BYE JOE USA is a Houston-based spirits company founded by Houston-native Matt Trusch in 2011. The company’s signature label, byejoe, has become the #1 bestselling Chinese spirit in America.
1. Where did you get the inspiration to develop your own brand of beverage, and why specifically an Asian beverage?
Growing up in Houston, I went to school with lots of Asian kids whom I found myself competing with for the good grades. While many of my peers were taking classes in Hebrew or Spanish, with lots of positive reinforcement and support, I decided to study Chinese. As time went on, my interest in Chinese culture grew and I eventually decided to pursue a master’s degree in Chinese Studies at Harvard.
I lived in Asia for about fifteen years, and first encountered “baijiu” – China’s answer to vodka – when I was studying in Harbin, China’s Siberia. Since the winter was so cold, most people spent their time indoors drinking baijiu just to stay warm! At 100-130 proof (50-65% alcohol by volume), you can understand why. Baijiu is a real best-seller in China – in fact it’s the most popular spirit on the planet – but many Westerners have yet to try it, until now.
When we first got married, my wife and I toyed with the idea of starting our own business. We thought that bringing baijiu to the West was an innovative idea, but realized that the product as it’s sold in China would face some cultural challenges being adopted in the West, mainly because it differed from U.S. standards in what we call the “Four P’s”: Price, Packaging, Proof, and Pungency. We decided that by infusing the actual drink and its name with a Western twist, we could successfully sell our beverage in America.
2. What have you done to differentiate byejoe from other liquors in the spirit category?
byejoe is the original 100% Chinese spirit, imported in small batches to America, and filtered using patented ultrasonic technology to ultra-premium quality. We focused on making byejoe something that both Chinese and Westerners would enjoy.
We also totally revamped the packaging from its original, commissioning a world-renowned bottle designer to reinvent the ancient spirit for sophisticated consumers. The tall, sleek, transparent bottle alludes to ultra-modern Shanghai, which boasts the tallest skyscrapers, fastest bullet trains, billion-dollar IPOs. Our design won the coveted Double Gold medal for packaging design, among other awards, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013.
byejoe is a highly-mixable, modern, multi-award winning spirit. Since it’s so smooth, it’s perfect in a karate-belt-array of Asian fusion cocktails like a Lychee Martini, Mo-Joe (Chinese mojito), Shanghai Mule, and many, many more. So far, we’ve launched two products: byejoe Red and Dragon Fire. Red is the original Chinese spirit distilled from 100% red sorghum, a high-protein super grain that is naturally high in antioxidants and naturally gluten free. It’s also low calorie – with only 65 calories per ounce. byejoe Dragon Fire is the first baijiu in the world to infuse Asian fusion flavors: Dragon Fire (35% ABV) infuses the original Red with dragon fruit, lychee and hot chilis.
3. Where are you currently distributing byejoe and where do you see the company in two years from now?
At the conclusion of 2013, we were distributing in five key markets, and we expect byejoe to be sold in forty to all fifty states by the end of 2014. We are hoping that in two years from now, byejoe will be distributed in ten international markets as well.
4. What do you point to as the key to your brand’s development?
Prayer and persistence.
5. Did you have any particular obstacles when you got started?
In the U.S., there are a lot of regulations that present challenges to new brands entering the wine and spirits industry. It took about two years to get all of the permits that we needed to launch.
6. Would you describe one or two of the big projects that you’re working on right now?
A huge chain with 200 restaurants in 40 states has expressed an interest in adding our cocktails to their menu, so we are working now to ramp up our national distribution.
7. How has your Jewish identity come into play for your startup?
In many, many ways. First of all, byejoe is certified kosher with the OK, even though liquor is generally kosher by default. Because the liquor is from China, I wanted to make sure that rabbis were checking on the plants in China, in order to alleviate any Kashrus concerns posed by Kosher consumers.
Second, I have learned the importance of being a proud Jew, and adhering to Yiddishkeit, as the only means to bring Hashem’s bracha. Jewish practices do not impact our business in any negative way; on the contrary, these only serve to bring us bracha. For example, the Chinese respect our adherence to our laws and customs, and even remark to each other how incredible we are that we have such great discipline and character. It’s a Kiddush Hashem when we conduct ourselves this way.
8. What is your best piece of advice for someone looking to start a business in spirits industry?
Know that all beginnings are tough, and we all have to do our hishtadlus. While I always recommend that people go into entrepreneurship, I know that there is a lot of personal sacrifice required in starting a new business. It takes hard work and humility to elicit G-d’s blessings. Try to be a shliach in whatever setting you are in, and you will surely see Hashem’s blessings beyond expectations.
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