Building a Brand: Cathead Vodka
by Andi Agnew | photographed by Frank Farmer
In its spacious new digs on Farish Street in downtown Jackson, Cathead Distillery looks as if it has always been there. In reality, this young business made the move from the northern suburb of Gluckstadt just a few months ago. The idea for Mississippi’s first vodka distillery, however, was hatched in Fondren.
“When I moved back from Charleston, South Carolina, I moved into the Fondren Corner building. That’s where I wrote my business plan seven years ago for Cathead,” says owner Austin Evans.
Born and raised in Jackson, Evans attended the University of Alabama, where he met his business partner, Richard Patrick. The two worked in Charleston together as well. “Richard and myself were working in the industry in Charleston, and I knew I wanted to start a small business in Jackson – it was just a matter of what I wanted to do. We decided to move back here and start Cathead. Right before I moved back, I was hanging out at Fondren Unwrapped, and went up to one of my buddies’ apartments in the Fondren Corner building. I thought, ‘This is the place I want to live,’ so I called Sam (Peters) up and got a place. For the first four or five months straight, all I did was sit in my apartment and write a business plan.”
No stranger to small business in Mississippi, Evans’ father, John, owns Lemuria Books. It would seem that fate led Evans to Fondren, not only for the future of his business, but his personal future as well. Not long after moving into the Fondren Corner building, Evans was introduced to a girl who lived a floor below him – she is now his wife, Laura Blackwell Evans, and they are expecting a baby girl in August.
Cathead was first located in Gluckstadt mostly out of convenience. “When we first started out, our only customer was the ABC – the state distributes all the alcohol – and we were less than a mile from them in Gluckstadt. It made things easy, logistically. Since we were the first distillery, any questions we had along the way about things that hadn’t been done before, we could just go over there and ask them about it,” Evans says.
“Gluckstadt acted as a business-building facility, mostly manufacturing and production, and now we want to concentrate on outside sales and building the brand. I always wanted my business to be located in Jackson; it was just a matter of growing to get to that point, and to build off of the growing tourism economy in Jackson.”
Evans credits the sense of community in Fondren for its impact on the success of his business. “Moving back to Jackson and being in Fondren definitely is embedded in the business and the brand itself — basically I never left Fondren. I still don’t, except to come downtown to work. I love that you don’t really have to leave Fondren — you can go to Sneaky Beans in the morning for coffee, go to lunch, go to dinner, go to the bar afterwards, just walk around… and there are all these great people you see along the way.”
“I also appreciate how much Fondren has supported the brand. Every restaurant in Fondren is a huge supporter of Cathead. Selling something is all about relationships, and living in Fondren and being around that neighborhood was definitely a strong point in getting Cathead into the restaurants there. It takes that kind of support to really grow a brand.”
Cathead offers tours Thursday through Saturday, and the space is available for private events. On Friday, June 10, Cathead Distillery hosts “The Last Boil – Jackson’s last big Crawfish Boil of the season” with crawfish, live music, beer and more. Learn more on their Facebook page.