Q+A: Craig Kanarick, CEO of Mouth
If you’re looking to sample tasty local treats from around the U.S., look no further than Mouth Indie Spirits + Wine Gallery, a wonderful shop tucked into 192 Water Street. Their brick & mortar location, along with their online retail shop, offers some of the best alcohol and small-batch treats available. But most importantly, Mouth prides itself on being a gallery and an indie food destination. We sat down with Craig Kanarick, the CEO, to learn more about how Mouth landed in DUMBO.
How did Mouth get started?
In 2012, I started to notice a few big changes in the world – first, people were paying a lot more attention to food and drink than ever before. Destinations like Smorgasburg had just launched and you could tell that people were treating food like a hobby, spending as much time and energy on it as they were on music or movies. And the most exciting part of that world was the independent producer movement in food. Combine that with the rise of e-commerce, and the idea for Mouth was born.
After a few months of research and lots of conversations, I, along with my partners, Sam Murray and Nancy Kruger Cohen, launched New York Mouth, the first online store dedicated to specialty foods from New York. We tested that concept for about a year and then relaunched as Mouth.com in May, 2013.
We always knew we wanted to expand in to spirits and wine, as there is the same high level of craft in these products as there is in the indie food world. So in May 2015, we opened the Mouth Wine + Spirits Gallery at 192 Water Street.
Not only did it help us expand our site to include alcohol, but more importantly, it helped us solidify our relationship with DUMBO by having a physical street presence.
Indie food is mentioned multiple times on your site. Can you tell me what indie food is?
It basically means that the products are made by independent producers. Similar to indie music or indie film, these products have a high level of craft. As we like to say – products made by people, not companies. There are a lot of labels out there: artisanal, craft, small-batch, local, but none of those really capture the spirit of an indie producer, putting their talent and love and dedication into a small set of products.
When it comes to spirits and wine, it means that our products are made by independent producers. Many of our wines are made by the owners of the wineries on the label. Many are all natural. Most of our whiskeys are distilled by the company on the label, not sourced from the one or two big American producers in the Midwest.
How do you choose your products?
All of our products have to pass two simple tests. First, are they made by independent producers and does their taste blow us away. The next test is that the products need to made with a high level of craft that’s reflected in the product itself.
After that, many other factors come into play. As I mentioned, we try to carry whiskeys that are distilled by the company on the label. We try to choose natural wines. We favor organic or local ingredients.
We are always scouring the country to discover new brands, so much of our selection is unique or hard-to-find.
The thing that all of these products have in common is they they have a story to tell – a story about who made them, why they were made, how they were made and so on. Telling these stories is now an important part of the indie food and drink culture – not just from us to our customers. When the bottles are being poured and enjoyed, these stories from our passionate makers and their process are also being shared.
Name two of your most memorable products.
It always difficult to choose favorites as we have so many great products and the selection is changing all the time. Of the things that consistently sells well and we find ourselves drinking all the time? The Double Cask Rye from Hillrock Estate in Ancram, New York. The makers are incredibly thoughtful and did a ton of testing before they released this gorgeous bottle that’s smooth, robust and luscious.
Another favorite is Solveig Gin from Far North Spirits, the northernmost distillery in the US, just 25 minutes from the Canadian border in northern Minnesota. In full disclosure, I grew up in Minneapolis, so I’m biased towards things from the Midwest. But the gin tastes great. The citrus, herb and spice notes are super clean because the process they use is very precise. They, unlike most gin makers, distill each of the botanicals separately. It’s a very original product that is made in America but the taste really takes you to Scandinavia. And, again, that bottle is stunning.
The packaging of the products and the setup of the store is very pleasing to look at. How did you decide on the store layout?
Nancy Kruger Cohen, our Chief Creative Officer, designed the store to showcase beautiful bottles as if they were pieces of art in an art gallery. We launched the store with a gallery aesthetic – clean, streamlined and honoring artistry of the makers by treating the bottles accordingly. Since launching, we’ve expanded the selection and the shelves are a lot more full, but we still try to keep the shopping experience similar to our site: easy and joyful.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you made it to the Brooklyn waterfront. Why DUMBO?
When we first started the company, we were looking for a place in Brooklyn that would reflect the character of our company – a mix of food and technology. One of the first food events we attended was down on the waterfront in DUMBO. We came and looked at some space in GreenDesk and loved it so much, we rented an office on the spot and never looked back.
What are some of your favorite spots in DUMBO?
I guess I’d have to start with any of the cobblestone streets – there are so few left in New York and, while they aren’t the best for cars, they sure do make us feel good. When it’s nice out, lunch at Brooklyn Bridge Park or under the Arch can’t be beat. There is a ton of great retail here in DUMBO, including Powerhouse Books, a place that I used to made dedicated trips do before I worked here.
Modern Anthology, one of our close neighbors is another favorite. They curate their products a lot like we curate ours – everything there is well made, great to look at, and great to own.