2 years ago, when researching my book, I met Kate Gregory who founded a gin distillery with her good friend Helen Muncie - with limited funds alongside their full-time corporate careers. Read the original article.
I caught up with them both to see how life has changed and was thrilled when Kate made me the best gin of my life (recipe to follow).
When I first met Kate, the Gin Kitchen had moved from their kitchen into their first premises - a shed behind a pub in their local town, Dorking Surrey.
Two years later, I drove into a little enclave of black barns on the outskirts of Dorking and creaked open a huge door into their fully-fledged distillery on the day that the new still was producing its first batch. There was also a beautiful barn with a comfy office and their own bar (above), storage facilities and a shop.
It was clear that things had moved on in the Gin Kitchen world but exactly what has happened over the last few years.
The personal and business highlights:
All of their gins won Silver Medals in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (and were placed higher than our closest competitor!);
Being invited to a trade fair in Singapore and ultimately now exporting there;
Being listed as the Spirit of the Month in Fortnum & Masons...twice in their first year;
Building their own bar - “a destination for gin-lovers”;
Bigger premises where they could do tours, hold events, create personalised gins and… “have we said have our own bar?”
Buying a much bigger still (see photos of the new giant still and the two original copper stills);
Employing our own mixologist who is professionally qualified to make high quality cocktails.
Being able to afford to bring in people with other skills to allow them to run the business more like CEOs rather than having a hand in everything.
Transforming from hobbists into professional gin makers.
Observations on the growth journey from a gin-making, side-business to running a substantial gin distillery.
As always, I was interested in how this obvious growth had impacted Kate and Helens’ views on the world of work and what they’d learned on their new career journey. Here’s what they told me.
Defining success from the start
“We always had an idea of what good looks like to us, right from the very beginning.” says Helen as Kate instinctively opens up a document on her phone to read me some of their original goals.
“When we were in the experimental stages of setting up the business, we just wanted to make one bottle of gin that we liked.
We then hoped for 100+ likes on social media and a brand launch in a local bar. Later we envisaged orders from a few local bars and to be featured in a magazine.
Our longer-term dreams involved winning medals, being listed in more venues and making our competitors worry!”
Choosing the right people
(Kate) “Making good decisions on the people we choose to employ has been key to creating the business we always wanted to create.”
Not only in terms of bringing in specialists to allow them to focus on running and growing the business but also in creating opportunities. Kate and Helen employed someone to help them with the events side of the business. This person has had such an impact that events have grown to almost a third of their overall revenue. Their tours are full and they’ve sold out their Create your own gin in a day courses for the next year.
With growth comes risk
(Kate) “In the beginning we could take risks because the risks amounted to a few hundred pounds. Now our size means there are so many more opportunities but the risks amount in multiple thousands.”
Corporates and family
(Kate) “It's very hard to balance a high-level corporate career with children, especially when you're a single parent with no access to childcare. You can't get to meetings or travel easily when you have to be back in time for the school run. Our lives are very integrated now.”
Helen laughed and suggested that one of her older children might be coming to them for employment soon!
Both Helen and Kate’s careers were in the field of innovation so they both love that they can experiment constantly and are often surprised by the results.
(Helen) “Some of the investments that we thought would lead directly to ROI didn’t and others where we had low expectations, blew us away! So, we continue to experiment all the time which is really satisfying.”
Who gets paid first?
(Kate) “When we were small, we only had to pay (or not pay) ourselves. Now, we’re very clear on who gets paid first - the staff, taxes, our suppliers and then finally - us. While we are bigger and more successful, our costs are bigger and we need to keep growing to keep getting paid.”
Staying connected to the local community
Kate suggested that the local community has been instrumental in their growth journey.
“We launched in a local bar, used local artists to design the artwork on our bottles, rented the outhouse of a local pub, tested our gins on local people.”
“We were outgrowing our previous premises when someone mentioned in passing that a local farmer had a few outbuildings that might be good for us.” That passing comment has enabled the Gin Kitchen to grow their brand, their revenue, their offering and the farmer’s revenue.
(Helen) “Our identities and self-esteem are very tied up in our work and that feels really satisfying. We both feel that we have taken more control over our destiny.”
Recipe for the best Gin & Tonic ever
Here’s that recipe I promised for the best gin I’ve ever tasted. Helen and I are drinking it in this photo - I put it down for a second to take the photo.
slapped (or finger-crushed) sage
a slice of red pepper
a twist of lime zest.
Heaven in a glass!
Lots more stories to inspire your career change
Kate’s story of moving from Defence & aerospace expert, to full-time gin maker is the first story in my book X Change - How to torch your work treadmill. Read it to uncover the patterns behind happier career change and get 20 different stories of individuals who designed more satisfying work, their way, get your copy here.