Pittsfield Couple Turn Old-Fashioned Cure-all Into Modern Business
Amy Huebner's brother, Brian Huebner, designed the label for the fiery product.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dana St. Pierre likes to mix up concoctions.
When a small-town doctor suggested that he mix a potion of raw apple cider vinegar to cure bronchitis, he didn't know that nearly 15 years later it would be the start of a business. Nor did his wife, Amy Huebner, think it would actually sell.
But now a team of three are selling somewhere between 20 and 35 cases a week of the old-fashioned New England cure-all, Fire Cider, in more than 100 stores throughout the Northeast.
"It really helped him out and since then he has been tinkering with the recipe to make it more palatable," Huebner said of her husband. "We started making it for ourselves to stay healthy in the winter."
St. Pierre mixed the drink in mason jars for the couple's personal use and, in 2010, they took an array of items, including a batch of the Fire Cider, to sell at the Handmade Holiday Festival.
They were expecting handmade scented eye pillows to be the hit item but instead found themselves running around to get more sampling cups. They sold out of the cider.
"We figured we needed the extra money. We didn't think that it would sell more than anything else," St. Pierre said on Thursday. "We spent all of our money getting ready for it and we sold out. People were calling us the next day and we weren't ready for that."
That was when they decided to start the business, with Huebner's family as the initial investor.
"We got our family to invest a little bit of money so we didn't need to take a bank loan, which is really good," Huebner said.
St. Pierre, Huebner and her brother, Brian Huebner, became team Fire Cider in 2011, receiving their wholesale license in August of that year and renting an FDA-approved kitchen in Greenfield.
"Our first batch was three gallons of vinegar and that was a lot because I spent $50 on vinegar. If this didn't catch on, I would have had a lot of vinegar around the house," St. Pierre said, adding that now they use about 330 gallons per week.
Brian Huebner went from being asked to create the label to working full time making, selling and marketing the product.
"I started calling stores in the area and it just kind of snowballed from there," Brian Huebner said. But selling a raw vinegar concoction isn't an easy task so reeling in customers centers on getting them to try the drink. "The hardest part is getting people to try it. ... It pretty much sells itself."
The secret recipe includes a "synergistic blend of health enhancing, immune boosting, organic roots and fruits," according to the website, which includes recipes for its use in sauces, drinks, salad dressing and baked beans.
Fairs and festivals have become a big part of the company's growth. The group spends many weekends at events throughout New England and New York selling and providing samples at fairs. Recently, they spent two long days at the Big E in West Springfield.
Those efforts have paid off because the word of mouth has helped expand into stores. It can be found at a number of local co-op and health food markets, general stores, Dottie's on North Street, Lickety-Split in North Adams and Juice 'N' Java in Dalton.
"Most of the time people have heard about it or customers have told them about it," Brian Huebner said of the stores that now sell Fire Cider.
The business has begun to take over their Wendell Avenue home, where they do all the packaging and shipping and they hope to soon be able to move their office from their living room to another space.
But as a startup company, they have more work to do in order to turn a century-old cure-all into a modern money.
"Our aim is to get up to 50 cases a week so we can start paying ourselves," Amy Huebner said and later added, "this doesn't feel like selling. It feels like an extension of my health coaching ... We love it."
Tags: beverages, food, health food, startup,