Gene and RoseMarie Austin of Presque Isle are more than a little proud these days of their daughter, Bonnie Burchell of Albuquerque, N.M.
A year ago, along with a business partner, Burchell launched her own company that in just a short amount of time has met with success. Her Bonita's Mixes offers sugar-free margarita, mojito and sweet 'n' sour drink mixes at only five calories a pop.
Marketplace@Alpena recently picked up her line and now offers the mixes for sale. Her company also will soon be working with National Wine and Spirits of Michigan in Madison Heights.
Bonnie Burchell, center, the founder and president of Bonita’s Mixes, works a food festival in Albuquerque, N.M., where she currently resides. Her sister, Lynn Reynolds of Saline, left, and Michelle Jedele of Manchester, joined her for the event. All three are the daughter of RoseMarie and Gene Austin of Presque Isle.
Burchell grew in Saline, Mich., where her parents were both bus drivers before they retired to Northeast Michigan in 1999. Her path in life ultimately led her to New Mexico.
She began making sugar free margarita mixes about five years ago in her home using Splenda and real juices. Three years later, she tried a mojito and thought, "I should use Splenda in this also" so began the sugar free mojito recipe. For years the vision of one day making the drinks, bottling them and selling them was always on her mind.
Ultimately, in 2010 and in fewer than two months, Burchell put together and bottled three mixes, tested them among family and friends, created labels and got her products on to shelves in Walgreens and Albertson stores in New Mexico.
"Our story has been really exciting from the first month we began," Burchell said. "When we did our first bottling batch, I went to a local UPS store to ship our mixes back to my family in Michigan to try, as they had not tasted them.
"The UPS workers were extremely nice and helpful, and I gave each of them a couple bottles each of margarita and mojito mixes, telling them they should try them."
Burchell didn't have customized labels. She simply stuck regular office labels on the bottles, along with instructions on how to make the mix.
"I left the UPS store, went on with my busy life and growing the new business," she said.
About five weeks later, her phone rang, and a man introduced himself as Brad Thornberry. He said he was a frequent customer of the UPS store, where the employees knew he was a diabetic, and had given him one of the margarita bottles.
"He went on to tell me he had been diabetic for 25 years, and loved margaritas but they didn't love him," Burchell said. "He said he had tried my mixes and loved them, and that he was in the liquor industry, and maybe we could do business together."
Thornberry, marketing manager of DIAGEO of New Mexico, a supplier of spirits such as Crown Royal and Smirnoff, said he would produce coupons advertising Bonita's Mixes and send them out with the spirits.
The company made the front page of NM Business Weekly in January of this year, with a follow-up story in February. The Albuquerque Journal carried a story in mid-February in its Business Outlook section and in early March featured the story in its food section.
Burchell's story doesn't end there. Her drink mixes were included in gift bags handed out to celebrities at the recent Grammy and Oscar awards.
Burchell is also the daughter of the late David Halliday. Her siblings, Lynn Reynolds of Saline and Michelle Jedele of Manchester, recently joined Burchell in Albuquerque for the Fiery Foods Festival at the Sandia Casino.