Perfect for socializing sans imbibing, her new drink is crafted with gentian, lemon balm, fig, and elderflower.

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portrait of ghia founder melanie masarin
Credit: Courtesy of Ghia / Carolina Arantes

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If you think back to your childhood, what memories would come to mind? Picturesque sunrises, clear turquoise waters, lemon trees at arm's length, and homemade limoncellos are what Melanie Masarin thinks of. Her childhood spent in the South of France near the Mediterranean inspired her in the founding of Ghia, a non-alcoholic aperitif. "Both my mother and my grandmother were great hostesses," she recalls, "and I've always been inspired by the summers we spent together when I was growing up in the South of France entertaining friends, cooking together, and having conversations that lasted until dawn—all fueled by my grandmother's homemade limoncello."

In fact, Masarin often revisits their influence in her business decisions creating Ghia. "They taught me that gathering and creating connection isn't about having the fanciest table setting or serving luxury ingredients—you can create an amazing meal with just flour and water, pour your guests a spritz, and have a fantastic evening," she says. "I learned if you have real ingredients you can make something delicious, and that's exactly what we did with Ghia." Here, we spoke to Masarin about her new beverage, and what it means for sober curious and classic imbibers alike.

ghia non-alcoholic cocktail bottle
Credit: Nacho Alegre / Courtesy of Ghia

Over the Influence

As a non-alcoholic beverage, the concept of Ghia was designed to change the way we think about socializing as well as drinking. "We wanted our product to be delicious and adaptable so everyone could enjoy it," explains Masarin, "to make the occasion of enjoying a drink more about the social connection rather than intoxication." And it would seem the timing is just right: Although "Dry January" comes but once a year, social media mentions for the monthly commitment increased 1,083 percent between 2015 and 2019. Add to that recent statistics saying a third of the country doesn't drink and another third of consumers enjoy less than one drink a week and you can see why a non-alcoholic beverage could easily become so buzzy.

Her Inspiration

Thanks to a growing market of liquor-less spirits, making the switch doesn't have to mean giving up social "drinking" or full flavors. Masarin shares that Ghia is made with real juices and pure extracts, while using no proprietary distillation processes. "Ours has a bitter taste and the complexity of an alcoholic drink, without the overly sweet and sugary flavor of usual 'mocktails,'" she explains. "I love bitters and setting out to get the right flavor while also being health-conscious was both fun and challenging."

For Masarin, the marketing of her product was just as important as the taste; this is why she worked with Willo Perron and Brian Roettinger of Perron Roettinger design studio. "I tracked him down to help me create a visual identity that was both elevated and approachable, honoring the past, relevant to today," she explains. "The labels and packaging take cues from classic hospitality signage, which we then stacked on top of each other into a single totem pole inspired by postmodern Italian design."

Building the Business

Masarin tells other aspiring entrepreneurs to find their champions when starting out. "I found words of encouragement from my friends and people that I trusted. Early on and without knowing, I was able to build buy-in, and those people who were key to encouraging me to launch Ghia ended up becoming my investors." And as many businesses struggled during the pandemic of this past year, it was all learning opportunities for the team at Ghia. "We had to overcome what seemed like endless hurdles with sourcing, production, packaging, design, and photography," adds Masarin. "As a result, we had to push our launch several months and with that had to pause on any fundraising we had planned. Overhead was cut across the board to extend our runway, which actually made our small team more resourceful and each person more dynamic."

Now, after a year of sheltering in place, longing to travel, and yearning to sip as well as socialize amongst others, now possibly is the best time for Ghia to serve something fresh with a certain je ne sais quoi. "More than ever," says Masarin, "our mission to help people make stronger connections and take better care of themselves holds true."

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