Elixir G founder Bill Tocantins has traveled the world in search of ingredients to craft the perfect ‘liquid ginger.’ Since stumbling onto the idea for fresh ginger syrup nearly 10 years ago, Tocantins has become a thriving entrepreneur, expanding Elixir G’s outreach to save restaurants millions in ingredient costs and give consumers the opportunity to make their very own ginger beer at home.
Tocantins took the time to discuss Elixir G’s development, as well as the peaks and valleys that come with launching a new product in the F&B world.
How did you come up with the idea for Elixir G?
“Some people I knew had an Indian restaurant and moved to a location with a liquor license. When I took over the bar program, they had this ginger [syrup] and I decided to make a margarita out of it. It was a big success. I had people getting up out of their seats to ask me ‘how did you make this?’”
“I knew that people were flocking to this stuff. I asked [the restaurant owners] if they wanted to bottle it, and they said no. They responded that ‘we’re in the restaurant business, and that’s not what we do.’ I saw the opportunity and decided to pursue it.”
What went into the product development process?
“There was an enormous amount of trial and error. I explored gingers from across the world. After some time I found that far and away the best ginger source is Hawaii…It’s amazing, I looked at nine competitors and only three of them are using fresh ginger.”
“Originally, Elixir G was called Gingerita. I took on a partner who had a marketing background. We went to three designers and gave them the description of what we were doing. After 15 – 20 different ideas, one designer eventually came up with Elixir G and that’s what stuck.”
“We started our first version of Elixir G in 2007. My partner was on board until 2011. Since then I’ve been CEO as well as a Chief Bottle Washing Officer [laughs].”
Who drinks Elixir G?
“Women, age 21 – 39. Women are the change-makers. Men will find what they want to drink and stick with it for 20 years. Women are always looking to try something new and see what’s out there. Women have always responded positively to our product...based on the length of time they spend with us, either on the phone when they’re ordering or at one of our booths during a fundraiser or expo."
How are you building Elixir G's customer base, and what have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
"Our first target is to go to the restaurants rather the retail stores. It’s one step easier. When we educate the restaurant, they can use it right away. The stores are tougher. First you have to convince the store to buy, then you have to convince the public how to use it.”
"Our biggest success recently has been Longhorn Steakhouse. We started in Yard House, where they used it for their Moscow Mule and saw so much success that they expanded to three cocktails. Then [Yard House] got bought by Darden Restaurants. Once we were in Darden’s system, we jumped to Longhorn’s 450 restaurants. They started cooking with it, making a ginger-flavored steak. They’ve had so much success with it in their drink program that they’re also offering three variations of Moscow Mules."
"We started to look into Amazon to retail directly to consumers. With a new product it’s very expensive to get off the ground. With some retailers, they will require a free case for every store to offset the risk for their selling the product. We’re looking to target those regional stores who will make room for the smaller labels like ours."
"The hardest piece of the puzzle is the distributor. Distributors usually won’t take a new product until it has a demand of more than 200 cases a month. That said, since we're a nonalcoholic product we’re lucky that we have two choices: liquor and food distributors."
What are the next steps for Elixir G?
"We're pursuing restaurant chains right now as hard as we can. For a restaurant chain that has 1,000 locations, we can save them $1.2 million a year. Eventually…we’ll target various areas for retail and come out with a plan to saturate the media and inform the public. We're also open to a liquor brand partnership several years.
Pikoh, pronounced in the same manner as the Pico Blvd. on which it resides, transports patrons into a whole new type of ambiance. A living divider of hanging plants separate the bar from the main dining room, with another arboretum of sorts just past the entryway. Servers and bartenders hustle frantically across the otherwise minimalist interior and cute front patio, beautifully crafted dishes and cocktails in hand.
Pikoh’s small plates are ‘inspired by the melting pot that is Los Angeles’ and absolutely embody the ‘sharing’ trend that’s ravaged the contemporary dining scene—namely in dishes offering but a few bites per person. Chef Partner Ricardo Zarate, known as a ‘godfather of Peruvian Cuisine,’ has expanded his culinary range at Pikoh to include a myriad of dishes that reflect more Italian, Asian and Mediterranean influence than anything else. This is aptly demonstrated in his vegetable risotto, a decadent, creamy indulgence covered in a snowfall of delicately shaved Parmesan.
Zarate’s salmon miso shines with a gochujang miso that gives this perfectly-cooked fish an addictive, oh-so-buttery finish, and ventures a step further into Peruvian territory with the addition of red and white quinoa alongside. But Zarate’s roots truly shine in his lomo saltado, a Peruvian staple, with tender hanger steak that soaks up a slightly sweet but boldly earthy spice profile, with rich onions, tomatoes, fries and seasoned rice.
Pikoh’s cocktail program is equally exotic and worldly, with entire sections devoted to reinventing gin and tonics, old fashioned’s, spritzers and rum punches respectively. Then there’s the core cocktails, such as the buck bunny, which combines gin, carrot juice, lemon, honey and ginger into something strangely enticing and curiously smooth.
Dessert keeps with Pikoh’s melting pot theme with specialties such as panna cotta and tres leches cake sporting equally precise execution and subtle novelty in their own right. But it’s the pavlova, a rarely attempted Russian meringue, finished in this case with stone fruit compote and avocado mousse, that takes the cake for the finish.
Pikoh is located at 11940 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. Open 7a – 10p Mon – Fri, 10a – 10p Sat, 10a – 3p Sun. Dinner service 5 – 10p Mon – Sat. Avg. out-the-door price for 3 plates and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$95/person. For more information, visit PikohLA.com.
Art Beyond the Glass saw another successful year, bringing together a lively community of LA’s bar and beverage professionals in electric and ever-so-festive fashion. The annual event, which is dedicated to celebrating the artistic side of bartenders’ lives—literally—showcases painting, music, and all types of performance for a like-minded and rowdy crowd. Throw in endless craft cocktails and vendor experiences that stretch the realm of creativity and you’ve got about as ironically sophisticated take on a college party as you can get.
Held in the Los Globos Theater, Art Beyond the Glass welcomed an array of classic and up-and-coming drink purveyors that came ready to cater to their seasoned audience. Hendricks Dry Gin commemorated the event’s timing with a ‘midsummer solstice’ that included a number of summery drinks combined with a fully-costumed [read: scantily-clothed] Puck, emblematic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ilegal Mezcal was back with hand-injected Jell-O shots (yes, they had syringes on hand). Adjacent to them, Tromba Tequila offered up a sinfully sweet alcoholic melon sorbet topped with vanilla tapioca.
While Art Beyond the Glass is not necessarily known for food, Marker’s Mark made the day by dressing up their booth as a makeshift In-n-Out and—you guessed it—ordering dozens of In-n-Out burgers for the crowd. Patrons chomped and drank away whilst playing Duck Hunt at the Super Mario Bros setup hosted by Suntory.
Ford’s Gin went the extra mile by serving their drinks in gigantic ice blocks. Jägermeister promoted its new Jägermeister Manifest, but only for those who deemed themselves worthy by completing a medieval maze in 2 minutes or less to obtain the key necessary to unlock the libation from its display case. Jack Daniels, which hosted “Lynchburg Crossfit,” served up a drink that supposedly required handstand pushups and burpees to order, but—unsurprisingly—most were able to try it by just asking nicely.
On the artistic side, Art Beyond the Glass featured a number of live art creations, a silent auction, and musical performances. Event proceeds benefited Beautify Earth, an LA-based nonprofit dedicated to beautifying communities through public art. Be on the lookout for next year’s Art Beyond the Glass, taking place June 2020. For more information, visit ArtBeyondTheGlass.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.