As a successful entrepreneur and a survivor of childhood abuse, Michelle Weber has raised many a glass to life's hard-earned victories.
This week, however, brings her biggest reason to celebrate yet: The unveiling of Southern Curves Spirits, a line of vodkas infused with locally-inspired flavors and Weber's own indomitable attitude.
The former owner of Cocoa's Dessert Bar on Wilmington Island, Weber began developing her elixirs after winning a martini contest sponsored by a local liquor distributor. She started experimenting with different ingredients, picking jasmine and honeysuckle blooms from her backyard and mixing up rows of giant Ball jars in the kitchen.
"My son would say, 'It looks like a moonshine still in here!'" she laughs. "But people kept coming into the bar telling me, 'You need to bottle this stuff, girl.'"
After years of enlisting lucky friends and neighbors in taste tests, Southern Curves Spirits is sending its two best standouts into the world: The flower-and-peach-inflected Sweet Georgia Nectar, and Southern Praline, a shot glass of Savannah's famous candy.
The brand will first be distributed throughout Georgia, then hit South Carolina in the coming months with other markets to follow. Southern Curves Spirits has been picked up by National Distributors, and vodka connoisseurs can expect to see the embossed bottles on the shelves of their favorite bars and beverage stores.
Weber launched her latest venture with a black-tie affair last week at Savannah Station, where eager palates sampled cocktails like Jezebel Tea and Southern Irishman's coffee. A crowd favorite was the Curvy Girl, made from Sweet Georgia Nectar, a splash of fresh lemon juice and a spoonful of strawberry preserves shaken and topped with champagne.
CEO Weber was dressed in finery for the occasion, but the affable blond couldn't help getting back behind the bar to serve a few drinks. After all, her working class roots and hardscrabble upbringing are an integral part of the Southern Curves story.
"I grew up really, really poor, and my situation was very abusive. I was homeless as a teenager at one point, I never had an opportunity to go to college," she says.
Her life took a step up after being trained as a dental assistant, but she always had a serving job or two on the side to make sure her son grew up with the advantages and small luxuries she didn't. She also has come to appreciate the particular challenges that women face in American culture, especially around unrealistic expectations surrounding body image: She chose the name Southern Curves not only to celebrate her Southern heritage, but the body type of what she calls "real women."
"Society is all about skinny this, skinny that, it's so judgmental," cries Weber. "My whole thing is to help women to feel comfortable with who they are and what they look like."
There are also plans for a foundation that will raise funds for local women's charities like Safe Shelter and the Rape Crisis Center, as well as support entrepreneurial women looking to start their own businesses.
"I'm here because I never gave up, and I want to be there for other women, to remind them to hang on," she says.
"If you're willing to get out there and bust your ass, I want to help."
By using her brand to promote healthy attitudes about women's self-image, Weber believes that will in turn help to build stronger communities.
It's a philosophy that also translates into a very pretty martini. Though there were plenty of dudes knocking back cocktails at the launch, Weber makes plain that Southern Curves' marketing is definitely lasered on female consumers.
"Of course these are girly drinks — that's a good thing!" Weber declares with another throaty laugh.
Why does everything look like a Moon Pie?