Nicolas Duvernois was working as a janitor when he had an idea for creating his own brand of vodka. He was initially rejected by the SAQ but won first prize in the first vodka competition he ever entered. From humble beginnings, Duvernois has built a brand and is a Quebec success story. He guest hosted Global News Morning on Friday.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a young, passionate, creative entrepreneur. I discovered entrepreneurship in university, in my first class of political science, and I fell in love with the stories behind the businesses.
You had ventured in the restaurant business, but it had failed. You were still working your student job of janitorial work at Ste-Justine Hospital when you decided to create a Quebec vodka. How did this idea come to be?
I always say that the restaurant was the best failure of my life since it is through the restaurant that I discovered the popularity of vodka. I knew nothing about the industry, but I knew one little thing about vodka – the better the water, the better the vodka! Since Quebec has the world’s best water, it was a natural idea to create a vodka right here at home.
The process did not happen overnight, though?
It took close to four years to sell my first bottle of vodka. I found an apple distiller who helped me develop the recipe and allowed me to use his equipment. My only goal was to develop a premium sipping vodka. It took 26 recipes for us to finally decide that the 24th was the ONE! It tasted pure, hence the name. I sent two of my bottles to the world vodka masters in London and hoped to make a great score. Many anxious weeks later, I received a phone call that would change my life. Our PUR Vodka had placed first in the world. The SAQ ordered soon after and the rest is history!
You also branched out into gin. What’s the inspiration behind Romeo’s gin?
It all began with a cold soup! My wife was nine months pregnant with our first child and we were looking to develop a gin for a good year and a half. I like working with keywords when I develop a project, and the key word for the gin was ‘fresh’. I wanted the taste the first week of May in Montreal, when nature wakes up and delivers Spring! We tried everything: basil, mint, bergamot. Nothing tasted fresh so it drove me nuts. Then, the soup! I was in a restaurant with my wife when she interrupted our conversation and told me that she had found the recipe for our gin. She made me taste the cold soup she had ordered and there it was. The fresh taste of the first week of May that we had been looking for, for over a year and a half. Cucumber, dill, lavender, almond and citrus. We added juniper to the mix and Romeo’s gin was born.
Where did you get the name?
It’s all about love. Love of my dog, who’s name is Romeo. Love for the arts, so every year we feature a different local artist on the bottle. Love for gin, that I wanted to reinvent.
You had an interesting start and now you’re paying that experience forward. How do you help other entrepreneurs?
Adopt Inc is a program where older, more experienced entrepreneurs can help guide and mentor those just starting out. It was exactly what I had dreamed of getting when I was cleaning the floors of Ste-Justine.