200 Products from One Startup in Brooklyn

Eric Prum and Josh Williams of W&P Design

It All Started with a Shaker

With over 200 products under their belts, W&P Design have established themselves as a major player in food and beverage design. Perhaps one of the only players.

“It’s a pretty unusual business model,” admits cofounder Josh Williams.

The company makes everything from barware and books to hot sauce kits. They describe themselves as “a design company in the food and beverage space.” And they have a lot of companies they look up to, but not a lot of competitors, Williams said.

When he and cofounder Eric Prum started W&P Design, though, they only had one product. The Mason Shaker, their cocktail shaker made from a mason jar, was a Kickstarter success back in 2012. Williams and Prum had previously used mason jars in their catering business, which they started while roommates at the University of Virginia.

Those early Mason Shaker customers received products made by Williams and Prum themselves, with help from “our friends, our wives, or at the time our girlfriends,” said Williams. The warehouse space in Long Island was less-than-ideal. “We had a pet squirrel – not by choice,” said Prum.

But they had big dreams.

“Our long-term goal was to make a company, but what we had was one product,” Williams told us. “It’s always the same when you launch with one product. You get labeled as ‘the mason shaker guys’. You just have to come out with more products.”

And that’s what they did.

W&P Cocktail Books

On a recent afternoon, the W&P offices in Greenpoint, Brooklyn smelled a bit pungent. There was a lot of pickling going on, as W&P staff tried out recipes in the company’s sleek new test kitchen. The pickled vegetables are part of the recipes for a new book the company intends to publish on nachos. W&P’s latest venture is a publishing imprint called Dovetail, and the founders plan to release three books in September.

It was a misunderstanding that first led them to book publishing. W&P had been publishing photos of cocktails using their barware products on Instagram for a while when a retailer approached them with interest in selling their book. There was no book, but that got Williams and Prum thinking.

“We approached [book publishing] like we would any other design project,” said Williams. That is, by focusing on solving a food and beverage problem. The W&P team found cocktails and recipe books unapproachable and wanted to fix that.

They published their first book, Shake, in about 60 days, which is far less than the year or more it typically takes traditional publishers. Clearly it was more efficient to work on design, recipes, photos, and publishing under one roof¬–theirs.

And it turns out books “sell really well alongside our products,” said Williams. A book on infusions, the appropriately titled Infuse, was sold with their Mason Tap, a metal pour spout that attaches to a mason jar, for easy infusing and dispensing of oils, sprits, and waters. And their forthcoming nacho book ¡Buenos Nachos! will be sold in conjunction with a metallic pyramid-shaped grater and baking blanket in a Mexican textile print.

W&P Products

The company’s ever-growing portfolio of products fills a wall of shelves in their office space and include the company’s Carry On Cocktail Kits and their line of pineapple barware. Inspiration and design happen here, but the products are now made out of a proper manufacturing warehouse (sans squirrel) in Virginia. (The company also designs products for private label partners like Bulleit Bourbon, Birchbox, Williams-Sonoma, and Sur La Table.)

The company’s staff is growing to keep up with their products.

The founders have largely self-funded their company, and although product growth has been fast, they’ve been slow and deliberate with hiring. At their current size of 16, “we’re understaffed,” said Prum. They’ve tried to create an environment that keeps people around–field trips to local food purveyors are one of the perks of working here. So far staff retention is 100%.

They look for employees who “buy into what we’re doing long term,” said Eric. And experience in food and beverage is pretty important. This is the sort of place where your experience working as a bartender or waitress should definitely be included in your resume.

And by the way, they’re hiring.