Here’s a problem that may sound familiar to many who experienced hardships at the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
You’ve lost your job because of the pandemic, so money is tight and you’re stressed. You’d love nothing more than to grab some of your best friends and go out for a commiseration and relaxation session with some fancy cocktails made by a skilled hand. But you can’t do that because all the restaurants and lounges are closed.
So … now what? Do you skip it altogether, or do you dare attempt to make the fancy drinks at home?
This story no doubt sounds familiar to many, and it is in fact basically the origin story for an emerging business started by two local moms, Monique Zizzy of North Vancouver and Karen Hope of Squamish.
It was Hope who tried to recreate a high-end cocktail concoction in her backyard.
“We went out and bought all the fancy ingredients, and my husband tried to make something and it just, it tasted pretty awful,” she said with a laugh. “It was kind of upsetting … buying all those extra bitters and additional ingredients and all that sort of stuff, it still just sits in my cupboard to this day.”
Hope shared her disheartening drink story with her old college friend Zizzy, and an idea was born. Both women had, in fact, suddenly found themselves out of work at the start of the pandemic. Hope worked for a luxury tour operator based out of Whistler – “obviously with COVID, that came to a screeching halt,” she said – and Zizzy was just getting back into her role as a holistic nutritionist after spending several years at home with young children when COVID hit, keeping her from fully returning to the workforce.
“We both kind of ended up being the instant stay-at-home moms slash school teachers slash everything,” said Hope.
The plan? With both of them out of a job, maybe they could start a business that would fill in that fancy drink gap? Zizzy did have a lot of experience working with organic ingredients and creating healthy tinctures and hydrators, so a plan was hatched to create handcrafted drink infusion kits that would include ingredients such as dried fruits, herbs, flowers and organic cane sugar that could be infused into store-bought spirits, elevating a basic bottle of vodka or gin to an easy-to-make and flavour-packed cocktail.
Zizzy set to work tinkering with some of her old recipes to produce infusion kits that could be packaged and sold to the public.
“At one point I had 50 to 100 jars on the counter, coming up with the recipes,” she said. “And we’ve got the kids at home and it’s summer – that was a fun challenge.”
Hope helped create cool names and branding for the drink kits and they both worked tirelessly to get the business going. It was a massive career pivot at a time of great uncertainty.
“We both wanted to do something, but it’s a little bit terrifying to start up something in a pandemic,” said Hope. “Take that leap of faith while at the same time trying to manage a household and all that sort of fun stuff during COVID.”
They both also had their hands full with the kids at home basically full time at the start of the pandemic and into the summer, with Zizzy raising two girls under the age of eight and Hope with two boys under 10.
But by December they had finished their tinkering and branding and were ready to launch a line of infusion kits under the name Fuse & Sip. Their offerings included, among many others, the Moira Rose Sangria, an infusion to be paired with a bottle of rose; the Forager, a blueberry, raspberry, elderflower and nettle mix to be paired with the spirit of your choice; and Some Like it Hot, described by its creators as “if a Moscow Mule and a Dark and Stormy had a baby.” The pair also created electrolyte infusions meant as non-alcoholic pick-me-ups.
Sales started online on the company’s website and then expanded to now include retail sales in more than 70 locations across Canada, including several across the North Shore.
“I think we're pleasantly surprised and very happy about it,” said Hope about the sales results so far. “We definitely did not expect wholesale to surge as much as it has, which is fabulous.”
The pandemic may finally be waning in British Columbia, but there’s no going back to the old life for these two. They are both fully committed to growing their infusion empire as a full-time job. This is their new normal.
“We’re putting everything into it,” said Zizzy. “We’re giving it our all.”