Atlanta’s new Ponce City Market is a pretty impressive operation. For native Atlantans and visitors alike, the sprawling marketplace in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Company building offers an almost overwhelming selection of things to do and see. Built by the developers of the legendary Chelsea Market in Manhattan, the property boasts shopping, office space and even upscale apartments.
But perhaps the biggest attraction is the Central Food Hall, which houses everything from coffee shops and candy to exotic fare like South African jerky and homemade Moroccan cakes. Nationally renowned chefs and brands have staked claims to properties on-site, and the community is embracing the new businesses. On a busy Saturday morning, locals stream in from the attached BeltLine in search of food and fun.
Tucked away in a corner of the long and winding Food Hall is 18.21 Bitters. Despite its somewhat hidden location, the quaint booth is always buzzing with shoppers browsing through the hundreds of bottles that line the walls, and even sampling the goods at the few barrel tables on the store’s floor. 18.21 Bitters sells cocktail bitters as well as literally anything else a cocktail connoisseur could want. We’re talking tinctures, shrubs, syrups and even pre-made mixes.
The women behind this popular spot are Missy and Kristin Koefod, a wife and wife team with a passion for entertaining. However, the story behind 18.21 Bitters goes deeper than that. Missy has called Atlanta home since 1998. She has a background in bartending, but she was practicing law when she received some devastating news: She had a rare form of cancer.
“I realized life is too short to have a job that’s just a job,” Missy said.
Thankfully, she recovered, and decided not to waste a second of her life doing things she didn’t love. The duo had been making mixtures at home, but when they found themselves cooped up during the 2014 snowstorm, they used the down time as an opportunity to experiment. Eventually, they turned their passion into a full-time pursuit. They started 18.21 Bitters with a wholesale shop online, and its success caught the eye of Ponce City Market’s developers. By September 2015, their store was open for business.
They named the shop 18.21 Bitters after the 18th Amendment, which enacted Prohibition, and the 21st Amendment, which repealed it.
“Prohibition was really the start of mixing cocktails,” Missy said. “We wanted to pay homage to that time period.”
While the store has found plenty of success, cocktails aren’t for everyone. So how does 18.21 Bitters convert non-believers?
“It can be intimidating,” Missy said. “But we want to take the pretension out of craft.”
Missy counts on customer service to sell her products, and the store’s employees encourage sampling the goods.
“We’re happy to explain everything without judgment,” Missy said.
Additionally, there’s another marketing tool the team uses to sell their wares.
“Curiosity brings people in!” Missy says.
The shop prides itself on offering out-of-the-box flavors. One of the signature flavors is the Havana and Hide bitters. The rich liquid contains flavors of leather and cigar leaf, good for pairing with dark spirits. Another favorite is the new Japanese Chili and Lime bitters, which are full of heat, citrus and even a bit of smoke. Missy suggests pairing it with tequila or mescal, or even using it to add a kick to a Bloody Mary or a glass of scotch.
“We want to expand people’s horizons and use combinations you wouldn’t think about,” Missy said.
Missy says local is the key to quality. “As fresh, as local, as organic as possible” is her mantra. They offer seasonal flavors, like a Pumpkin Spice Shrub in October or a Holiday Syrup with flavors of burnt orange peel, cranberry and rosemary. In the summer, they’re looking forward to sourcing local Georgia peaches.
Another part of 18.21 Bitters’ marketing strategy is social media.
“These days, social media has to be a part of your business,” Missy said.
18.21 Bitters uses Instagram to connect with customers, posting pictures of products and cocktails. They also use hashtags to create a community where customers can get ideas for recipes.
“It’s like an in-your-pocket cocktail book,” Missy said.
These tactics appear to be working. The small 9-person company wants to open an additional production facility soon. They are even scouting the neighborhood for a second location, hoping to open a cocktail bar and increase the size of their staff.
Even with their desires for expansion, the company wants to stay in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. The Midtown neighborhood is undergoing a revival of sorts, and Ponce City Market is a testament to the influx of new business in the area. 18.21 Bitters is happy to be a part of the neighborhood’s business community, and values being a part of Ponce City Market.
“I feel like we’re part of Atlanta’s history, and also part of its future,” Missy said.