Brad Lob never liked tomato juice. Still doesn’t, in fact.
So if one of his Delta Tau Delta brothers pulled him aside back in ’84 and told him that one day he would cocreate the Bloody Mary mix of the future—a tomatillo-based game changer destined to convert even the most strident tomato objectors—he probably would have assumed the fraternity man had enjoyed a few himself.
Yet in March, there was his son, Bryce, standing at the beautiful Stratton Mountain Resort in southern Vermont, his Salty Iguana green Bloody Mary mix in hand, preparing to sign his second major distribution contract. A few months earlier Brad and his partner, Stuart Chandler, secured a momentous deal with Intrawest, a prominent Rocky Mountain resort developer. Today, at Winter Park, a social on the slopes without Lob and Chandler’s prized cocktail mix is like a weekend without fresh powder. Or a Maple Leaf Festival without orange foliage.
“The plan was to first move into the Southwest,” Lob said during a conference call from Salty Iguana’s headquarters in downtown Denver. “But one of our local distributors just fell in love with the product and introduced us to some people in New England. Now, we’re reassessing our immediate distribution plans.”
The habanero-hot product—both in pepper count and demand—raised the issue of company expansion. Fortunately, Lob knew just where to turn; his son, Bryce, a recent entrepreneurship graduate from Kansas State University, joined Salty Iguana to run its sales and marketing.
“It brings us all together,” Lob said. “All of us come from a different background: marketing, entrepreneurship and education. We all had different values and expertise at different levels. For a family company, we have a very balanced working relationship. And we have a lot of fun doing it!”
With plans for nationwide expansion and a 2016 calendar filled with promotional events, it’s humbling for Lob and Chandler to reflect on the days they thought Salty Iguana was merely a tasty pipedream.
“Honestly, I was in the kitchen for two years and Brad finally said we’re either going to move or give it up,” Chandler said. “So we sat down and asked ourselves the tough questions—whether it was a risk worth taking and whether we should do it together. And thankfully, we said, yeah, let’s do it.”
While Stuart Chandler’s passion is education — he currently oversees the third- through sixth-grade social studies program at Jefferson County Schools outside Denver, a district of more than 85,000 students—his second love is cooking. For years, Chandler lamented that he was never able to persuade his partner, Lob, and many of their friends, to support the American lore that is Bloody Mary.
“In my head I just kept thinking ‘there has to be a green Bloody Mary mix that is made with tomatillos,’” Chandler said. “When I looked online, I saw all sorts of recipes, but never found any that were for sale. So I started to fiddle around in the kitchen and refine the product until we were ready to bring it to market.”
Lob said they frequently tested the evolving recipe on visiting friends and family.
“We knew we could do tomatillos as a base, but we also could have kept all the other traditional flavors—the Worcestershire, the horseradish. Then we stepped away from those,” Chandler said. “Being in Colorado, we went in the direction of a southwestern profile—roasted peppers, cilantro, lime juice. It’s interesting, people out here say it’s reminiscent of green chili.”
The ultimate goal, Lob added, was to create a product connected to the Bloody Mary—something that paid homage to the associated social traditions— but also something that could stand on its own. They yearned to create a disruption from the classic cocktail menu.
“My family is all very close,” Chandler said. “One night, we had many of them over for dinner and my cousin, who can’t stand Bloody Marys and is a rather honest man, was hesitant to try it. When he did, a big smile came over his face and he said ‘this stuff is awesome!’ That’s when I knew. Watching their faces—that was a turning point. Immediately after that we had some samples made.”
Today, it’s that same facial expression from thousands of green Bloody Mary enthusiasts that drives Lob to grow Salty Iguana.
“Long term, we’re looking to expand the company into other products and cocktail mixes,” he said. “I always joke with Stuart that it’s time to get back in the kitchen and move this thing forward. We’re already hearing from distributors asking us for more products.”
Although the company is focused on growth, it has not lost sight of its corporate social responsibility.
“Of course we’re excited about our rapid growth, but we’re also very cautious not to let money be the ultimate driver,” Chandler said. “We would like to better our communities, our schools, and find organizations that we want to support.”