“I can remember as a 10 year old riding my bike down 12th Avenue and hearing a roar that felt like it shook my bones and then distinctly smelling the exhaust of what I learned was a 72 Chevy, red like a shiny apple. When the roar was loudest the back of the car dropped and the front lifted. Behind that red force was a line of cars just like it in different varieties just as loud and forceful.”
Back then cars like that symbolized a successful black man in my eyes. To some, it symbolized drug dealers, but to me, the drivers were successful black entrepreneurs. These were cars that my friends and I dreamed of. When my friend Ladarvius turned 17 he got a donk. It was rusted and we would ride that car until the gas leaked out. It was the coolest feeling in the world! That old raggedy rusted car took us places we wouldn’t have imagined.
Bernard Smalls is the founder of new strawberry based Vodka brand created here in Miami called BALT. Smalls was born and raised in the magic city and was inspired to create BALT following the death of four of his friends. The cars that symbolized power and entrepreneurship to Smalls growing up adorns the label.
“I realized that outside of the funeral people don’t spend much time checking on the family of the deceased.”
A portion of all sales is donated to the families of the children and parents of his deceased friends with the goal to help them move out of the inner city. The alcohol a 100% corn vodka infused with strawberries sourced from Fort Meyers. Smalls started working on the brand in 2018, saving money and doing research. In the end of 2019, the brand launched.
“It took about 2 years from conception to finished product.”
It takes discipline to work on any project for two years and now that the product is finally available, the work is just getting started! I sat down with Bernard to talk about his journey thus far, what he has learned from the challenges he’s faced, and what he is looking forward to.
Photo courtesy of Thynk Global
What challenges did you face while building your business?
I faced a plethora of challenges such as my race, my culture, and my age. My race is a challenge because I am a negro American and a lot of people don’t expect us to be entrepreneurs. My culture was a challenge, because of that I put the picture of the car on the bottle to represent those multiple meanings.
What are some tips you would give to others who want to do what you have done?
Maya Angelou once said “you can never be great at something unless you love it. Anyone starting a business should get into it for the passion and not for money. A typical day for me consists of waking up at 6 am and getting a game plan ready, acquiring new locations and studying demographics of the environments I’ll be soliciting my products to. By 9 am I’m hitting the streets in search of retail locations, retail spaces, and restaurants. It is hard work you have to love it.
What are your current goals for the brand, yourself and the future?
I chose vodka because a lot of people aren’t aware that dark liquors aren’t as healthy as white ones. We make our product without any artificial sugars. You won’t experience hangovers and headaches the next day. It’s also gluten-free. I was born and raised in Miami in a place called Liberty City and I needed to uplift my community so that I can save more lives. My goals right now are to sustain the business, take care of my fallen friends family and gain notoriety. In the future I want invest in my community and create safe havens where kids can safely play outside.
To purchase BALT Vodka online visit their website. They also list local retailers that stock the brand. Reach our to Bernard directly to carry it in your store, and keep up with all things BALT by following them on Facebook.