A background in animal sciences might be the last thing you’d expect from the makers of a specialty vodka, but that posed no hindrance to Kyle and Teya Smith, the husband and wife team behind Texas-based 500 vodka brand that is currently entering the spirits market in the state’s top cities.
Though neither has any experience in the beverage industry or in business management, the duo launched their venture four years ago with the conviction that they had a winning product to share with other vodka enthusiasts. “It is a brand created from Friday meets with friends, decompressing and enjoying drinks. Eventually, we felt like we could do better than what we saw on the table, that's how it started,” says Teya.
The Smiths were both born and raised in New York and moved to San Antonio in 2000. They worked for years in the veterinary medicine field and still hold their full-time day jobs. Their love for quality vodka and each other resulted in the birth of 500 vodka, a name they chose for its positive influence in their lives.
The couple noticed that whenever the number five came into play, good things happened for them both. The two zeros in the logo are an infinity sign, a symbol for Kyle’s intent that whatever they do in life, it would be done with love, integrity and dedication for infinity.
With these guiding principles, the duo created 500 vodka’s three corn-based, gluten-free signature products, all of which are six times distilled and eight times filtered. This includes the 500 ultra-premium neutral and two combination flavors.
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While the 500 Strawberry Lime Vodka sounds welcoming, it is the 500 Coconut Pineapple Vodka that won the 2015 New York International Spirits Competition silver medal, even before the product was available on shelves. “That win was the encouragement we needed, making us feel like we were doing something right,” shares Teya.
The decision to manufacture vodka was influenced by marketing research, with vodka being the gateway spirit that most people try the first time. The Smiths knew they wanted an ultra-premium neutral but with flavors being the fastest-growing segment alongside, it was a no-brainer. The couple put a twist on it and created combination flavors.
“We went with a coconut pineapple combo because I like piña coladas, and a strawberry lime combo because who doesn’t like a good strawberry daiquiri,” Teya shares. “We also went with all-natural flavors so the flavor will never be muted whether you open a bottle today or drink it a few days later, or add it to anything else for a cocktail.”
The Smiths chose a private label distiller out of Florida that would allow them to use all Texas-based products so they can give back to business and the economy in the state they are based in. They then worked with a distributor in Austin to get into big-box businesses.
Since Texas is regulated differently from other states per the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, online sales of alcohol are not permitted, which means the brand is available only at physical locations within the state at this time.
“We are taking it slow and doing things at our pace though,” says Teya. “We are happy with the progress we are making. Every six months, we are planning on opening in a new market. We like to keep it intimate, so we meet with local businesses and do tastings one on one.”
The couple is building upon the great feedback they receive at tastings and trying to get into locally-owned mom-and-pop restaurants and bars where tightly knit communities congregate to support small businesses and strengthen those ties.
Furthering their commitment to community, they’ve established scholarships to benefit children opting for the performing arts, something they feel strongly about having witnessed the positive impact of theater in their daughter’s life.
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“We don’t take it lightly that we are two people who probably shouldn’t be as lucky as we are in doing this and being successful,” shares Teya. “We are not special, we didn’t get sprinkled with some magical dust. We want to educate other people and let them know they can do this too. We sell alcohol, but it benefits more than just the people who drink 500 vodka.”