Even the healthiest of eaters go for a splurge from time to time. And sometimes that splurge is alcohol. A new simple syrup company aims to give that guilty-pleasure cocktail the healthiest twist possible. Columbus-based Root 23 is simmering a line of handcrafted simple syrups packed with locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever possible (and no high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives).
Water and organic cane sugar are mixed with one of their four flavor combinations: sea salt caramel, cucumber habanero, grapefruit basil or vanilla ginger. Trial, error and some borrowed tasted buds helped owners Barb Stauffer and Leah Monaghan curate the flavor list.
The duo actually started making the syrups as part of a budding popsicle business, and while delectable in liquid form, the flavors tasted much different frozen. It didn’t go unnoticed that the syrups would actually be pretty tasty with a little bourbon, and thus Root 23 was born.
Testing started with 25 flavors and about 50 friends.
“We let them gravitate towards the flavors they were most interested in,” Monaghan says. “What spoke to them? What things do people see and think, ‘Oh, that sounds good!’?”
A 12 oz bottle of the four taste-test winning flavors sells for $12 at various retail locations across the city, and even state.
One of the first partnerships they developed was with Weiland’s in Clintonville (their-home base neighborhood). More than a retail space, “They offered really good suggestions,” Monaghan says. They worked with them on details like bottle shape – tall skinny ones can tip over on the shelves.
Root 23 is also available at both Hills Market locations, Huffman’s Market, Celebrate Local, Barrel & Bottle, Arena Wine & Spirits, Chateau Wine & Spirits and Folsom & Pine.
“They provide us with the basil that goes in our grapefruit basil,” Monaghan notes.
And although they only started distributing in May, they’re already in a shop in Cleveland, one in Mansfield, and just got an order from the big party store in Northern Kentucky (yes, the giant one we have all been to).
As busy mothers, the duo canvased the area, walking into shops and cold-calling on the last day before summer vacation for their kids in attempts to distribute Root 23.
“We didn’t receive a single ‘no’,” Monaghan says. Since then they’ve restocked each location at least once and Weilands’ at least three times.
Up next is the bar and restaurant crowd.
“That is something that we would definitely like to tap into,” Monaghan says. While many bartenders do make their own syrups, she says there has been interest. Max and Erma’s even approached them at an event, but needs bigger bottles. It’s something Root 23 is working on, though.
To make the bar approach easier, they’ve also worked with a mixologist and are recipe ready with two concoctions for each flavor.
As they continue to expand their market, “Next steps are figuring out distribution that doesn’t involve our mini-vans,” Monaghan says.
Distribition hasn’t been the only hurdle. As with any food product, adventures in licensing have added a few months to the process.
Root 23 works out of The Commissary in Grandview.
“They are very invested in our success,” Monaghan notes, but changes in licensing meant they couldn’t work under the larger commercial kitchen license of the space, but had to get their own. While it was a hurdle, the owners says it has left them more knowledgeable about the whole process.
Starting their own business wasn’t something either Monaghan or Stauffer ever really expected to do. And while they are new to the entrepreneurial community, the supportive spirit is evident to the newcomers.
From their fellow artisans at The Commissary, to various other connections they have made, “We have just met so many wonderful people who are food producers in Columbus who are so helpful and have been wonderful mentors,” Monaghan says.
For more information, visit root23.com.