Entrepreneur helps patrons ‘lose the booze’ with pandemic-inspired drinks

Benson

Coming out of the COVID-19 crunch and witnessing an interest in “drying out” on the part of many pandemic prisoners — himself included — Benson Mutalemwa came up with a healthy alternative.

Originally from Tanzania and an Ottawa resident since 2006, Mutalemwa recently launched Knyota Drinks, offering a selection of adult-appropriate, non-alcoholic drinks that abstainers are not embarrassed to be seen drinking at a dinner party or office function. 

Knyota is the Swahili word for “little star,” a reminder, the owner says, of the mission to give consumers an adult alternative to booze. The Knyota rallying cry: “No alcohol doesn’t mean no fun!”

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Pop, juice and water aren’t always the preferred selections of sober and “sober curious” guests, says the man whose inspiration is partly attributable to gaining two sons, one just over two years old, the other nine months, during the COVID lockdown.

Fatherhood motivated Mutalemwa to limit his alcohol intake, leading him to discover a new world of alternative non-alcoholic drinks full of “passionate craft-makers, variety and creativity.” He says it was the stories of customers and their experiences that prompted him to start the company; to make it happen, he left a good job with pension and benefits.

“The pandemic and efforts to contain it knocked many of us for a loop and many people reported drinking more as a result,” he says. “At the same time (as) some people were turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism, many consumers were becoming more self-aware about their drinking habits.”

Mutalemwa became super-conscious of his own drinking habits while trying to relax when forced to stay home. He eventually realized he could gain the same refreshed feeling with non-alcoholic drinks without the fatigue and loss of energy induced by alcohol.

While he has never had a substance dependency, he would sometimes have “one too many” in social situations, he admits. Now, while he hasn’t completely sworn off the evil drink, he can’t remember the last time he had an alcoholic beverage.

Knyota Drinks sprung from the growing interest in adult alternatives, first as an online store with delivery and later as a bricks-and-mortar outlet on Bank Street, where regular tastings are offered of a wide variety of non-alcoholic wines, beers, zero-proof spirits and mocktails.

Don’t expect a cost break. Knyota drink selections are priced from as low as $1.30 per can to as high as $45 per bottle, depending on contents, similar to the pricing for alcoholic choices.

The company hosts mocktail master classes, where participants learn to “lose the booze” while creating appealing flavours. The Knyota mixologist walks participants through fundamental techniques and the importance of each ingredient while providing tips for better results.

There’s no denying the role of beverages in bringing people together, Mutalemwa underlines, adding that drinks are the core of how people celebrate, relax and socialize. But, he adds, adult-appropriate doesn’t have to be synonymous with containing alcohol.

The founder boasts that Knyota Drinks is making it easier to shop for adult non-alcoholic choices while creating a community of like-minded consumers. Most customers, he says, aren’t necessarily abstainers but are interested in reducing consumption.

“Stories of parents looking to reduce alcohol consumption for better family life, individuals feeling more comfortable socializing without pressure to consume alcohol, people turning to no- and low-alcohol for health reasons, and those protecting years of sobriety … they’ve made me far more attached to the impact Knyota Drinks can deliver to the community.”

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