Wine is known to be synonymous with celebrations, relaxation and procreation. One would hardly think of it as a way to pay homage to a city, especially not a city that’s internationally known for its delicious food and rich culture. Ironically, that’s precisely what Kim Lewis did with her wine brand, Ole’ Orleans Wines, a company that pays tribute to The Big Easy and its historical legacy.
A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Lewis is the mother of three beautiful children who relocated to Atlanta after Hurricane Katrina. Lewis stayed there for four years before moving back to her home city in 2009. “I didn’t like it in Atlanta,” she shares. “I’m a true New Orleans girl because just about every weekend I was back here. I love it here. I love my city. I love my culture.”
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Even though Lewis has family ties to other parts of Louisiana such as Ponchatoula, Thibodaux and Hammond, her heart resides in New Orleans. The city itself is a mixture of African, French, Spanish, Cajun, German, Creole, Irish, Italian, Haitian and Native American. This eclectic blend of cultures is what makes New Orleans so special. It’s this uniqueness that inspired Lewis to build her brand around the city.
The Road to Wine
Lewis launched Ole’ Orleans Wines in 2018, even though she had the idea for the business in 2017. She went from an eight-year career in the healthcare business to a business owner without a second thought. Despite the nay-sayers, she continued to persevere. The doubt came mainly from perception. When most people think about New Orleans, they think about food and liquor, not wine. After all, the local drink is a Hurricane made with rum.
When asked about her motivation before the brand, she responds without hesitation, “To know me is to know I will try it all. I’m a risk-taker.” And the risk paid off because fast forward two years and Lewis is a successful entrepreneur, an avid traveler and a powerful businesswoman.
However, this level of success has come with its fair share of lessons learned. Her top three words of wisdom to other entrepreneurs are:
- Invest in yourself. “If you don’t invest in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to invest in you. There’s only so much a person is willing to do for you, especially if you’re not doing it for yourself.”
- Beware of scams. “Beware of some of the opportunities that come to you that seem too good to be true. If it seems too good to be true, it is!”
- Love what you do. “You got to love what you do. You got to have a true passion for it. If you’re in it for the dollar, you’ll be crying because you’re not going to make money right away. Becoming a millionaire takes work, time, tears, wins and losses.”
Wine and the City
The name of the wine comes straight from the city’s history. In fact, the design of the label is a direct reflection of its history as well. For example, Lewis named her semi-sweet blanc du blanc Ole’ Carrollton. “Anyone who grew up here knows what Ole Carrollton is,” states Lewis. “Ole Carrollton used to be its own city separate from New Orleans. The label on this bottle is a picture of Ole’ Carrollton back in the day with old cars and the old shopping mall.”
She also has a dry blanc du bois wine named La Villiage des Chapitoulas Tchoupitoulas. “Tchoupitoulas is a street here in New Orleans. It used to have a large mill back in the day, so that’s the picture you see on the front of the Tchoupitoulas bottle,” Lewis says. Lewis is currently planning to launch a sweet red blend named after the iconic gumbo dish called Gumbeaux. No further explanation needed here.
The Business and the Brand
Any business advice worth a grain of salt will encourage multiple streams of income. Luckily, Lewis adheres to this as she continues to build her business. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Lewis continues to thrive with her wines, her eBooks and her merchandise. She also offers business consulting. “My shirts are a big hit … the ones with the glitter on the sleeve,” Lewis says. “I will be expanding on some merchandise. I’m in the process of deciding what I want to add and what I want to take away. Merchandise is good, but the wine makes up the profit.”
Lewis is planning to produce more wine in the future. She has almost a dozen concepts she is working on. She is also teaching the business to her son, who’s almost 17 years old. “He loves my business,” Lewis says. “He’s my right-hand man. He’s highly involved. He even helped design the labels for the wine bottles.”
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Thinking about her journey, the avid wine drinker says, “I never expected to own a wine company. It was never a goal or a dream in life, but I’m here and I love it.”