Today, Christa Cotton, CEO of El Guapo Bitters, announced that the company has secured $1.1 million in seed funding, which will allow the company to increase production and raise visibility for its portfolio of cocktail products. Participants in this funding round include NOLAAN, Alluvian Capital & the New Orleans Startup Fund, representing a group of investors from Greater New Orleans, the southern U.S., California and New York City. This milestone comes on the heels of recent news that the company is building America’s first bitters brewery on Gravier Street in New Orleans. The company has doubled its workforce since early 2020 and will be making 12 additional hires in 2022.
“New Orleans is synonymous with great food and drink, so El Guapo is a naturally evocative brand,” said Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc. “This funding will allow their products to find their way onto more retail shelves and into more bars. The company’s new facility will showcase the company’s innovative bitters brewing technique and help get their premier line into the glasses of drink enthusiasts around the world.”
Unlike most domestic distilleries that produce bitters with grain neutral spirit bases and facilities that blend and bottle extracts sold as “bitters”, El Guapo developed a unique brewing process for 100% alcohol free bitters, building the process to scale with brewing technology. Capitalizing on the city’s cocktail culture and committed to providing quality jobs, the company will open its new brewing facility, which will house all of its manufacturing operations, in 2022. In addition to bitters, the company has expanded into syrups and mixers, with additional product extensions and brand partnerships on the horizon.
El Guapo is fully owned and operated by its CEO, Christa Cotton, who has recently been selected as a 2021 James Beard Women’s Entrepreneuial Leadership Fellow, a program that selects 20 female food, beverage and hospitality business owners from across the country every year for advanced education, training and networking opportunities. The ten-week program, created in conjunction with Cornell University, includes sessions on negotiating, design thinking, business and financial models, funding your businesses, and more.
“The growth and sheer determination to succeed demonstrated by our team in the face of adversity that started in March 2020 has made this next phase of business possible, and now this group of investors has demonstrated their support of continued success,” said Christa Cotton, CEO of El Guapo Bitters. “I am keenly aware of the abysmal statistics regarding woman-owned businesses and business funding, and I am proud to have achieved this significant milestone so early in my career. It has long been my vision to build a facility that can manufacture at scale and El Guapo is well positioned as an emerging national brand, with our sights focused on liquor distribution in all 50 states. I’m excited to grow our brand and bring our team’s vision to reality in the city I love.”
El Guapo is a WBENC certified Woman Owned Business, and a 4x Good Food Award recipient (currently a finalist for two additional 2022 awards), the most of any brand headquartered in the State of Louisiana. The brand is popular with various upscale bars, restaurants and retail establishments. Current clients include Total Wine, Whole Foods, World Market, Rouse’s Supermarkets and a litany of notable chefs. Products are currently sold in 49 states and 3 countries and are distributed in Louisiana by Uncorked, also based in New Orleans.
“New Orleans small businesses continue to show the world, with their ability to scale and grow, that they can compete nationally,” says Norman E. Barnum, IV, Interim President and CEO, New Orleans Business Alliance. “NOLABA congratulates El Guapo on their expansion and will continue to support their growth. We are especially proud of Christa who continues a strong tradition of women-run food businesses in New Orleans. Our small businesses in the food and beverage sector are being seen by investors, nationally and internationally, proving to the world that New Orleans is not only the place where you go for world-class cuisine, but as a viable destination for food and beverage production in the United States.”
El Guapo has partnered with regional farmers to keep money in the local economy, producing products made with Louisiana strawberries, satsumas, pecans, chicory, and more. In 2021, the company’s Creole Orgeat, a syrup made with pecans grown by Christa’s uncle, won a Garden & Gun’s “Made In The South” award. The brand built this supply chain from the ground up, allowing it to use high quality ingredients to develop products that are sought after for superior taste and quality.
“The NO/LA Angel Network is honored to be lead investor of El Guapo’ current financing round,” said Mike Eckert, Chairman of the NO/LA Angel Network. “We see great things coming from Christa Cotton and her team. This is an example of the New Orleans early-stage ecosystem finding alignment in that El Guapo – a New Orleans-based company – and NO/LAAN – a New Orleans-based investment group – came together to make this deal happen. Great for New Orleans. This is out of market capital coming into New Orleans to enhance economic development here.”
A 2021 graduate of The Idea Village VillageX accelerator program, Cotton is focused on expanding the brand’s distribution utilizing the country’s 3-tier liquor distribution network. With contracts already underway in Georgia and Illinois, El Guapo is poised for rapid expansion in 2022.
Christa is a Tory Burch Foundation Fellow, member of the Fedex Entrepreneur Advisory Board and the recipient of the 2020/21 Les Dames d’Escoffier Legacy Award for Fine Spirits. She got her start in the spirits industry by helping her father start Georgia’s first legal distillery since Prohibition, 13th Colony, while in college at Auburn University.