Since the 1760s, Company House Hotel has been a mainstay in downtown Christiansted, providing accommodations to travelers, entrepreneurs, business people and community activists.
The newly renovated hotel reopened its doors in January and was committed to providing a space where visitors and locals were welcomed and even encouraged to gather. That’s when the idea of the In Good Company series came along.
A series of conversations featuring local entrepreneurs and business leaders, these meet-ups allow business owners to share their tips and ideas with guests, community members and entrepreneurs.
“Communities thrive when everyone gets involved,” said Lance Griffith, COO of VIGL and CRG, which collectively own Company House Hotel, Caravelle Hotel & Casino, and lease horse race tracks on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
The In Good Company series is one way Company House Hotel is continuing the tradition of empowering entrepreneurs and business owners, bringing them together in the historic setting of the longstanding hotel.
In May, the series welcomed Todd Manley, founder and owner of Mutiny Island Vodka. He is what one would consider a serial entrepreneur, with five restaurants under his belt on St. Croix: 40 Strand Eatery, R.A.W., The Mill, Toast Diner and Duke’s Cocktails and Wine Bar. In Good Company was an opportunity to share his story with the public.
“Back in 2007, we had the idea to produce an agricultural-based product on St. Croix since St. Croix used to be an agricultural island,” said Manley. “This product would be one that could give back and create opportunity for everyone else.” The original idea to use guinea grass to produce vodka proved to be difficult to accomplish. However, Manley knew he wanted to distill vodka.
A conversation with Mutiny Vodka co-owner Brant Pell and friend James Webber after a lunch shift one day brought about the idea of using breadfruit to distill vodka on St. Croix.
Breadfruit, with its starchy, potato-like consistency, is high in protein and rich in nutrients and vitamins. It originated in the South Pacific and was brought to the Caribbean by European settlers in the 18th century. Today, it is found all over the Caribbean, Central and South America. It is easily grown in tropical climates and one tree can bear up to 250 fruits per year. This is what convinced Manley and his team to move forward with making this idea of breadfruit vodka a reality.
While the vodka isn’t currently being produced on-island, the goal is to have the distillery up and running within the coming months.
On Oct. 11, they were “pretty much gifted” the old Island Dairies facility and renamed it Sion Farm Distillery. This will be the new home for Mutiny Island Vodka, where the spirit will be produced in a “green” environment.
“This is a community-based project where at least 100 people have contributed to getting this off the ground. This is not a one-person show,” said Manley. His goal is to have the Sion Farm Distillery be a staple in the community like Island Dairies was in the past. “Expect a line of vodka made with local fruits and a line of Island Dairies inspired liqueurs,” he said.
The distillery will include an Island Dairies museum complete with memorabilia and the history of the original facility. It will also offer buffet-style meals and a bar that will be cool, simple and affordable, Manley said. They’ve already secured a sale of 1,000 cases to be delivered by mid-June. “At its current state, the distillery can produce 3,200 cases per month and as we grow and become internationally known, it can tap out at 32,000 cases per month,” he said.
Mutiny Island Vodka can be classified as a clean spirit with no added sugar and no chemicals. The entire process, beginning to end, will take place on St. Croix. All bottling, labeling, corking and packaging will be done on St. Croix, keeping with the theme of creating as many jobs as possible for the local community. Manley pointed out that the sales team would be the bulk of Mutiny’s employees.
“We want the members of this team to come from St. Croix so that when they go out, they can speak with firsthand knowledge about island vodka, being that they’re from here.”
The “In Good Company” conversational meet-up occurs on a Tuesday each month in the lobby of Company House Hotel. The next series will take place on Tuesday, June 25 at 5:30 p.m. with Padraic Coursey, founder of SoKh Caribbean Dance Fitness, executive director of the V.I. Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC) and owner of My Girlfriend’s Closet St. Croix.
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