Grande Sole Closes: Owner Zeke Mamone On The Trials of Local Spirited Investments
A Sober Moving Day At Grande Sole
Looking to buy a local spirits company? You really should sign up for the American Distilling Institute's (ADI) member forum. That's where we heard that Covina-based Grande Sole, also known Cordials of Calabria, is unfortunately closing its doors as we speak.
Owner Zeke Mamone is selling her entire inventory, including several drums of pure alcohol that have yet to be turned into infused spirits. "Stainless steel sinks, tables, the bottler, and the machine I had made to cradle and hold the bottle because it was a triangle shape so it all had to be custom," she says. She has listed the sale price on ADI as $150,000 for all inventory, equipment, packaging, recipes and licenses. Or should you happen to need 25,000 glass bottles for whatever urban homesteading project (fruit vinegars?) you have planned after last night's Santa Monica Library panel discussion with Evan Kleiman, you can also contact Mamone (firstname.lastname@example.org) with piecemeal offers.
Why is she suddenly selling?
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Although Mamone has been making her sweet fruit cordials based on her Italian family's centuries-old tradition for nearly ten years, she says a slew of personal challenges coupled with the industry-wide hurdles that artisan spirits producers have been facing in recent years, is forcing her out of the business she loves. "I was just starting to rock and roll and roll when I got a nasty divorce, my mom got hit with a stroke, and couple of other things, like getting ripped off on a $5,000 order from Mexico, hit," said Mamone by phone this week as she was clearing out her rental space. "The dream was good, it just never came to fruition. You can have a great product and it still doesn't work out."
Her low-alcohol infused spirits were available in a dizzying number of flavors (perhaps also a customer confusion problem). The basic formula is based on a family cream fruit liqueur recipe from Reggio Calabria. "In Italy they make only the lemon cream liqueur, but you can make it out of orange, banana, strawberry, all kinds of things," she says. "So I created recipes with different fruits, some that were seasonal, and I used only fresh fruit with everything made by hand," she says.
Mamone began experimenting with the cordial recipes in 2000, but it would be several years before the business paperwork was settled. "It took me 14 months to get the required permit because the TTB [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] required me to have a physical address to let me even apply for it," she says. "That means I had to pay for 14 months rent, $1,100 a month, just to get a permit. That really hurt."
At times, the fresh fruit itself became the problem. "I ordered an acre and half of strawberries from Watsonville in 2005, the year of terrible rain, and they were all rotten. I was never able to get the type of strawberries I needed again."
Ultimately, Mamone cites an issue that many small beverage producers learn the hard way as the reason for Grande Sole's closure. "Our distributor didn't care about the mom and pops like us, only the commercial distillers. He wouldn't even call me back at all those first few months," she says. "I also didn't have an aggressive enough salesman, something you need in this business. By the time I met this salesman who I know would have been great, I was out of dollars."
Before she destroys several drums of unused alcohol pure alcohol (or face paying taxes on them), Mamone is holding out hope that someone will call her up with an offer on more than just the stainless steel kitchen sink. "Who knows, maybe angels really will come down from heaven. If I got an investor at last hour I would put my heart and soul back in the business."
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