In a market of worldwide brands that include Tito’s, Belvedere, Grey Goose, and Smirnoff, a distillery on Bagley Street in Southwest Detroit is providing a local vodka option.
Our/Detroit and its all-female leadership team reflects a transition in the types of voices steering conversations about the city.
Our/Detroit is distinctly Detroit. Its arrival in the neighborhood followed myriad other dining establishments across the city, and its all-female leadership team reflects Detroit’s transition in the types of voices steering conversations about the city.Led by business partners Kate Bordine and Catherine Kelly, Our/Detroit is uniquely positioned as an autonomous entity but conceived by parent company Our/Vodka, which is situated beneath the umbrella of French company Pernod Ricard. Rather than act as franchises, Our/Vodka’s six, soon to be ten, locations consider themselves sisters in the same family. Our/Detroit, which launched in August 2014 as the first Our/Vodka distillery in the United States, followed Our/Berlin. Subsequently, Our/London, Our/Seattle, and Our/Amsterdam set up shop. Our/Paris, Our/New York, Our/Houston, and Our/Los Angeles have preparations to launch in the near future.
The concept of Our/Vodka, brainchild of CEO Åsa Caap, calls for entrepreneurship within a corporate structure and provides a local identity with a global reach. “We’re essentially part of a global family of entrepreneurs in the city,” Bordine explains. Pernod Ricard, the company behind brands such as Absolut Vodka, Chivas Regal, and Perrier-Jouët, allows the entrepreneurs in each city to develop their location’s brand and identity and run the business but receive support from the Our/Vodka community throughout the year and at an annual global summit. Our/Detroit and its sister locations also benefit from Pernod Ricard’s hundreds of years of expertise in the industry.
According to Bordine, the autonomy has allowed each location to build a brand around the local culture. In Berlin, she explains, the brand revolves around fashion while Our/Seattle has curated its brand around the music scene. The Detroit is socially bound with an emphasis on partnerships with nonprofits and highlighting local culture and history. “It’s kind of interesting how we all bring our personality into the brand,” she says.
It’s what attracted Bordine, who was serving as the executive director of Ponyride when Our/Vodka tapped her. And in an industry all about “beers, barrels, and boys,” Bordine liked the idea of developing an all-female owned and operated team. Today she works with Kelly, a longtime Detroiter who returned to the city after 10 years in New York City and who connected years prior to Bordine and her husband, Phil Cooley of Slows Bar-B-Q. The two are joined by a female distillery manager and sales manager.
The balance between a unique, local personality and the relationship with the Our/Vodka family is evident in the vodka itself. “There’s an essence that’s a part of all of our vodkas,” Kelly explains. “It’s a special recipe we basically all share with as many locally sourced ingredients as we can.” In Berlin, that means the alcohol is wheat-based with a wine essence; in Detroit, the corn-based ethanol comes from just across the border in Windsor before it is blended and hand bottled on-site.
The result is a cocktail menu entirely based on vodka. Seasonal menus infuse local ingredients, such as Germack teas, for creative, flavorful drinks. “We just want to make one thing and do is really well,” Bordine says. “Vodka’s a really nice spirit. People say it’s a blank canvas.” The tasting room does not offer food but encourages patrons to visit the Huron Room next door and bring food over. It also hosts Social Sushi every Saturday from 5:00-10:00 p.m. as well as different popups on Sundays.
Beyond vodka, Our/Detroit has used its space in the city to build a platform for local nonprofit initiatives and women’s endeavors. This summer, the team plans to launch a newsprint campaign focusing on strong females in Detroit. “We are basically putting together an art-driven newspaper honoring, commemorating, and noting women in Detroit’s cultural and political history,” Kelly explains, citing Sabrina Nelson, Maxine Powell, Patti Smith, and Frida Kahlo as women that have contributed to Detroit’s cultural history. “The piece will honor their contributions and relationships to the city.”
The newspaper will follow a series of other events since Our/Detroit’s inception. From a Badass Ladies happy hour to a private viewing and discussion of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video to an event with Martha Stewart, Our/Detroit has celebrated its identity as a women-driven team. “Detroit has historically been such a guys’ town,” Bordine says. “Women have always fought for certain recognition. When we first started, before we opened, there were misconceptions about who we are. We’re not a craft brewery or distillery. We’re urban and socially driven in a way. People out of Detroit are shocked to know there’s a distillery in downtown Detroit run by all females.”