What do glass jars, grapefruits, spirits, and manufacturing have in common? Three words: Wolf Moon Mixers.
Born out of Dorota and Steve Coy’s love for fresh juice, Wolf Moon Mixers was an entirely uncontrived process. As artists, it was just one of their many pursuits.
“We kind of fell into it,” explains Steve Coy.
During their time in Hawaii, Steve and Dorota fell in love with fresh juice. When they moved to Detroit, they brought their passion with them.
“We saw all these amazing entrepreneurs doing these incredible things here in Detroit, and we thought maybe we could be part of it,” says Steve.
It all started innocently enough. The Coys loved making juices. However, they, like many adults, got curious and wanted to know what it would taste like with alcohol.
“We were like, ‘This tastes really good,’” says Dorota. “So we started experimenting with different juice-based cocktail mixers.”
Their first big hit was their margarita mix. It quickly became the hit of the summer among their friends and family. Their weekends were soon filled with visits to family and friends who were asking for the margarita mix.
So obligingly, Dorota and Steve would head to Eastern Market and buy absurd amounts of grapefruit, oranges, and lemons to juice at their home. The fact that it was fresh-squeezed is what impressed everyone.
By the end of 2013, they decided to approach their friend, Joe McClure, owner of McClure’s Pickles, to ask him about mass production since he knew a thing or two about it.
“It was October because the Tigers were in the playoffs and we were so excited,” Dorota remembers.
With Joe’s help, they made five different recipes.
“He was like, ‘Oh My Gosh, I can drink this!’” recalls Dorota. “We asked him if he was interested in joining the Wolf Moon team and figuring out how we could bring our product to the market and he said yes.”
And that was the beginning of Wolf Moon Mixers.
When coming up with the name, Steve and Dorota knew that they wanted a moniker that spoke to them and excited them. Their search led them to the names of different phases of the moon. They learned that each full moon of each month had its own name. The first full moon was called the Wolf Moon.
The name resonated with them and soon after deciding on it, they discovered how fun and playful it could be. One of the taglines they came up with right away was “Howl at your friends.”
They’ve been doing that loud and clear ever since.
While they knew that there was a market on the West and East Coasts for what they were making, they didn’t know if the Midwest was ready for their product. Only after two years of market testing did they feel like they had the answer.
“The answer is yes it’s completely ready” states Dorota. “We are super excited to be doing this here.”
Eastern Market was the first place where they had the opportunity to share the product with potential customers – particularly the farmers market, which featured people of all different backgrounds coming to their stand and wanting to try it.
“It’s such a pleasant way for us to get a product out there,” Dorota recalls, adding that she considered this group to be the company’s first focus group.
Even now, several years later, Steve and Dorota are continuously surprised by those who stop by their stand. While Steve admits he originally thought their product would be a hit with hip 20-somethings, they’ve noticed that their customer base doesn’t fall into any specific age category.
They believe the answer might be found in their variety of mixes. From sweet to sour to spicy anyone can find a flavor that suits their palate and pairs with their spirit of choice. Even without alcohol, people at the market have told them their mixes taste delicious with club soda or on their own.
Both Steve and Dorota agree that the journey has been a long, fun learning process.
“We knew nothing coming in,” says Steve. “It wasn’t smooth,” adds Dorota.
Once they had the idea and began to go with it, they ran into one problem after another. Their biggest took the form of manufacturing.
After two years of making their juices on the weekends at McClure’s, they realized it wouldn’t work long-term. They were growing, and McClure’s was too. In addition to finding a new space, they were also struggling to find the machinery needed to produce their juice in a glass container.
Finding the machinery to bottle the product in glass proved challenging. Plastic is cheaper and much more commonly used these days, so it’s far more difficult to find the necessary technology for glass bottling. Steve would spend hours a day searching for and contacting people asking them if they could help. “Good luck” was the only response they kept receiving.
However, because they didn’t think plastic was good for their brand, they refused to give up.
“Everyone was telling us to do that, but we said no,” says Steve. “We didn’t want to put their fresh, beautiful expensive juice in Gatorade bottles.”
As it turns out, Michigan is the last place where the machines they were in search of had not totally disappeared. This, they learned, was because they were used to produce applesauce, one of the only products still made in a lidded glass jar. Steve began calling around until he found a man who canned cherries in Northern Michigan. He agreed to help them and ever since it’s been working out well.
Once the Coys solved their manufacturing problem, they soon found themselves with another.
Early on they realized they had a cash flow problem. However, luck was again on their side. The Detroit Development Fund stepped in and helped ease their cash flow difficulties with a loan.
“They are such an amazing supporter of small businesses,” says Dorota. “They basically saved us,” added Steve. “We wouldn’t be able to exist without them.”
They both agree they are still learning what the right balance is between money, product, and sales.
“It’s a weird dance,” says Steve.
Wolf Moon mixers are now sold both at big grocery stores like Westborn Market, Western Market, and Busch’s as well as at mom-and-pop stores across Michigan. Most recently they just branched out to Chicago, and they’ve been doing very well there.
Even after all these years, it still excites them when they spot their product on a store shelf.
“It’s kind of an amazing thing to go into a store out of town and see it on the shelf,” says Steve.
He equates their journey to climbing a mountain and every once and a while when they see their product out in public it reminds them to stop, enjoy the view and think, “Wow, how did we get this high?”
While neither Dorota or Steve knows what the future has in store for them, they are determined to keep doing what they love and creating meaningful experiences through their product.
“Having cocktails with friends on a sailboat,” is how Dorota describes their brand experience.
“That’s what everyone should feel like when they are drinking our mixer,” she says.
They also hope that they can contribute to creating a healthier lifestyle around drinking and having fun.
“Enjoy a cocktail that is fresh. This is what it is supposed to taste like,” Dorota says. “It’s supposed to be sour because it’s fresh and we don’t want to put too much sugar in it because that’s bad for you.” She adds, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t drink the syrupy, artificial glow-in-the-dark stuff that’s bad for you. That’s what we want to tell people.”
Natural, fresh and local. That sounds like a combination that will have some staying power – not just at Eastern Market, but all throughout the region.