Your Mom’s Island Original: Hilton Head’s Bloody Mary Mix is “Juhhst” Right
Author: Craig Hysell | Photographer: Kelly Stroud
A proper Bloody Mary can be a bit temperamental. The reason is simple enough: Those of us who enjoy them can be slightly particular as to what constitutes a good one. Some are too spicy, some are too bland, and some are juhhhst right. Of course, even if the reason is a simple one, it doesn’t mean the solution will be. When Justin Johnston set out to create Hilton Head Island’s own Bloody Mary mix, most people, including his father, thought that it wouldn’t work. It was too complicated. Everybody thought it would fail. Everybody, that is, but Justin.
A successful entrepreneur must be proficient in a multitude of areas, one of them being spotting an opportunity, another, turning negatives into positives. In February, 2007, when Johnston (known to the rest of the world as “JJ”) noticed the room for what could amount to, a Bloody Mary monopoly, he took a shot. Even if the hurdle seemed a tad bit high.
“To be completely honest, I don’t even really like Bloody Mary’s,” said JJ. His eyes brighten. The Indiana-born islander adjusts his glasses slightly with a fluid flick of his hand and grins a bit devilishly. How exactly does one create a successful beverage mixer that one doesn’t really drink? What some might consider a major point of contention in the creation of a Bloody Mary mix, has actually become a cornerstone of the recipe’s success.
Opinions are usually based on emotions. We then validate our emotions with facts, spin or conjecture. Without an opinion of his own—without being emotionally tied to any one subjective recipe—JJ was able to find the mix that worked best objectively. He tested his multitude of recipes profusely. Over and over and over again. And over again. “This isn’t my recipe, this is my base recipe tried out on hundreds of people from Hilton Head, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York,” said Johnston. “It was created on one-hundred percent feedback.”
JJ would throw Bloody Mary parties at his home when he could find the time—more of a “hey, let’s try this” experience, he said—but most of the market research was conducted at Casey’s Bar and Grill on Hilton Head Island, where JJ works as a bartender. When he wasn’t whipping up Bloody Mary recipes, ironing out distribution logistics, working on label designs, bottling, or FDA approval, he was working at Casey’s full-time. Admittedly, he had very little social life. “I got by on Red Bull and Grand Marnier,” says JJ. (As any true food and beverage worker on Hilton Head Island does…) Again, finding opportunity where others may not have seen one, JJ went through approximately 200 different recipes on his customers while he was tending bar in order to find “The One.” However, once he was able to create an agreeable mix, there was yet another bump in the road; he had to make it affordable. “I had some recipes that were just awesome, but they weren’t cost efficient,” he said.
It took 15 months of continuous perseverance until JJ got the first bottle of Your Mom’s Island Original Bloody Mary Mix in his hands. Now all he had to do was sell it. And for the opportunist, that’s the easy part. “I had been telling people for over a year about what was coming,” said JJ. “So they were just waiting and waiting. By the time it came out they were like, ‘Great, we’ll take it.’” But that still didn’t satisfy JJ, and what successful entrepreneur is ever satisfied? “I don’t want someone to buy this because it’s local; I want somebody to buy this because it’s better.”
JJ often puts his recipe up in a blind taste test with leading brands of Bloody Mary mix as part of his pitch in recruiting new customers and outlets for his product. He usually beats the competition by 3 to 1. As a result, Your Mom’s Island Original Bloody Mary Mix is in a couple of dozen restaurants in just under half a year, and local liquor stores, including Rollers and Breland’s, have been some of his biggest supporters. He’s also shipping his product across the country to places in California and New York. “Taste it. I’d classify it as a little spicy. If you don’t like it after you try it, that’s fine. I won’t take it personally,” he said with a smile. “But, at the very least, if you like Bloody Mary’s, try it.”
You can visit JJ personally at Casey’s Bar and Grill, located off of New Orleans Road, and give Your Mom’s Island Original a try. Or, visit his website at yourmomskitchen.com for more information, including restaurants that carry Your Mom’s Island Original, food recipes to make with his mix as well as purchasing information.
“Most people in my family are entrepreneurs,” said JJ, “I’m the slacker. I’m starting late. And I’ve got a bunch of ideas.” Better late than never. Is there any secret to his success? “Yes,” said JJ, “Believe in yourself, even when nobody else will.” If only JJ could bottle that…
Everybody that doubted Justin, including his father, has apologized. Most of them did it over a juhhhst right Bloody Mary.