There’s nothing typical about Square One , the organic spirits company Allison Evanow founded in 2006. Although there were other companies with organic vodkas, Square One was the first entirely organic brand of certified organic spirits. Second, Evanow was one of not even a handful of women heading a spirits company that they also founded. Third, the company was funded by family, “savings and mortgages,” not outside investors. And, finally, Evanow started the company just six months after giving birth to twin boys at age 39.
Since then Evanow, who worked for many years with José Cuervo International and Domaine Chandon, has doubled the company’s sales and added new products, such as flavored vodkas — all while working out of a cottage on her property so she can be close to her children.
Evanow, her husband, Bill, vice president of sales for salesforce.com, and their two sons live in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
You started Square One when your twins were babies. Not many people would or could do that. Why did you?
I left my previous full-time position when I was pregnant and was consulting while I was pregnant, and so I knew at some point I would go back to work full time. So we had live-in au pairs from the get-go, which provided me with an easy platform. I was literally just at the moment of deciding, "well, am I going back to work and start applying for jobs?" and "what am I going to do?" when the idea hit me for this company and I said, "well, if I don’t do it, someone’s going to do it." So, rather than go work for someone else and fit my family into my schedule, I asked myself if I could balance it by being my own boss and having the flexibility to take care of my own kids when I need to.
What were the challenges of starting a business while being a new mom?
In the early stages it wasn’t really very difficult because I had to be the one driving everything forward. There was no one counting on me. I had to work on the business plan, I had to figure out how to finance it, and I had to talk with the distillery, so my hours the first year and a half were very flexible. It was when we launched I had to actually sell it and travel, so things did get complicated. It’s taken a lot of juggling.
You also had your boys when you were 39. Now, they’re 6. How do find the energy?
I think they keep me young, at least I hope so! I’m kind of an Energizer bunny kind of person anyway. I’m very Type-A and I have to be doing something all the time, so it actually works out for me very well to bounce between doing something for my business and grabbing my kids to head over to a baseball game or soccer game.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
I’m going to draw a parallel to being a mother. It’s literally like giving birth to something that you can claim was your baby. It’s been so much fun and personally rewarding to come up with this concept, bring it to life, see it get accepted by other people, add more products and grow. There’s a lot of self-satisfaction.
How has being a mom changed you?
I may be a Type-A personality as far as go-go-go-go, but I’m actually a pretty laid-back person as far as letting things fall as they may. I think with kids, that probably happens even more. Having kids, particularly twins, when they’re under 2 is really challenging; once they’re over 2, especially having the same sex, is actually pretty easy. The "kids" part has made me realize that you can’t always control everything; you got to let go of stuff.
What is the hardest thing to manage in your daily life?
Just sheer personal and professional coordination. The toughest part for us as a family is really making sure we’re covering all the bases of stuff that needs to happen in daily life. I generally keep a fairly neat home and I have to say my home has suffered. I’ve chosen my kids over my home and my business over my home. Coordinating my husband's schedule, my kids' schedule, the au pair’s schedule, who’s picking up whom, that’s probably the No. 1 challenge for us as a family.
Would you have been happy as a stay-at-home mom?
I hate to say this but, no. I just love my kids so much like any mom. They’re so incredible and I’m so lucky to have them, and as you can imagine, if I had them at 39 there was a reason. I had a lot of difficulty having children so I just felt so blessed to have gotten them. But I also feel that my personality is just not suited to do that. It’s such a full-time job, it’s so difficult. I just don’t think I’d be able to do it without pulling my hair out and not being as good a mom, or as much fun.
What things do you refuse to compromise on when it comes to your family?
My time is restricted with them, unfortunately, because I have made the choice to split my life between a career and my kids. I won’t give up on having my time with them, but I don’t see my kids as much as I would like to, so they’re my No. 1 priority when my day is over.
What has been the greatest joy in being a parent?
Just watching them learn. My husband and I love kids and wanted kids but we weren’t really around kids. We didn’t have a whole lot of exposure to parents who had kids. But when you’re around them and hear them say, “Oh Sally did this today” or “Johnny did that today,” you don’t get it. When you are finally are a parent you realize, "oh they weren’t bragging about their kids; they’re just sitting there in awe." And that’s so fascinating to watch these little things grow into these human beings.
Your kids are still too young, but at some point alcohol will be a discussion you’ll have to have with them. Does being the head of a liquor company create any sort of dilemma for you as a mother?
I want to say "no" only because I know how to manage things - whether it be wine, beer, spirits or anything else that’s not necessarily good for you, such as too much fat in your diet. I think my husband and I live a very balanced lifestyle in that way. But as a business owner there are times that I’ve seen things handled in my industry that give me pause. As a mother I just cringe and I say "you can’t market your product that way." It really comes down to how you position your brand to your audience, and the way we present ourselves to the market is in an adult way. We’re not advertising using bikini girls doing body shots.
What are the lessons you hope your children will learn from the choices you’ve made in your life?
It sounds so cliché but I really do believe in setting your sights on something you want to do. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be perfect at it or succeed at it; you can try your hardest for something and still not reach your goal. But it’s more about looking forward while not letting things knock you down. You must persevere. I have a saying: it’s not very elegant but I think, “suck it up and get on with it.”
Life for us as a family is very crazy because I do work entrepreneur hours, 70, 80 hours a week a lot of times. My husband has an important job and is busy, too, but I just say, "don’t complain." You’re allowed to have a pity party for a very short period. I hope my boys can see that’s the way I live my life; life is not always going to be perfect but you just keep moving forward. I hope they’ll take away that message. One thing I tell my kids is that I always want them to be nice to people. I just really can’t stand it when people are mean and nasty and rude or self-serving.
Square One founder and owner Allison Evanow was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom.