You might know W&P Design for their Mason Shaker, or perhaps for their ubiquitous Carry On Cocktail Kit. A Virginia-born brand based in Brooklyn, this duo has turned simple food and beverage products into some of today’s most popular designs. We sat down with one half of the founding partners, Eric Prum, and their Head of Marketing, Elizabeth Tilton to discuss their favorite cocktails and their belief that startups don’t have to succeed through failure.
Tell us a little bit more about your background and roots in Virginia:
Eric - Josh and I were roommates our first year of college at UVA. Josh took some time off and went to culinary school in Italy, and when he came back we started a catering company for beer money and Elizabeth joined as our pastry chef. During college we were always infusing bourbon with peaches in mason jars all over our apartment. At one point we talked about making a cocktail shaker from one of those mason jars because we were always pouring drinks out of them since we had so many around.
Fast forward a couple of years - we basically concepted, prototyped, and designed the Mason Shaker on Kickstarter with the idea that we would turn that product into W&P Design. We were one of the first physical products that was really successful, and one of the first things was wasn’t an easily deliverable creative project that could be emailed so the infrastructure was really rudimentary - we had to send out surveys to each individual backer to get their physical addresses, it was crazy.
Elizabeth - After graduating and moving to New Orleans to work as a pastry chef, I knew that New York was on my horizon and eventually an opportunity popped up at Momofuku. After that, the opportunity to work with W&P and reunite with Josh and Eric came up, and here we are!
Your Southern heritage is an important part of the story you tell at W&P Design - how do you incorporate that into your brand?
When we first launched the Mason Shaker, our motto was “Brooklyn by way of Virginia.” It’s important to us to create most of this down in Virginia because it allows us to go home. I’m from Charlottesville so I get to go see my family and zip over to our warehouse.
Your products seem to lend themselves well to some great partnerships with like-minded brands. What are some of the most rewarding collaborations you’ve done?
Eric - It’s all part of a team effort up here - not only does our product need to make a great cocktail but it needs to look and feel great, even down the ingredients - Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. makes our tonic and our Elderflower Syrup, Morris Kitchen up here in New York makes our ginger syrup, our bitters are made by a small batch company called Hella Bitters. It’s not just the tools and the designs, we really care about what goes into the kits, and at the end of the day it makes a really good cocktail.
Elizabeth - It’s our collaborations with like-minded brands through social media, it’s repurposing amazing spirits like Owneys Rum - a female-run distillery producing amazing white rum here in Brooklyn - to create cocktail content that we then post on social media and on our blog which allows us to give a shout out to a company to a company that we really love and respect.
Eric - We do things that are both really genuine like working with Bulleit - Josh and I have been drinking Bulleit since college. It was the first bourbon that we consistently referred to and featured in our book “Shake” for no strategic reason whatsoever, and working with them has been really great and very true to who we are. We set up a program where we take companywide field trips to different distilleries and breweries.
Tell us about your focus on American-made production:
Eric - About 90% of all of our products are made in America. We try to hire and produce everything we possibly can in the US, and we keep between 20 and 23 people busy every day in Forest, VA. When we first launched our book “Shake” we self-published it we printed it in Virginia. It was about a dollar more per book than printing it in China but we could make an equally good product here in the US.
The mason jar is such a ubiquitous product in the southern household. How do you balance form and function when it comes to the design of your products?
Eric - We always start with a problem or something we want to fix. The mason jar is a really functional product that both Josh and I grew up with our whole lives, so we’ve tried to create tools out of what we were already using them for. Similar to how we were infusing peaches in these jars in college and pouring cocktails out of them, we wanted to make an actual cocktail infuser with it.
We’ve looked for things that would help our lives and improved on them, like things such as the Carry On Cocktail Kit - we were talking about how there’s no good way to make a drink on a plane - your options are beer or a vodka soda, so we went about developing the systems and processes to create that.
Form and function really do go hand and hand - if you are just sewing a pretty thing and it doesn’t work people are going to uncover you for what you are pretty quickly. On the flip side, if you are putting so much thought into the design of a product but not presenting it in a really beautiful way then people are really going to miss out on the function.
What are you favorite drinks for each season?
Summer: Frozen cocktails
Fall: Bourbon-centric drinks, like our Rosemary Bourbon Maple Sour
Winter: A smokey Mezcalita or a Dirty Gin Martini
What do you love most about running your own business?
Eric - I think that running a business with my best friend with the support of our wives has been an incredibly fun and interesting experience. Josh and I met 12 years ago and he introduced me to my wife, she introduced him to his wife, we’ve known Elizabeth for years and then she joined the team, so we just keep growing this family band. When you own your own business not every is easy, but it’s been really rewarding.
And now for the Proust Questionnaire:
What is your greatest extravagance?
I drive a car in New York.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
I don’t like the idea that you have to learn success through failure. It’s a virtue that a lot of startups preach, but it’s overstated.
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to play guitar better… I’m working on it.