After beating a life-threatening illness, Jana Khaimoff took a shot on a business idea.
The Forest Hills resident had the idea to start Baron Tequila, a triple-distilled, certified gluten-free, kosher version of the liquor, with her husband, Sam, when she was battling breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2009.
She wanted to unwind with a relaxing beverage, but her diet prevented her from drinking the tequila -- her chosen poison -- that was on the market.
"I was on a raw diet with gluten-free products," said Jana, 39. But, "you need to relax when you take in stressful news all the time."
Providing stressed-out people on restrictive diets with a safe and tasty tequila to drink wasn't the couple's only goal. As parents of three who had recently faced a life-endangering situation, they wanted to build a business to leave to their kids.
Jana, a licensed attorney, and her husband were already seasoned businesspeople when they set out to craft Baron. They also own a chain of specialty pharmacies, but liquor was a new industry for them.
They started their research using Google, where they learned that all tequila comes from one place: Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.
They contacted distilleries down there to learn about the process and then hopped on a plane to Mexico in May 2011, the year before her breast cancer was determined to be in remission. There they decided their best bet was to invest in agave, the tropical fruit used to make the alcohol.
"In the beginning we didn't know what recipe we wanted to use, how we wanted to make it," Jana said. "I knew we wanted to make it from scratch without using any product that was already made from somebody."
After years of trying different recipes and working with experts, they settled on a flavor that has a hint of citrus and vanilla. Their method involves distilling the alcohol three times to make it smooth to the taste.
Next it was time to build a brand. To launch the product, they held a party at Butter on 45th Street in November 2013, entered it in a few competitions and put it on the menu at high-brow events in the Hamptons last summer.
"I wanted brand recognition first, I think it's important that people like the product before you place it in each and every store where it just gets lost," Jana explained. "It's easy to give it to a distributor and have them place it everywhere, but then people don't know about it."
Baron, which means "boss" in Spanish, retails for $55-$75 a bottle and is now available in liquor stores and in bars, restaurants and nightclubs in New York City and Miami. Travelers can buy it in the JetBlue and Delta terminals in JFK and LaGuardia airports. Baron also provides drinks for charity events thrown by organizations for causes like cancer research.
Jana and her husband next want to create a kosher Baron tequila that is cultured for Passover.
For now, they're currently putting all their revenue back into the business. They've spent roughly $500,000 building their product, including the construction of Baron Distillery in Tequila, Mexico, and keep about $100,000 worth of agave in stock.
"We don't expect any profit for the next couple of years," Khaimoff said.