For those of us who have made our rounds in the nightlife and events scene, you might know Coconut Cartel as being the first to launch the trend of Instagrammable branded coconuts onto Miami’s social sphere. But we’re here to tell you that there’s more to the cocktail company than just, well, coconuts. In fact, their story is a David vs. Goliath tale of getting back to the roots, lawful loopholes, female empowerment, and making a splash in a saturated hospitality industry. We dedicate ourselves to spotlighting truly Miami stories, and this one’s as Miami as they come.
Much like Miami’s current cultural resurgence, Coconut Cartel’s story starts with rediscovering where we come from and what makes us so vibrant as people. And maybe, just a little bit of luck. Born and raised in Miami, Danielle and Mike Zig reconnected with their Central American heritage, spending their formative years in both Guatemala and El Salvador. In 2013, while Danielle was still in college, her brother made a remarkable discovery while exploring a former Almond Joy coconut plantation–a flavor the likes of which no one had touched or tasted in nearly 100 years. As scrappy as he is, Mike found a loophole in U.S. Customs’ policies that allowed him to bring multiple luggages worth from overseas because coconuts–as it turns out–aren’t classified as fruits, but as nuts. So, dalé, they were good to go.
Now, fresh off a business degree from Babson, Danielle and her brother took these entirely unique nuts to popular watering holes around Miami like Soho House, The Raleigh, and even a few of Matt Sherman’s concepts, and Coconut Cartel was born. Because of the pure magic of its discovery, the coconut itself was at the forefront of the business at first, popping up at big festivals like III Points for an interactive experience. Eventually, the trend spread like wildfire and their presence, memorable and now recognizable, became solidified. They partnered and collaborated with popular spirit brands along the way, until the next stage in the business became obvious: a spirit brand of their own.
The essence of Coconut Cartel is introducing an interested audience to new flavors and experiences. And now with their original rum brand following in the same mentality, they’ve found a platform to ease non-rum drinkers to a new world of rum possibilities with their unique coconut flavor profile. The product is all-natural with only true ingredients–none of the usual flavor additives you see in what is usually marketed as coconut rum. Any kid growing up in Miami knows that Malibu and Parrot Bay are not your best friends. Don’t fret though, while Coconut Cartel might have become rum forward, those magical coconuts are still very much there, their coconut water being used to dilute the spirit for an ultimately smooth finish unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
Launched in October, Danielle–now a 27-year old female CEO (talk about an anomaly in a male-driven industry), has found a way not only to embody Miami in a bottle, but to boost both Guatemala and El Salvador’s local economies too. Partnering with Guatemalan rum distillers (whose partnership they won after years of nurturing), and reviving a long-lost agricultural industry in El Salvador by reactivating 3,000 acres of farmland and hiring locals to harvest such a high demand of coconuts. And while the branding of the final product is Miami, as you can see the story is entirely multi-cultural. Its pillars oozing innovation, authenticity, and of course, family.
Nothing about the rum is obvious. The elements of the label and brand–spearheaded by co-founder and Creative Director, Mike Zig–all hint toward Miami nuance without being too in your face, or reminding you of nights long forgotten. Unlike most spirit brands, Coconut Cartel doesn’t revolve around a perpetual party. They’re turning the rum narrative on its head, and making it accessible. It brings together the personable traits we all love about this city: authentic hospitality, tropical undertones, and a fun way of life. It’s all refreshed with their product, through approachable storytelling, cultural nuances, and an ode to their roots.
Here’s the thing though, the barriers to entry in the spirit world are crazy. The restrictions are high and the risk for distributors makes the chances of getting turned down even higher. Especially when you’re a start-up brand in a world where being a man and having age-experience are the key elements to get you on a shelf. Even still, Coconut Cartel has become a favorite among local bars and bartenders, expanding to over 230 on-premise locations and independent liquor stores in South Florida, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, DC–and soon California–in less than a year. And while all eyes are on Miami thanks to Coconut Cartel, their hustler story must be respected. Because in each glass you’re not just tasting delicious rum, you’re tasting curiosity, perseverance, and a willingness to care about what truly matters. They’re telling the right Miami story, the one we all need to know right now.
Photos courtesy of Coconut Cartel.