Drink Up Week: Q+A with 6 Lakeland business owners

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We sat down with local bev biz owners to talk about their ventures. | Photo via Color Theory Tea

Get comfortable and pour yourself a morning cup, because it’s time to meet some of the local makers behind your favorite beverage-based businesses. In honor of Drink Up Week, we’re adding to our Q+A series and asking them about their businesses, favorite local menu items, and Lakeland’s best mixologists.

Q: Tell us your name, title, and one thing our readers should know about you + your business.

A: My name is Christian Lugo and I am the Master Distiller and Co-Founder of LUGO’S Craft Distillery. We distill, age and bottle our Rums right here in Lakeland, and our new cocktail lounge serves up amazing cocktails with the spirits we make in-house.

A: I am Jenna O’Brien and I am the Founder and Creative Director of Color Theory Tea Co. We create loose leaf tea blends inspired by color, hope, and joy. Our tea blends are designed to offer an elevated, yet approachable, tea experience with little fuss or pretense.

A: My name is Jonathan Bucklew and I’m the Founder of The Joinery. People should know that there are locals behind the brand — just a couple of Lakelanders who sold everything to try something. We hand-built pretty much everything you see inside, from the dining tables and banquettes to the concrete bar and steel tap system and fencing. We’ve had a wild first few years in business and we’re ever so grateful to this community for keeping us alive through the hardest few years of our lives. We’re excited to see so many local businesses come alive again this year as we all begin to recover from this season.

A: My name is Jordan Willcox, I am the owner and creative director for Jude Coffee. One thing I think the readers should know is that yes, we want to have a physical location in the next couple of years, but it won’t be that soon. So make sure you come out to one of our pop-ups.

A: Tim Calhoon, Vice President and Director of Spirits at Frescos Southern Kitchen & Bar. Frescos was the first craft bar in downtown Lakeland and offered Lakeland’s first regular first full-service brunch.

A: [The team is made up of] Wendy Johnson — owner, AJ Jackson — best friend and business partner, and Elizabeth Paris — taproom and social media manager. We run Krazy Kombucha, the only local kombucha brewery + taproom in the area, and just celebrated one year open in June. Kombucha is perfect for everyone that is looking to add healthy antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, and probiotics to their lifestyle.

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Try the “Dragon Berry,” featuring organic strawberries + dragon fruit. | Photo via Krazy Kombucha

Q: What’s the best drink on your menu?

Jenna O’Brien: I love our Rainy Bookstore tea — it’s our custom blend of Earl Grey and lavender buds.

Jonathan Bucklew: I have two personal favorite drinks on our bar menu. The first would be our house Old Fashioned. I’ve long been a “bourbon guy,” and when we were beginning to build out our bar menu, the one thing I was sure of was that we HAD to have my favorite Old Fashioned in town at The Joinery Bar. Madison Watson, our Director of Operations, bar manager, and prized mixologist worked very hard to give us the most balanced and boozy OF in town! The close second would be our Uno Moss. Spicy and bold, this green juice margarita does the trick on any sunny afternoon for me. Try it with half the agave for a little more kick.

Christian Lugo: My favorite thing on there is the “Mixologist Special.” Our mixologists have a lot of creativity and they like bringing new ideas to the lounge, so you can ask them what they’re making that day to have something unique and delicious.

Tim Calhoon: I feel the best drink on our menu is the Tennessee Sunshine. A version of a Manhattan, we use orange-infused Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, house-made vanilla, orange syrup and orange bitters.

Wendy Johnson: Our best seller is Ginger, made with organic ginger root and organic apple juice. We also have 19 flavors on tap to choose from. Everyone can find a flavor they love — most can’t pick just one favorite!

Jordan Wilcox: I want to say my signature drink which is 8-ounce iced Americano in a paper cup, but in reality, it’s my wife’s signature drink which is a 12-ounce latte with oat milk and honey + lavender.

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Lugo’s Craft Distillery created a specialty secret menu item for LALtoday readers during Drink Up Week: The Liberi. Tell your bartender “I want to be liberated” to order the secret rum cocktail through Sun., July 31. | Photo via Lugo’s Craft Distillery

Q: What’s your go-to order from another Lakeland establishment?

Jenna O’Brien: Black & Brew [Coffee House and Bistro] serves Color Theory Tea, so I always get an iced matcha latte with oat milk and a pump of lavender. It’s MAGIC!

Jonathan Bucklew: I really LOVE the Macho Margarita from Nineteen61. Emerson is a great mixologist as well and Lakeland is elevated because of what he and Marcos have done with Nineteen61.

Jordan Wilcox: A 6-ounce cappuccino from Concord Coffee.

Tim Calhoon: My go-to cocktail at any craft bar is a traditional Manhattan, made with Rye Whiskey. It’s my way of checking the skills.

Q: Tell us about one of your star mixologists who our readers should meet for themselves.

Jonathan Bucklew: If you haven’t met “Maddi” yet, you’re missing out! Madison Watson has been with us since the fall of 2019 and played such an integral role in launching The Joinery. She’s an incredibly experienced craft mixologist and beer aficionado, and the cocktail chef/beer selector behind The Joinery Bar menu! Maddi’s get-er-done spirit, smile, and laugh are all contagious and we sure hope you say “hi” to her next time you’re in for an adult beverage.

Christian Lugo: Kim is a rockstar behind the bar! Always sure to bring a smile to your face with her friendliness and to-die-for cocktails. Also, her playlists will keep you in zen for hours.

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You can purchase Color Theory’s loose-leaf tea at Black and Brew Coffee House and Bistro or through its website. Use code “DRINKUP” during Drink Up Week for 15% off your order. | Photo via Color Theory Tea

Q: Describe your ideal customer.

Jenna O’Brien: Tea drinkers who want to experience more flavorful and fun tea, coffee drinkers who are looking for caffeine without a terrible crash, and the kind of people who need to get themselves a little treat every day in order to survive.

Jonathan Bucklew: Our ideal customers are incredibly diverse. They are definitely the experience-oriented foodie who is after something a little different and fun. The Joinery is a food hall with seven different chef-driven restaurants and a craft cocktail, draft beer, and wine bar. Our space is modern, fun, inviting, and inspiring. We see everyone from the snow birds who come in for their weekday afternoon Florida craft brew, to the high school get-together on the weekends.

Christian Lugo: I love when people come in with a genuine interest to learn and try new things!

Jordan Wilcox: My ideal customer would feel comfortable asking me any question about coffee. They’re not ashamed to order what they like versus what is cool. They would be down to talk about whatever is happening in their life while I am making their cup. Making coffee is fun, creating relationships is much more fun.

Tim Calhoon: Our ideal customer is the person who is willing to experiment and try spirits and cocktails outside of their normal wheelhouse.

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Frescos Southern Kitchen & Bar is serving up two Drink Up Week cocktails: Tiki Time (spiced rum, banana liqueur, lime, grapefruit, ginger syrup, and simple syrup) and Endless Summer (blackberry brandy, lemon, and simple syrup). | Photo via Frescos Southern Kitchen & Bar

Q: Briefly tell us how your business came to be.

Jonathan Bucklew: The brewery inside The Joinery was originally designed and built by The Lakeland Brewing Company. A few years after they closed their doors, we had the opportunity to build out a food hall in this location. Our original plan was to lease out the bar/brewery to an existing Florida craft brewery as a second location, but after being encouraged by both Coppertail and Grove Roots to take on the bar and licensing ourselves, we decided to do so! We opened in January of 2020. Needless to say, the funding to start up the brewery got placed on hold and we were just treading water to survive. Now that we’re beginning to recover and catch our breath, we’re working on plans to get the system cranked back up. Stay tuned for updates as we get all of the pieces in place to see what she can do.

Tim Calhoon: Frescos opened in downtown Lakeland in the spring of 2009. We have increased our offerings and expanded multiple times. Frescos could actually be considered three businesses in one: A full-service restaurant and craft bar, a venue as we have three private rooms, and a full-service caterer.

Q: Why did you choose Lakeland for your business’ home base?

Wendy Johnson: Lakeland/Dixieland is my hometown. Kombucha helped my digestive and gut health so much, I wanted to provide the healthiest kombucha possible to my community.

Jordan Wilcox: Lakeland is perfect for Jude because Lakeland is now our family’s forever home. It’s not common for a small community to take as much pride and joy in their community as Lakeland does. I come from a city similar in the Pacific Northwest, and it was incredibly hard to leave. But I was welcomed with open arms here and it felt like I couldn’t have found a better space to be.

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