She started a flavored vodka brand in Charlotte — and named it for her grandmother

·5 min read

The story of Taylor Jackson starting her vodka business begins backward.

Before even naming her vodka, she found a company to make it.

“I literally just Googled how to start your own liquor business,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know regular people could own their own alcohol brand. It was so weird to me.”

That was 2017. Since then, she’s learned about complex liquor industry laws, data collection and everything from trademarks to permits, diving headfirst into the spirit industry — an industry where Black women are few and far in between.

The creator of Redd Rose vodka wanted to be a lawyer, going so far as to study law in college. Somewhere along the way, Jackson fell into bartending and learned more about the spirit industry.

She worked at several places in Raleigh before a big gig in Charlotte. Finding more opportunity here, Jackson made the move a few years ago.

It was behind the counter that she got the idea to start her own liquor brand. Armed with her legal background, Jackson jumped right in.

“I had already been learning the different types of alcohols and different brands,” she said. “It was just an idea.”

The idea became a reality in January 2020, when Jackson sold her first bottle of the strawberry lemonade vodka.

Rose Mary’s legacy

Jackson believes her entrepreneurial spirit is genetic.

Jackson’s grandmother, Rose Mary, was a first-generation businesswoman who started her own recycling company.

She would drive her pickup truck up and down Ohio streets, collecting bottles and cans that she would resell at her flea market.

Jackson remembers riding around with her grandmother before the sun came up, hearing the cans and bottles rattling around in the back.

After collecting, refurbishing and reselling for decades, that’s how Rose Mary made a name for herself in Hamilton County, Ohio.

“Having her own flea market as an African-American woman was very difficult,” Jackson said. People would tell Rose Mary she needed to give up her flea market and the land it was on. “She was always targeted... but that never disturbed her.”

Jackson wanted to create a liquor that embodied her grandmother: sweet and strong.

“People have told me I’m not going to make it, just like they told her, which is fine,” Jackson said. “But I don’t let it get to me. And with Rose Mary’s name carrying weight, when I talk to people, I make sure they know who I am.”

Balancing act

Crystal Clark has watched Jackson’s journey since the beginning.

The two started out as coworkers at a finance company, but became close friends after what Clark describes as Jackson’s intense persistence.

Jackson stopped working at the finance company a couple of months later, but the friendship stuck. Jackson and Clark spent a couple of evenings together every week, sipping wine and chatting about work and single motherhood.

The evening Jackson pitched her liquor idea to Clark, the two were sitting on Clark’s couch while the kids played together nearby, their laughter leaking into the living room.

“I wasn’t really surprised because it did flow along with what she was doing, bartending on the side,” she said. “Since then, I’ve watched her hit about 15 roadblocks along this endeavor. She’d come over and talk it through. We’ve cried over this business together, then hugged and figured out how to get over the obstacle.”

Now, watching Jackson’s journey as a friend, Clark is overcome by pride.

“She’s probably one of the most tenacious people I have ever met,” she said. “No matter the obstacle she’s hit, she’s never stayed down. She’ll hit the wall, bounce off, and figure out how to get around it.”

Jackson’s juggling of being a mom and entrepreneur is most impressive to Clark.

During the first few years of Redd Rose, Jackson would sometimes rely on Clark to watch her kids when she needed.

“It all goes back to single motherhood and supporting each other,” Clark said. “I’ve been there before.”

Now, Redd Rose is Jackson’s full time job, which allows her to spend more time with her children, and they are her constant motivation, she said.

“There is so much more to life than a nine to five,” Jackson said. “And my kids, I want so much more for them.”

A minority in the industry

Though Redd Rose isn’t available in North Carolina just yet, Jackson said it’s coming soon.

Right now, it’s sold in 22 states online, and the distribution is based out of Miami, where it’s sold in five bars.

Jackson has two more flavors in the works for Redd Rose — amaretto and lemon — and would like to add more.

She doesn’t see why women can’t take over the spirit industry.

The majority of stakeholders and business owners in the spirit industry are white men. The amount of Black people involved in the liquor business is low, and as for women, it’s lesser still.

That’s partially why Redd Rose isn’t just about the vodka — it’s about empowering and celebrating women, Jackson said.

“As a black woman in an industry full of white men, they just don’t take me seriously. Even when you look at the bars and restaurants, they’re owned by men, too,” Jackson said. “That’s fine, but as women, when do we step up and say, ‘I want to dominate this industry’?”

Jackson said her background has prepared her for any obstacles ahead.

“I’ve made it this far by myself,” Jackson said.

After all, she is Rose Mary’s granddaughter.

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