By Lesley Mahoney / Photos by Michael Piazza
Adam Lantheaume’s go-to cocktail is a Manhattan. It’s the drink he orders when he goes to a bar he’s not familiar with because he knows there’s a good chance it will be pretty drinkable. It’s also the drink he orders at his preferred watering holes because he appreciates their innovative riffs on the old standard.
About 10 years ago, Adam began trying his hand at making his own Manhattans, with an eye toward imitating the bartenders he’d closely observed at favorites like the old B-Side Lounge in Inman Square. But he found he was coming up a bit short. Curious by nature, Adam began asking the bartenders a lot of questions. The more he learned, the more curious he became and the more serious he got about perfecting his own cocktails. “Over time, it got closer and closer until it got to the point that I can make a Manhattan in my sleep, it’s so rote.”
But as he became more proficient at making drinks, Adam also quickly discovered a major hurdle for craft cocktail hobbyists: the right equipment and ingredients were extremely difficult to come by.
“When I tried to track them down, I had to go all over the place to get each item. Fellow imbibers had the same troubles,” says Adam, who procured his first Boston shaker through a bartender and at times would order items in bulk—including orange bitters, nearly impossible to procure back then—and split shipping with cocktail aficionados and industry professionals alike. “It shouldn’t be that hard. They’re not crazy expensive. They’re being manufactured. Why is no one carrying them?”
This conundrum got Adam thinking about a way to remedy this elusive supply and feed a perceived healthy demand for craft cocktail accoutrements. In September 2008, he quit his job as a project manager at Akamai Technologies and started The Boston Shaker, named for his first piece of bartending equipment that alerted him to the market’s appetite for such a business. Three months later, he opened a small prototype business inside Grand in Somerville’s Union Square, selling cocktail supplies. “We couldn’t keep the shelves stocked,” he recalls, noting even people in the industry were buying his products. That was enough to convince Adam and his business-minded wife, Kris, that it was time to think bigger. In February 2010, they opened The Boston Shaker flagship retail store in Davis Square. It wasn’t long before Kris left her job as a senior fiscal officer at MIT to work full-time as the finance and operations manager for The Boston Shaker. As Adam puts it, he works the front of the house and she works the back.
From the prototype store to full-scale retail and wholesale, The Boston Shaker has carved a niche for professional cocktail connoisseurs and novice mixologists alike. For starters, there’s a glass to suit any drink—from hand-blown tiki glasses to classic martini glasses; bar kits for every skill level; shakers and strainers, stir spoons, and Yarai mixing glasses; a full library of books curated by Adam; and nearly 100 varieties of bitters. There are even vintage cameras for décor, in homage to Adam’s photography and film background.
Meanwhile, packages are stacked against a back wall, hinting at The Boston Shaker’s web sale business. Add to that the business’s wholesale component, through which restaurants and bars buy directly. The Lantheaumes assure that each product is carefully vetted. “We choose the best tools and ingredients that represent our store,” says Kris. “We’ve done the work.”
“I like curating,” Adam adds. “I like identifying quality items and sharing them with people. I find when I talk to customers on the floor, I talk a lot about the history of the product, where it came from, why it’s good.”
In addition to sales, The Boston Shaker offers classes and demonstrations. “Part of the reason the store exists is because a lot of people are intimidated by cocktails, making and ordering them.” The Boston Shaker aims to ease this fear factor. And regardless of your skill level, The Boston Shaker aims to fit your needs. “We want the novice to feel comfortable but we don’t want them to leave once they get into it.”
Both Adam and Kris agree that the most exciting part of the business is knowing they’ve filled a gap in the market, as evidenced by their sales. “What we provide for people that Adam didn’t have is all the resources they need to get really excited about a new hobby. When people walk into the store, they’re like, ‘Holy smokes.’ It’s so nice to be part of that excitement,” says Kris.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Boston Shaker also provides an outlet for the people who are creating the products. “Now there’s a place for them to sell it,” says Kris. For example, Adam’s friend Blair Reynolds created a line of syrups that The Boston Shaker now distributes.
“We got in right before a huge growth spurt” in the craft cocktail explosion, Kris notes. Now they’re riding the wave and figuring out next steps to manage their own evolution.
“We’re at a growth point,” Adam says. “We’ve grown organically over the years and tried to see what we can do to help. We’re at a point now where we are evaluating what to focus on.”
Regardless of the next steps for the business, the common denominator will be education. “We want to break down the intimidation level of cocktails,” says Adam. “Whether you’re a brand new bar or an individual just getting into cocktails or buying cocktail supplies and ingredients as a gift, we want to make this accessible to everyone.”
The Boston Shaker
69 Holland Street, Somerville
Lesley Mahoney is a Boston-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in South Shore Living, Cape Cod Magazine, various GateHouse Media publications, Edible Berkshires, and Post Road magazine. You can reach her at LMahoney1@gmail.com.