“Better than a poke in the eye,” “it’ll kick you square in the donkey,” Ass over Teakettle Bloody Mary Mix, a line of small-batch bar mixes founded by University of Maine alumna, Katie Quinn, promises customers.
When Quinn graduated from UMaine in both 2003 and 2004 with degrees in history and new media, respectively, she never expected to start her own business — much less one in the food industry. But the experience she gained at her parents’ restaurant, Lakewood Inn Restaurant at the Lakewood Inn in Madison, Maine, prepared her for an unexpected career move.
“I started bartending when I was 17 and just kind of fell into that. I started making Bloody Marys for customers and then I went to Sugarloaf and they were like, “Oh, my God, you have to bottle this stuff,’” Quinn said. “It was really my customers that pushed me into the manufacturing end, and then just me being crazy and creative.”
Her business didn’t start out of the blue, however. When she had the idea, she was prompted by the owners of Maine-based Twenty 2 Vodka and workers affiliated with UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation to start up shop.
With a little help from the Top Gun Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program, a program through the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development (MCED), a nonprofit that provides business services and incubation space to participants across the state. Quinn was able to take bi-weekly classes that prepared her for the business world.
The Top Gun program puts students and business professionals into contact for mentoring, education and networking purposes. It is a five-month program that helps students learn the basics of entrepreneurship and teaches innovative business ideas.
“It’s a lot about mentorship,” Quinn said. “They open you up into this world of volunteers of business owners who have been where you are.”
Although the program was mostly technology-based and focused on larger businesses, Quinn said the program allowed her to open up to a variety of professionals who helped push her in the right direction, the direction she actually wanted, for her business.
“They make you ask questions that are really difficult, that nobody ever wants to answer. It makes you kind of hone in on that more individual basis,” Quinn said. “Getting that kind of feedback and focus … was kind of the best thing. They were like, ‘We’ll help you grow how you want to grow.’”
And growing, it is. Ass over Teakettle began with its original Bloody Mary mix, advertised as “everything an exceptional Bloody Mary should be,” in 2014. Now at the end of 2015, Quinn’s business offers seven different products and mixes. Within the next year, Quinn, who is now the owner of the Lakewood Inn Restaurant, hopes to build her own facility, although she isn’t rushing the process.
“I want to grow at a nice slow, progressive pace,” she said.
And customers love it. Quinn estimates one account of hers in Kennebunkport, Maine, sold 600 to 700 jars of the mix alone this past summer. Every day, she sees more out-of-state orders for her product, and is anxious about now learning the packaging and shipping process.
Despite having degrees in history and new media, Quinn stresses her education was not taken for granted.
“It’s an investment,” she said. “I still love history and I still read a lot and I’m addicted to it, but I don’t want to sit in front of a desk all day.”
More information about the Top Gun program can be found at http://www.mced.biz/programs-services/top-gun-program/