For Bridget Firtle, her hometown of Rockaway, Queens is not just her happy place, but also the inspiration for her latest business venture: a new sparkling water company that also gives back to the environment.
Firtle was originally known for bringing rum distilling back to New York City. After receiving her MBA in 2007, Firtle began her career on Wall Street at a hedge fund as a consumer goods investor with a focus in global alcoholic beverage companies. She spent about five years managing that portfolio when she started to gain an interest in working with startups and small businesses and ultimately decided to bring a long-gone practice back to the city.
“After some soul searching, I wanted to bring rum distilling back to New York City,” said Firtle. “There was a lack of rum being produced here, it’s America’s first spirit. With that initial vision, I jumped ship from the hedge fund in 2011 and built a distillery in 2012 in Williamsburg.”
Firtle’s vision ultimately became Owney’s Rum, which gained her recognition Forbes 30 Under 30, Zagat 30 Under 30 and one of Imbibe’s 75 People to Watch. She grew the brand for five years before partnering with a spirit supplier, Proximo Spirits, in 2017. Under this new partnership, Owney’s began to distribute nationally and Firtle began to slowly integrate into the supplier’s portfolio, and ultimately sold the Owney’s Rum brand in 2020.
“Over the three years of integrating the rum brand, I was drawn into thinking about what was next,” said Firtle.
Firtle bounced around two ideas in her head, one of which being a boutique strategic management comp for startups that would start with operating and selling a business in the consumer space. However, with the pandemic, it was difficult to get that idea off of the ground. Firtle decided to go full speed ahead on her second idea for a non-alcoholic beverage company that was inspired by her hometown.
With that, Rockaway was born. The company specializes in flavored sparkling water that offers functional benefits from powerful plants and adaptogenic herbs weaved into the flavors.
“I was building the foundation for Rockaway a few weeks ago. It really started as a passion project, balancing what I love about life in indulgence,” said Firtle. “As a consumer coupled with the love of my hometown and NYC, I had inspiration from a marketing perspective for a functional beverage.”
Firtle collaborated with designer and illustrator Alex Cannon who drew Rockaway’s black and white logo and packaging pattern on the cans and boxes that highlight New York City beach scenes. With the help of her friend Nick Johnson the Rockaway website got off the ground, allowing for national shipping.
“It kind of just started as a secondary revenue stream but I ended up getting more and more excited about it,” said Firtle. “I decided to dedicate the next 18 months to giving it my all.”
Currently, Rockaway offers four flavors of sparkling water: Coastal Immunity (Pineapple, Ginger, Tulsi, Turmeric, Sea Salt), Tidal Defense (Berry, Hibiscus, Vitamin C, Astragalus, Sea Salt), Endless Summer Energy (Watermelon, Guava, Maca, Ginseng, Sea Salt), and Last Stop Chill (Lemon, Lemongrass, Ashwagandha, Valerian Root, Sea Salt). Firtle dipped into her knowledge from working in the alcohol business to help develop the flavors.
“I worked with consultants to develop the recipes and flavor profiles. It’s all flavors that I like,” said Firtle. “I was informed by my experience with cocktails. Because of my work with Owney’s, I have a pretty good understanding of what people like in their cocktails.”
Each flavor has been designed to target different physical and emotional benefits and promote balance within the body and mind, which was really important to Firtle to incorporate in the drinks.
“There are functional benefits to ginger, and pineapple plays well with ginger. There are functional benefits for blueberries,” said Firtle, referring to the Coastal Immunity and Tidal Defense. “A lot of herbs taste pretty funky, so we use fruit juice to balance that. Sea salt, which is in every drink, is not just anti-inflammatory, it helps the flavor pop and pays homage to the ocean. This coupled with feedback from the flavor house led us to where we are now.”
A key element to Rockaway is the company’s commitment to protecting the environment. When Firtle first started to build the company, she was connected with the organization 1% for the Planet, which connects companies to help accelerate smart environmental giving. As a Rockaway, Queens native, it was particularly important to Firtle that the company was paired with an organization that was committed to saving beaches.
As a member of 1% for the Planet, Rockaway donates 1% of its sales to the local NYC chapter of The Surfrider Foundation, a global non-profit dedicated to protecting the world’s beaches.
“Always from the beginning, Rockaway has been my personal happy place. Rockaway Beach is where feel the most at home. I knew the company had to be driven to help save the ocean,” said Firtle. “1% for the Planet matched us with a nonprofit member of the group who suggested that Surfrider NYC would be a good fit for my personal goals.”
Right now, Rockaway is only available online for purchase. However, Firtle has plans to get Rockaway in stores in New York City and Long Island next year.
“We had to launch digitally due to the current climate, it was hard to launch traditional distribution this year,” said Firtle. “But we have a strategy to get Rockaway in stores with a suggested retail price of $1.99 in New York City and Long Island in 2021.”
Rockaway’s sparkling waters are available for purchase with free shipping nationwide on drinkrockaway.com. Packs of 8 are available for $32.99 and packs of 16 are available for $39.99. Combo packs and subscriptions are also available.