Something special happens when people truly care. In Stevens Point, that’s something we have in abundance. There’s no other explanation for the hotbed of creative enterprises we have: the people here care. We care about our neighbors, we care about our environment, and we care about our food. Oh, do we care about food. It’s no wonder that the shelves of the Co-op are filled with so many community products: our members both demand it and supply it! A wonderful example is Siren Shrub Co. Mindy McCord and Layne Cozzolino - former Co-op Board Member, current Farmshed Executive Director - are prime examples of how caring hard enough and investing enough energy pays off, and that it never hurts to be part of a community like Central WI. As Mindy puts it, friendship, laughter, and community matter. We had an opportunity to sit down with these two and talk to them about Siren Shrub Co. and their journey so far.
The story starts almost 10 years ago, born from the friendship between Layne and Mindy and their combined love of creating. They didn’t begin with Siren Shrub Co., though. They began by making salsas and pickles, and went wherever their creativity took them. They would share these foods with friends and families, but primarily did this for themselves. Through the years the two experimented with various concoctions, but they knew they stumbled on something special when they found themselves with the product at hand. Shrub, otherwise known as flavored sipping vinegar, is something that historically has been used in cocktails and other fancy drinks but that’s only one of the many possibilities it presents.
At first, just like with their other projects, Mindy and Layne did this for themselves. But they also wanted to bring it to the rest of our community. They were set to do this last year at the Winter’s Farmer Market - even had a refrigerator full of Siren Shrub - when they realized a week before that flavored vinegar doesn’t fall under the “Pickle Bill,” a law that allows people to sell a certain amount and a specific type of acidified food from their home kitchen. This is a grey area since shrub is more than flavored vinegar, but it still made the two pause. Mindy and Layne described this as a pivotal moment for them. They loved what they made but they knew to go from where they were to where they are now would require an immense commitment. Both have full-time jobs and families, so adding a business on top of that would leave little to no time for friends and other hobbies. Luckily, as they pointed out, they were already doing what they loved with who they loved. They decided that if they were going to do this, then they really needed to do it right: Mindy and Layne jumped headfirst into the journey of turning their idea into a business.
From this point, the two devoted their time to getting the business up and running. They sampled at various events, including the Levitt Amp Summer concert series, and were able to get feedback from people who may one day be their customers. They told us that doing this early-access sampling was key in their process: they kept hearing from people of all walks of life how great Siren Shrub was. Excitement was brewing. Then came the logistics. Just how were two people going to be able to hold full-time jobs, be with their family, keep up with their friends, while also making a product and running a new business? If they did it by themselves, they would go insane. To hold onto their sanity, Layne and Mindy do the recipe trials and figure out new flavors and sourcing, but they work with Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen for their production. This Wisconsin resource was and continues to be instrumental in their success because the folks there have already done this before. They know how to problem solve for problems that haven’t even come up yet, and give Mindy and Layne the peace of mind that their product will get made on a scale that makes sense for them, allowing them to focus on everything else.
They also took this time to define what Siren Shrub stood for. At the very beginning, both agreed that the local food movement was at their core and that at least one ingredient has to be local. They also strive to find organic ingredients whenever possible, though with some ingredients this is nearly impossible, such as their cranberries from Seaquist Orchards in Door County. This meant saying no to some flavors they thought would be a delicious addition to the Siren Shrub line-up. Layne, as the Farmshed Executive Director, told us that she of course knew of the barriers within our food system but having to walk that balancing act of staying true to the morals of their business while still being successful was another beast entirely. But, if the order that comes from the Co-op every other week is any indication, what they’re doing resonates with our community. This also creates - even necessitates - partnerships with other local businesses. We got a sneak peak at a future partnership with Tapped Maple Syrup, but the exact flavor is still a closely guarded secret. Trust us, we tried.
So we know that Siren Shrub is an amazing product, created by amazing people, for an amazing community. But, what do you do with it? According to Layne, it’s as simple as adding it to whatever you’re drinking. Water, juice, tea, mixed alcoholic beverage, whatever fits your fancy. She said she actually started drinking it during her pregnancy as a substitute for alcohol: sparkling water, juice, and some vinegar was perfect when she needed to still feel like she’s drinking something fun. Mindy, on the other hand, has a few tricks up her sleeves. You can follow their social media pages to be kept apprised of any new recipes, but some ideas Mindy had were for a dressing or marinade, throw a little into your favorite cocktail, or even use as a potpourri! Your only limit is how creative you can be.
Friendship, laughter, and community matter. And crying, which Mindy said there was plenty of. But in the end, Mindy and Layne are doing what they love, with who they love. That’s what makes Siren Shrub Co. special: when you take a sip or are handed a cup, you’re not only getting a great drink. You’re getting all the time, and the energy, and the love that these two put into their vinegar.