With Pour Decisions STL, Kaje Sanford and Javia Gilliam are making cocktail culture more accessible
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity for many people to reflect, rest and regroup. Some took up new hobbies, learned another language or mastered a new skill. Kaje Sanford, assistant director of Student Financial Services at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and his wife, Javia Gilliam, drank – but with a purpose.
The couple became entrepreneurs and in October 2021 created Pour Decisions STL, a mobile bar service offering elevated alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the St. Louis region. The idea started brewing during the pandemic, when the two UMSL alumni – Sanford with a bachelor’s degree in psychology earned in 2015, Gilliam with an MBA completed in 2021 – were entertaining themselves at home, practicing mixing up craft cocktails. Gilliam had been laid off due to the pandemic and was contemplating her next steps.
“We had already been kind of experimenting with cocktails and craft practice because we were already in the house,” Sanford says. “She literally came downstairs and was like, ‘We’re gonna start a mobile bar,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, you got the vision. Let’s see what we do with it.’ And that’s how it was founded.”
The couple offers their bartending services for pop-up events, and guests can also book Pour Decisions’ mobile trailer. The couple bought a used horse trailer they found online that was in bad shape. Sanford and his mother DIY’d the renovations, turning it into a bar big enough for them to store alcohol and ingredients and serve customers through a walk-up window.
But the business has a deeper intent beyond just slinging drinks. The couple designed Pour Decisions with the idea of bringing communities together, with signature drinks that include ingredients they grow in their backyard, such as jalapeños and mint, but they also wanted to make drinking culture more accessible for the Black community.
Gilliam, who worked at a large liquor retailer in 2018, received formal training in the alcohol industry, including wine, spirit and cocktail flavor profiles. That education helped the duo design their signature drinks, including Persephone’s Love, a Margarita made with jalapeño, tequila and pomegranate. During in-store tastings, Gilliam also observed how some Black patrons were treated differently than white patrons.
“We really got into the business for accessibility,” Gilliam says. “I see the Black experience and alcohol, and we just aren’t highly represented. So we wanted to create a space where people feel comfortable, and they were getting a quality cocktail at a very good price.”
Sanford’s energy and dedication complement Gilliam’s master’s in business intelligence and information systems from UMSL and experience with coding that she used to build the company’s website backend. Thanks to the couple’s combined talents, business has taken off, with clients including St. Louis boutique Golden Gems, jewelry retailer Joya and this year’s Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball. For now, there are no immediate plans to open a brick-and-mortar location, but they have recently purchased a double-decker bus for events like micro-weddings.
“I don’t know that we quite saw the scale of what this could be in the beginning,” Gilliam says, “but we were like, ‘We got a plan, and we can grow this, you know?’”
This story was originally published in the spring 2023 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email email@example.com.
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