We had the good fortune of connecting with Bill and Lillian Buitenhuys and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bill and Lillian, what is the most important factor behind your success?
Heart. We started the business as a hobby because of our love of cocktails and learning. The hobby moved into a business when people asked to buy our bitters and the demand was too great to ignore. It has steadily grown each year. We put a lot of love and effort into making great products. Each batch of bitters is made with care because we want people to really enjoy them, whether they are at their favorite bar or restaurant or at home with family and friends. As long as we continue to put heart into all that we do in our business, we know that we can’t go wrong.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
We both have what we call the 8 to 5 jobs and consider the bitters business our 5 to 8 job, for now. The bitters business allows us to be creative, while we are able to draw upon our respective experiences in starting up a small business and developing and managing projects and programs. You would think that our past experiences would have given us a leg up on starting this business, but there were many early challenges. We are the first and only bitters producers in Arizona, which is a great accomplishment. But being a trailblazer meant we had to clear a lot of hurdles with the State and County before we could get going. We learned along the way and still continue to do so. Our heart for our business and to see where else our bitters can go keeps us learning and going. We do know that a business is in business to make money. But more importantly for us are the experiences we’ve had and the possibilities that lie ahead. We had our first collaboration this year with making a specialty bitters for Century Grand, which is a finalist for Best New Bar by Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. Taking in the experiences and focusing on what could be motivates us and helps us to think beyond the daily work of having a business.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Where to begin?! There are so many wonderful spots in Arizona that are not to be missed, so you would definitely need more than a week. We’ll share some of our favorites, but there are many more places to enjoy. Although we have a pretty nice home bar, it’s always better having the pros make the drinks. We would have to make trips to our favorite escapism bars, UnderTow and Century Grand, as they are both like nothing else in the world. If we’re in downtown Phoenix, the combination of Bitter & Twisted with Little Rituals only a few steps away from each other can’t be missed. If we are able to swing through Tempe, then it’s a stop at The Old Walrus for some proper tipples. Down in our neck of the woods in Chandler, it’s definitely a trip to The Brickyard and Hidden House. Wait, how many days do we have? We are equally blessed with great restaurants around the Valley. There would definitely be a stop at Chula Seafood to have a fish bowl for lunch and to pick up some fresh catch to take home. For an elevated comfort food meal we would stop by one of our standards, Citizen Public House for proper cocktails by Thomas and any one of the amazing dinner items. We would have to schedule a night at Franco’s Italian Cafe for some delightful east coast Italian soul food and desserts. Tarbell’s is high on our list for incredible fish dishes and cocktails. If it’s a special dinner, then Kai at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass is a must. The cuisine is unique and a must try. Now, if we had more than a week, we would have to schedule a few road trips. We would head to Tucson see our friends at Sidecar, Elvira’s, Portal, and Batch, and then up north to Sedona and Flagstaff for more great food and cocktails. Again, the list is too long and I’m sure we’ve missed some great ones, but that can happen when you are writing while enjoying some R&D cocktails.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people that have been a part of our journey and we know that it is with their support that we are where we are today. Our family and close friends have been big supporters over the past eight years from fun hobby to growing business. The beverage community, retail stores, bar and restaurant owners, and our distributor, Young’s Market of Arizona, have all supported our brand and growth. Big love to the amazing group of bartenders in Arizona that constantly surprise and delight us with novel and amazing cocktails using our bitters. We know that a bar owner’s menu is an extension of themselves and we are humbled each time we see our product being used. That enthusiasm has helped spread our product throughout the US, Australia, and New Zealand. There is a small handful of bartenders that really inspired us early on, all of whom were kind and helpful with feedback and advice: Richie Moe, Travis Nass, Rich Heider, Micah Olson, and Jason Asher. We do have an amazing group of people in our beverage community and we feel fortunate to be a part of it.