Meet Your Merchant: Tahoe Blue Vodka owner seeks to preserve Lake Tahoe one bottle at a time
When Matt Levitt made it to Lake Tahoe near the end of a road trip in 2001 he was left with $60 in his pocket and decided to stay for a few more months.
“I just fell in love with the clean air and clear water and outdoor lifestyle,” he said.
A decade later the same clear, blue water that urged him to make Tahoe his permanent home inspired the creation of his award winning Tahoe Blue Vodka. When he was sitting lakeside enjoying a vodka cocktail in 2011, he said a light bulb came on.
“I’m looking at the bottle, looking at the lake, looking at the bottle, looking at the lake,” he said. “And I’m thinking isn’t there an easy to draw parity between the clear, pure waters of Lake Tahoe and clear, pure, smooth premium vodka.”
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He set out to make a product that not only reminds consumers of the clear blue waters of the lake but also the outdoor lifestyle that Tahoe provides. After doing some research he determined that it had not been done and there were relatively low barriers to entry in the industry.
“The idea stuck and became an obsession,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could do it.”
‘ONE MAN BAND’ NO MORE
While Levitt found a distillery to make a test batch for him, none of the distributors in the industry had much interest in selling the vodka. Instead of calling it quits, he obtained his own distributors license and began selling the vodka out of the trunk of his car in 2012 delivering bottles to local bars and restaurants.
“It was a one man band,” he said. “And it took off from there.”
Now he employs 20 people with two warehouses, one in Tahoe and one in Sacramento, distributing bottles across Northern California and Northern Nevada.
The brand is now one of the fastest growing vodkas in California and recently received top honors in the 2019 SUNSET International Spirit Competition.
“It’s an actual functioning business now,” he said.
According to Levitt, less than 2% of spirits brands succeed in distributing 15,000 cases in annual volume. Last year Tahoe Blue Vodka distributed 30,000 cases.
“It’s an enormously challenging industry to gain any real foothold in,” he said. “If I knew then what I know now I may have not started the business.”
However he said the experience has given him a whole new appreciation for business owners who start from the ground up.
“The moral of the story is that we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss our product ideas,” he said.
GIVING BACK TO COMMUNITY
From its inception, Levitt said, the company has been giving back to the Tahoe community “building philanthropy into the company’s roots.”
To date Tahoe Blue Vodka has donated over $100,000 to Tahoe-based charities including the Tahoe Fund and the League to Save Lake Tahoe, he said. In the past, money has also gone to small restoration projects such as beach cleanups.
“It’s extremely fulfilling eight years later to be donating to projects that can actually make a difference,” he said.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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