Sweet Success

El Guapo’s renovated warehouse gives the sustainably-minded cocktail bitters, syrups and mixers company room to grow

El Guapo
3300 Gravier St.
elguapobitters.com // @elguapobitters


Since 2017, El Guapo bitters has been crafting zero-proof, no-sugar added vegan bitters, syrups and drink mixers in New Orleans.
The operation started at 3950 Tchoupitoulas St., but had to move the shipping and logistics departments following Hurricane Ida in 2021. “We started renovations in the brewing and bottling area of the building in early 2022 and completed the project in the fall,” says El Guapo CEO Christa Cotton. “We’ve been fully operational, brewing and bottling all of our products in the new facility since September of 2022.” The new facility is housed in a 32,527-square-foot, circa-1800s brick warehouse at 3300 Gravier St.

The company prides itself on quality ingredients and sustainable practices, and Cotton has racked up a slew of accolades, including being the 2020 recipient of the Les Dames d’Escoffier Legacy Award for Fine Spirits and a 2021 James Beard Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Fellow; received the Mexico Fine Spirits Award from Jose Cuervo in Mexico; and is supported by The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. Recently we caught up with the very busy CEO to talk about the renovation and what’s next for this ever-growing brand.

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What were your goals for the design? 
Christa Cotton: The brand is expanding rapidly. After bootstrapping for five years and sticking it out in two previous locations, both packed to the gills and barely large enough for the growing team and endlessly increasing inventory parts needed to keep up with orders, we were tired of sticking Band-Aids on our problems and were ready to build our manufacturing, shipping and logistical operations at scale. When we started rotating the team members at shared desks in shifts because we were truly out of space, I knew it was time to make a change. At the beginning of the search process in late 2020, this is the very first location we looked at and frankly, I didn’t think we could afford it. After touring dozens of hot, dusty and poorly kempt alternatives, we gave this more serious consideration. The building’s history, the clear span warehouse with exposed wood trusses, exposed brick office spaces, soaring high ceilings, large picture windows, beautiful architectural details and large gated off-street parking eventually sold us on the location.

What was the biggest design challenge? 
We are the first food operation at this facility, so significant plumbing and electrical work was required to retrofit the space. Our architect, Angela Morton, our contractor, Sidney Artigues Jr. and our lead engineer, Bruce Bitner, did a wonderful job of renovating the warehouse to suit our needs, and we’re quite happy with the end result.

What is the standout feature of the design and why does it stand out? 
We renovated the warehouse portion of the building for our brewing and bottling operation. Its exposed wooden trusses are quite stunning in person. This warehouse was the barn that housed both the horses and carriages that delivered telegrams across New Orleans from the time it was constructed in the mid-1800s through the mid-20th century and eventually became the fleet barn for AT&T’s internet installation vehicles. We kept as many original elements of the building as possible, as the building itself is beautiful and our team loves coming to work here every day.

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How would you describe El Guapo and its core audience or client? 
Cotton: We serve the upper end of the market. Our core customers are independent James Beard- and Michelin-caliber restaurants, Forbes 5 Diamond and Relais & Châteaux hotels, upscale grocers and retailers like Whole Foods and Neiman Marcus, plus the B2C customers who shop, dine and stay at these establishments. Our customers care about quality of ingredients, and they’re willing to pay a premium for a superior product.

How do you set yourselves apart from others doing similar work? 
We focus on supply chain, sustainability and customer service. The quality of our ingredients, focus on sustainable practices and packaging plus consistent and friendly customer service sets us apart from the competition.

How do you promote a positive work atmosphere for the staff? 
We believe in collaboration, communication and delegation. We practice open book management and meet weekly with teams to discuss goals and track progress. I truly believe we have the best team in the business and I’m proud of our extremely low turnover rate. We’re slow to hire, but when we find someone who is a great fit, they gel with the team and tend to stick around a while.

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What are your biggest challenges? 
Scale. We just won our first nationwide grocery contract, so we’re in the midst of launching three products in every The Fresh Market in the country. The client base is growing, the purchase orders are getting larger and the complexity in operations and logistics is more challenging than ever. Our team is doing such a great job keeping up, but there’s been a significant learning curve and financial commitment as we’ve expanded from local to regional to national and now international presence across various verticals. We’re so excited to partner with The Fresh Market. Look for us nationwide beginning May 10th.

What goals are you looking to meet in the next 12 months? 
So many things … a successful launch in The Fresh Market is first and foremost. We’re interviewing additional liquor distributors across the U.S. We’re refining our pitch and internal processes to better prepare us for multiple, simultaneous partnerships with large retailers. We’re considering some interesting international distribution opportunities. We’re laser focused on becoming the preeminent New Orleans-based cocktail brand on a national and international level. And we’ll of course have some more hiring to do when the time is right.

 

Quick Look

Years in operation
Six in July
Square footage
32,527
Persons in Charge
Christa Cotton, CEO
Number of Employees
13, plus 5 contractors
Architect
Angela Morton, Mathes Brierre

 

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