000
- MONEY RAISED SO FAR: $650,000
- SEEKING TO RAISE: $500,000 by Sept. 1