Simon Ford’s 86 Co ‘almost bankrupt before selling a bottle’

25th November, 2014 by Becky Paskin

It takes a certain kind of courage to commit everything into starting a spirits company marketed solely at bartenders. Becky Paskin meets Simon Ford who, with the unique 86 Co., did just that


Former bartender Simon Ford put everything he had into 86 Co., and now it’s paying off

“When I was 14 I decided to start a rock band with my friends,” explains Simon Ford, who is still something of a wild child to this day. “We talked about the band name, who would be the drummer and the lead guitarist, but of course none of us had picked up instruments before. That was kind of how the 86 Co. started out.”

Arguably all professional bartenders are big kids — creative, passionate and out to have fun; the bar is their playground. But just like anyone starting out in a new business for the first time, it takes a certain amount of drive, courage and perseverance for those bartenders to become entrepreneurs, as Ford found when he launched the 86 Co. in New York in 2012.

Despite going without a salary for six months, enduring sleepless nights on friends’ couches, hitting almost every barrier possible along the way, the group has been welcomed by the industry with open arms. The concept was stumbled upon by Ford and former Absolut US marketing director Malte Barnekow some six years ago in the back room of Employees Only in New York.

Taking inspiration from the venue itself, designed as an after-hours bar for bartenders, the premise of 86 Co. was to create a line of spirits – currently a rum, vodka, Tequila and gin – designed for the on-trade to mix in cocktails.

“I’ve always campaigned that we should listen to bartenders when developing new products, but I thought what if we created a product that’s 100% for bartenders?” Ford says. “We ran a survey and I was hoping the 150 bartenders we asked would give some unique ideas, but the majority of them said they just need more good mixing spirits. So we developed our concept around that.”

Rock ‘n’ roll star

Ford previously worked with Pernod Ricard as US director of trade marketing and brand education, but is most recently remembered for chugging two bottles of Champagne onstage while hosting the Spirited Awards in New Orleans this year, in true rock ’n’ roll style. He developed the idea for 86 Co. with Barnekow along with help from Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmas, founders of Employees Only. The only problem was that all four of them were essentially bartenders and brand ambassadors; none had any financial background. So friend and investor Kris Roth, a sales professional with ADP TotalSource, completed the five founding fathers of the company, bringing with him some much valued sales and business expertise, as well as all-important capital.

“We decided we all needed to get in the game or else we wouldn’t commit, so we all put in whatever we could afford,” Ford says. “They say only three people invest in a company that hasn’t sold anything: founders, friends and family, and fools. The three Fs they call it.”

2 Responses to “Simon Ford’s 86 Co ‘almost bankrupt before selling a bottle’”

  1. Ray says:

    I have to say, the Aylesbury Duck Vodka is a fantastic spirit with a flavor and smoothness rarely found in vodkas sold at twice the price.. It has become my new go-to vodka for martinis and the like. I hope to see the 86 Co. continue to grow and expand to bars and restaurants world wide.

  2. Rick says:

    Hats off to a fantastic product all around, the artwork, the bottle design, etc, but your gin is the shizzle. Love it mixed with other Haus Alpenz products like the Cocchi Rosa or Bonal.

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