Sweet Victory

Photo via Montauk Beach House.

Coming from the East End, we always hear from the small business owners, the ups and downs, the struggles and sacrifices, and sometimes the eventual success that comes afterward. The notion of accomplishment and perseverance has become even more special these days, as we have seen many longtime local businesses subdue to big money, tough local legislation and inevitable change.

One East End business is different though, and shows us that the “Cinderella story” is still achievable; that this oh-so popular town can still be the tight-knit hamlet where the little guy can make it.

@amagansettfood Fall Festival! Bring the kids, #carvepumpkins #eatlocal #greattunes with Job Potter Band.

A photo posted by Sweet’tauk Lemonade (@sweettauk) on

Success didn’t come easy for Sweet’tauk, but that’s what makes their story cool. I mean, who would have thought lemonade would be the next big thing the East End had to offer? Well, when life hands you lemons, you might have to cut some corners, bootstrap, bend some rules, and do it the good ‘ol fashion Montauk way to make sh*t happen. When the brand started four years ago, no one knew what Sweet’tauk would become. It was an idea that had been fueled by passion and the eagerness to try something new. It was a no-brainer for founder Deb Aiza, a creative caterer by trade, and it all started with a simple question from a friend. “Can you bring something to the event?”

She offered to bring lemonade to an event Dominique Garston of Yoga Lila was hosting at Ruschmeyer’s. While producing the first batch of what would become Sweet’tauk lemonade in her home kitchen, Aiza discovered her newfound love and went after it. She brought her lemonade to more events as sort of a litmus test, and after she realized the demand was there, she started selling it at the Farmer’s market in Montauk. There, sharing a table with Claire Pertalion from Stoked Granola to cut costs, Sweet’tauk lemonade began the journey as an official beverage brand.

Now selling more product, Aiza started making lemonade full-time in the basement of anyone who would let her do it. She would then hand distribute the various flavors of lemonade, all sourced from local ingredients, to places where she had gained a following for the tasty drink.

Hurry up or else the line will get long ? #Montauk #fallfestival #chowderfest

A photo posted by Sweet’tauk Lemonade (@sweettauk) on

She soon realized she was going to need a bigger space — a lot of people now wanted her product, and to sell wholesale, she needed to be in a licensed kitchen. She hired three full-time employees and began expanding; making labels, approaching new vendors and looking for a “real” kitchen. It was the beginning of the summer and Sweet’tauk needed a home. She eventually got lucky with an under the table deal to share a kitchen with a deli. Aiza soon started aiming high, which is when she had her first meeting with Whole Foods. It went well, they loved her product, however they rejected her product at the time because it was un-pasteurized. Sweet’tauk is made with all fresh ingredients and no preservatives, which is what makes it so special, but by law she was out of luck. Aiza immediately went and got herself certified by the HACCP and the Dept. of Agriculture and Markets . Now ready to sell wholesale, it was back to the drawing boards for expansion.

After doing some R&D in 2012, she started seeing what it would take to make Sweet’tauk a big success. As she started gaining momentum in her newfound space, another curve ball was thrown her way. The business she was sharing kitchen space with was evicted mid-summer. She got a call on a fateful July night saying she would have to get all of her stuff out of the kitchen by morning. $10K worth of equipment and supplies had to be out … in just a few short hours.

It was back to the basement for Sweet’tauk. This time at the Washout, which served its purpose until the health department came knocking, and respectfully told Aiza it was time to pack it up. Now in just three short years and four kitchens, it was time for Sweet’tauk to find a permanent home. This is how they eventually ended up in their current location, the same place they were forced to move out of during the July eviction. This time it was all hers after signing a 10 year lease.

It’s been three years now, and the Sweet’tauk team has come a long way. They learned that with a little help from your friends, you can get by.

@polsapss catching the #sweettauk wave in France… next stop Bali! ??? #mikepolieuropeansurftour

A photo posted by Sweet’tauk Lemonade (@sweettauk) on

What started in 2011 as a dream in her kitchen, hand squeezing lemons to make 5 gallon batches, is now a full fledge production using High Pressure Processing (HPP) to produce 10,000 bottle batches at a time, ending 2014 selling 16 tons of lemonade.

From a fold-out table at the local farmer’s market to the shelves of 150+ locations, and in some of the biggest grocery names from Boston to D.C. including Gourmet Garage and Whole Foods, Sweet’tauk is truly living the dream. Most importantly though, they have been able to keep the values that mean the most to them; fresh ingredients, original recipes and of course, the Montauk name.

“It only could have happened in Montauk,” Aiza said “and that’s the best part about it.”