It was a gorgeous, crisp October day in 2018. I wandered around a fall farmer’s market at the Mosaic District in Fairfax, and stumbled — by pure happenstance — upon two fellow pioneers of the booze-free movement in D.C.: Charlie Berkinshaw of Element Shrub and Pauline Idogho of Mocktail Club. As we geeked out about the burgeoning non-alcoholic beverage movement, we couldn’t have imagined the DMV’s transformation into an oasis of inclusive beverage options just three years later.
I recently sat down with Pauline to talk about Mocktail Club and her reasons for starting a non-alcoholic beverage company in a booze-soaked world.
District Fray: How and why did you start Mocktail Club?
Pauline Idogho: I came up with the concept of Mocktail Club when I was expecting and found limited sophisticated non-alcoholic options on the market. I came to appreciate I was not alone and there were a lot of people that didn’t drink or were sober-curious and looking to cut down on alcohol for health and wellness reasons. So, I started Mocktail Club, which is a line of ready-to-drink non-alcoholic cocktails which are inspired by my global travels and culinary passion. I created original recipes using shrubs, spices and superfruits to create the right balance of sweet, tart, bold and savory notes needed for great complex non-alcoholic cocktails. Our beverages also have prebiotics and antioxidants, so they actually work for you. Our mission is to redefine the social drinking experience so everyone can feel included and celebrate together. We are sold at Whole Foods, restaurants and other specialty stores in the region.
Where are you from originally? What brought you to D.C. and what do you love most about the area?
I am originally from Nigeria and moved to London, UK when I was ten years old. I came to D.C. to attend college at Howard University. Apart from leaving the area briefly for business school at Wharton, I have spent about 20 years in D.C. and watched it evolve. Prior to starting Mocktail Club, I spent most of my time in international finance. I have friends from all over the world here and I love how we all call it home. I love how international, multicultural and urban it is, yet it is balanced by green spaces and nature. I also enjoy the arts and cultural aspects and love how the food scene, especially around 14th Street, H Street and the Wharf, has all evolved over the years.
What’s the best part about being a woman entrepreneur? The biggest hurdle?
The best part of being a woman entrepreneur is the ability to change the narrative about the beverage industry and entrepreneurship, which is predominantly male. I also want to motivate and support other women to enter into and thrive in the food and beverage industry. Only 2% of women get venture capital funding and 8% of women are Fortune 500 CEOs. So I am passionate about defying the odds and building a mission-driven company. We currently have an all-female team at Mocktail Club and we are so ready to have fun and make an impact.
Congratulations on being a winner of Pharrell’s Black Ambition prize! What was the process like?
It was an honor to be selected as one of the finalists. Pharrell founded Black Ambition to address lack of funding for Black and Latinx founders and to help them envision their businesses in a limitless way so they could build the amazing companies they desired to build. The selection process was quite vigorous and included written applications and interviews. Besides financial support for the selected winners, the program offers network, advice and support.
Are you a member of any D.C. area BIPOC entrepreneurship groups and if so, how have you supported each other?
I have an informal network of women and BIPOC founders in the D.C. area. We share resources, opportunities and support each other, especially during Covid-19. One of these groups has been from Accelerate Her DC, which was run by Danielle Vogel of Dawson’s Market Dupont (formerly known as Glen’s Garden Market). Danielle had a grant program, which I was a recipient of, which supported women and in particular, BIPOC founders.
Have you seen a change in how D.C. embraces zero proof options since you started your company?
Absolutely! D.C. has become a more mindful place with respect to zero proof options. Since we started, we have seen an increase in food services providing sophisticated non-alcoholic options on their menus or in stores. We supply a number of restaurants, including Millie’s, Gravitas, Perry’s, Centrolina and others. We have also noticed that gastropubs and some distilleries want to have great non-alcoholic options. Corporations have also worked with us to provide more inclusive and mindful options to their employees for celebrations. We are seeing a cultural shift for inclusive events and experiences.
So, what’s next for you and Mocktail Club?
We have some fun things planned. We’ll be changing our packaging early next year to become more portable. We’re also launching a new and exciting flavor and will continue to expand our geographical footprint and types of venues where you can find Mocktail Club.
Just for fun
Pair each flavor of Mocktail Club with a meal:
- Havana Twist with ceviche or taco al pastor.
- Capri Sour with grilled fish such as Bronzini. It is also good as an aperitif with tomato, mozzarella and basil.
- Manhattan Berry is great with lamb shank or beef stew.
- Bombay Fire is great to pair with goat cheese but I typically just enjoy it on the rocks.
Learn more at mocktailclub.com and follow Mocktail Club on Instagram @mocktail club.