In mid-March, when bars and restaurants were locked down by the state, Christine Eifert found herself with an unanticipated break from the eight shifts a week she worked behind the bar of Gunther’s Tap Room in Northport. “I didn’t know what I was going to do next,” said Eifert, a single mom of two boys.
At first, Eifert mixed drinks at home for her own circle. Then, in mid-April, she began to boil sugar, water and fruit together on her stovetop — aka simple syrup, a liquid sweetener that bartenders sometimes use for cocktails. “Although to ask a cook to make [a simple syrup] for the bar is like asking him to rob a bank with you,” joked Eifert, who has logged 28 years as a bartender on Long Island.
She had considered making syrups for awhile. “You keep saying you’re going to do all of these things, and you never have time to do any of them," she said. "Then I had nothing but time. I started messing around with flavors and became a mad scientist.”
One of Eifert's first efforts, a honey-lemon-cinnamon syrup, was based on a mixer she had seen at a gun show upstate, and one intended to be blended with whiskey. Other flavors followed, such as strawberry, orange-vanilla and jalapeño-pineapple, made using fruit, spices and chiles, and sold in Mason jars for $5 or $10.
Simple syrup can be an invisible ingredient in many cocktails, typically made with a 1:1 blend of sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves and infused with fruit, fruit peels, herbs and/or spices. Eifert’s simple syrups are rich — such as a habanero-pineapple version that leaves your lips and tongue tingling if sipped straight (but more subtle when added to some seltzer, for instance).
Eifert’s first customers were friends, acquaintances and at least one private chef, and they quickly showed her the syrup’s versatility — one poured the syrup over ice cream, another made chutney and another used it to glaze ribs. “They had so many more avenues than I realized at first,” Eifert said.
By May, Eifert had coined a name, Blondies Not So Simple Syrup — an allusion to her hallmark blonde hair — and reserved a table at the Northport Farmers Market, where she began to sell out of certain flavors, such as strawberry. Eifert retired other flavors not long into their young lives, such as watermelon, which she called “a pain in the butt” for a lackluster result.
Four months on, and Eifert has 18 flavors in all, a business plan, several restaurant accounts, at least one grocery account (Harbor Harvest in Huntington) . She has also migrated production from her kitchen to the Cutchogue location of Backyard Brine, where she batches syrups once a week or so.
She's also returned to work at Gunther's, though sets up a table a few times per week in her East Northport driveway. Some of her steady clientele, hard earned from years of tending bar, now wave or shout greetings to her as they drive past. Others stop to purchase some of the pop-top bottles she now uses, and sell for $10. “I did not expect this at all,” said Eifert, donning a red mask and black dress, about her quick success with Blondie’s.
As summer turns to fall, Eifert is waiting on her latest innovation — a Snow-Cone machine, so that her syrups can be squirted over ice. She’ll debut it at the Northport Farmers Market soon.
Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup, 631-327-2895. At the Northport Farmers Market every Saturday.