ANTHONY HANCOCK & REGGIE MILLIGAN OF MANTRY
MANday is back and we have a special feature interview for you guys! I had the opportunity to speak with Reggie Milligan, co-founder of food start-up Mantry, affectionately named after a play on words of the modern man’s pantry. They search for the best artisan and small-batch foods around the country, and deliver you the goods every month.
Their latest project is a special box catered towards cocktails, specifically high-quality cocktail mixers. Read on below to get the lowdown, and how you can get involved!
What is your personal experience with food and drink?
I grew up working in restaurants from the age of fourteen, specifically fine dining. I started working when I was fifteen years old, at a restaurant that was called Lumiere, and I actually apprenticed at the ages of seventeen and eighteen down at The French Laundry which is out in Napa (that’s a three Michelin star spot). I was really much the driven guy that was super-interested in owning the next best restaurant by a really young age. So I was really deep into fine dining between the ages of fourteen and twenty, and learned from chopping onions in a back hallway to apprenticing in kitchens and bumping around. I was always very passionate about food; I was a part of that generation that might have been plunked out in front of The Food Network, and absorbed a ridiculous amount. I remember growing up watching Emeril and stuff for hours on end back when The Food Network was based on teaching, opposed to building sugar castles and running around chasing food trucks, or whatever they do now [laughs]. In short, the same way a young boy would get interested in sports, I was always drawn to cooking.
How did the idea for Mantry come about, and why did you decide to make it a subscription-box service?
I actually ended up going to university and doing business school, and once I left fine dining kitchens around twenty, I burnt out a little bit. But back at school, just living the college lifestyle and doing a business degree, I kind of saw how people cooked and would eat at home more, especially living with a bunch of guys, and that’s where the seed for the concept kind of started in a sense. I was just thinking, ‘is there a resource for food that really speaks to guys as much?‘. There’s the GQs and the Details, and that sort of thing, they write the very rare food article, so that’s what planted the seed. Ultimately didn’t know if we wanted to do a men’s food magazine fully, as opposed to just product. Those magazines write about “top sauce to try” and “five artisan makers around the country”, “four products that use bourbon”, and we just thought, let’s hedge our best, put this stuff in a box and send it to guys blind and hopefully they’ll dig it, cuz they can’t read about it when it’s right in front of them.
Mantry came out of just trying to find a cool resource that was tailored to guys. We have lots of female subscribers, most of our subscribers are couples who just like getting six cool products to accessorize their shopping at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or whatever throughout the week. The true concept to why we wanted a subscription was just cuz we wanted to take people on more of a journey. We focus on American small-batch makers, but there are so many stories to tell. Maybe a box would be just focused on different Mexican-inspired foods made throughout the U.S., or different people making Thai foods throughout the U.S.; we did a box called Thai Game which was kind of game-night feature, wings recipes and nachos recipes, and that type of thing, but using different makers that had Thai influence around the country. There was this amazing Thai chili sauce from Virginia of all places, there was Thai basil pickled jalapeños from Washington, from a maker up there called Gordy’s, this supercool Thai curry coconut peanuts that this person was making down in Texas…so we’ve done boxes like that, or we’ve done boxes like “Six Amazing Makers From Georgia” and trying to tell a little bit of a story of food culture in Georgia, we included an amazing small-batch grits from down there with a shrimp & grits recipe, there’s an olive oil company that’s the first olive oil farm east of the Mississippi in 100 years, so there’s so many stories to tell around the U.S.
Another one we did, for example, was a crate we did on “Six Products From Different Food Trucks Around America”, so the subscription, just like a magazine it’s fun to get something every single month and just put that on autopilot and use that to discover. Of course foodies are attracted to our service, but we also wanted to hit a mark of people that are busy, maybe they work hard and they like spending time with friends and socializing. They’re not crazy into food, but they can just subscribe to the service to be in the know and be able to taste cool stuff. How many people get good mail these days, besides bills and useless bank statements? So it’s kind of like getting something gifted to yourself every single month, and a lot of our subscribers have given us that feedback, that it’s that one cool thing that’s going to come every month.
Tell us a little bit more about your Kickstarter campaign.
We’re an unfunded company, so we don’t have VC (venture capitalist) backing, so when we make decisions…we saw this uprising in artisan and small-batch makers doing artisan cocktail mixers. By that I mean somebody making amazing tonic syrup, made the way the British sailors made it in the 1800s. Before it was kind of full of corn syrup and the big plastic 2-liters of Schweppes, or someone making a bourbon barrel Old Fashioned-mix that you just throw a bit of bourbon in, and really we just saw a bunch of these makers where you add a little bit of booze and some ice and you have a really high-quality cocktail at home. We were especially drawn to it because we loved this idea of people, who go and buy a nice bottle of gin pr bourbon, and you just mix it with this $2 mixer or soda, and it’s just like, there’s all these makers that are making mixers on par with the quality of booze that’s out there. And so, we saw that as an opportunity. With the Kickstarter, obviously we needed to raise a minimum amount of funds to work out the nuts and bolts, make the first big order, logistics and inventory, but also to see if the demand was there, if people were interested. So far it’s been great, we’ve raised about three times our goal, and the demand’s there, so for a smaller company like us that’s a start-up, it kind of just protects us against let’s say stocking tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff and nobody wants it, you know? Kickstarter is an amazing platform for that, they’re such a cool company.
What is one of your favorite cocktails, and if you could host a fancy cocktail/dinner party and invite ANYONE, who would be present?
I like that question! Two cocktails I really love are a Dark & Stormy, which is dark rum and ginger beer; I love ginger beer. In the summer, Dark & Stormy. Morris Kitchen in Brooklyn makes this amazing ginger syrup. You just add a little bit of soda to this ginger syrup, some rum, and some fresh lime, and just throw that all over ice, that’s one of my favorites. I mean, all the mixers in the crate are amazing. I really want as many people as possible to try the tonic syrup, because I think we had the same reaction in the office that ‘WOW, this is how a gin & tonic is supposed to taste like.’ It’s made with quinine bark that they used in tonic back in the day, fresh lemon grass, orange peel, just different notes. It’s floral; it’s so simple and so tasty, and because it’s a concentrate, you can make a round of eight or twelve drinks off of one bottle.
As far as a dinner party, I think a good dinner party is all about the mixture of people, and not inviting all dentists, you know what I mean? For some reason I want to say Mick Jagger. I feel like that guy would be amazing for a dinner party guest, because he’s British, so he can get sophisticated if he needs to. Bill Murray I think would be an amazing dinner party guest. I think if you got Mick Jagger, Bill Murray, and someone obvious like Anthony Bourdain, would be a nice little combo. Julia Childs I would want because I feel she’s the most badass food personality ever, and Kylie Kwong. She’s this BBC personality that I think is so cool and has so much skill; she’s Australian. You just want characters.
It was such a pleasure to speak with Reggie from Mantry. Are you digging the concept and want to pay it forward? Head on over to their website for more news on their products, and be sure to keep an eye out for their cocktail mixer crates as the project is now fully funded. Woop!
*Photos courtesy of Mantry