Shaken by COVID, a pair of LA bartenders found a way to stir up more business for craft cocktails during the pandemic

Danielle Motor and Sabrina Minks founded Sunset Boulevardier as a passion project in 2018, building on more than a quarter-century of combined experience in the Los Angeles craft cocktail scene.

Between them, they’ve created cocktails and curated events for all types of Hollywood celebrities, from director Quentin Terrentio (he loves Motor’s margarita) to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (a rose-infused vodka drink with activated charcoal for her book launch at the Roosevelt  Hotel.)

Through themed parties, low-waste catering and local, fresh ingredients, the pair ran intimate events, weddings and occasional larger celebrations, all as side-hustles. They also taught classes, building on experience from working at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, where they met.

Then the pandemic hit. Minks had just left a Bicardi distributor for a startup. Motor, recovering from an injury, lost a day-old gig as the country began to lock down. In California, bars shut across the state. 

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Sunset Boulevardier started in Los Angeles in 2018. The bespoke cocktail and events company now offers virtual cocktail classes and mails cocktail kits all across the U.S. (Photo: Andrea Kramar)

“Our skillset, and everything that we have developed in our careers, is contingent on face-to-face interactions,” Minks says. “So it was really scary to think, like ‘how long this is going to go on’ and, you know, ‘are we going to be OK financially? Are we going to have a career at the end of this?’”

Headquartered on the top level of L&E Oysters in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood, Sunset Boulevardier now brings in five times its pre-pandemic revenue via online events, classes and shippable drink kits, Minks estimates. Most profit is plowed back into the business, including a fresh-juice offering using curated ingredients from local spice shops and farmers’ markets.  

How did they get there? Community, Motor says.

One day, early in the pandemic, the pair went roller skating behind L&E. One of the owners appeared offering free oysters because the restaurant was about to shut down.

“That’s when we had the idea to kind of take over their drink program here, help them sell alcohol to keep them afloat,” Motor says. “And we could use this place as a sort of office and prep here. Kind of a rethinking about how we use these relationships in a way that helps everyone.” 

Minks and Motor currently work out of the top floor of L&E Oyster Bar in Los Angeles. The duo prepare to-go cocktails for the restaurant in exchange for free workspace. (Photo: Andrea Kramar)

As the pandemic intensified, an online events firm contacted Sunset Boulevardier to virtually teach and hold events. Enter the home cocktail kits. 

“We were getting these kits in the mail from other companies and we thought, ‘hey, you know, we can do that. And we can probably do it better and really have it be aligned with our ethos as craft bartenders,’” Minks says. 

The business took off. Their long list of customers now includes Stanford University, Microsoft, Dell, and a number of banks. Private online parties, driven by word-of-mouth, are “extra fun,” Minks says.

“They’ll have the kits sent to them, I’ll come on and [we’ll] make a cocktail together, and we get to know people,” Minks says. “It feels like we’re behind the bar again, which is really refreshing and nice.”

There are potential kinks: Each state has different laws for shipping alcohol, some ever-changing. And pandemic shipping times can be slower. Kits must arrive on time and unbroken for the business to work. 

Sabrina Minks and Danielle Motor are business and life partners. Together, they own and operate Sunset Boulevardier in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Andrea Kramar)

As the country slowly emerges from the pandemic, Minks and Motor see the business adapting. People will travel less and still need online events. In-person events should return. 

Their best advice for new entrepreneurs? Be flexible. And kind to yourself.

“Just try to think of the things you’re good at and what you feel creatively inclined to do,” Minks says. “And even if it’s difficult, just sit down and start brainstorming and writing.” Think “‘maybe this is something that I can monetize and maybe it’s not.’ But just getting that going is a great place to start.”

Rachel Layne is a Boston-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, CBS News, HBS Working Knowledge, USA TODAY and other publications. She previously spent two decades covering multi-industrial companies for Bloomberg News. 

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