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Hidden Gems: Meet Mary Son of Son Beverage Company

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mary Son.

Hi Mary, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
One summer evening in June 1997 my new husband Tim and I went for a drive in the country and ended up eating dinner at a little restaurant where to our surprise my brother-in-law was playing his guitar and singing to the diners. During his break, he came to our table, sat down, and after a bit of catching up, he told us he was going to close the doors to the business his father started 52 years earlier, Blue Bonnet Potato Chip Company. This news broke my heart because I knew the hard work his younger brother, my late husband, had put into the family business until his death in 1991.

The next day Tim approached me with the idea that he and I take over my late husband’s family business. At first, I was opposed, but after a couple of weeks of persuasion, Tim convinced me we should make this move. To my surprise, the company was in financial despair and neither Tim nor myself knew anything about manufacturing. Fortunately, the only employee left came with the business and taught Tim and me how to make snow cone syrups, margarita mixes, punch concentrates and lemonade concentrates from scratch. Son Beverage was born July 2, 1997.

A year later, I quit my job to work full-time at Son Beverage Company, Tim followed three years later, and this business became our child. In the 25 years of Son Beverage Company, Tim and I have nurtured and fed the company growing it from five customers to hundreds of customers. Tim and I have done every job at the company from batching products and working on the filling line all day to working late on our paperwork, and cleaning the offices and bathrooms. From manually unloading raw materials off trucks to renting and driving a large truck to deliver 15 pallets to the warehouse of one of Texas’ largest grocery store chains ourselves.

This was a fun experience, Tim was having difficulty backing our smaller truck to the dock door so I got down off our truck, which I thought was pretty big, and knocked on the bottom of the door of a large 18-wheeler truck that was parked waiting to be unloaded and asked him to help my husband back up our truck. The experienced truck driver graciously jumped down from his truck, sat in the driver’s seat of our truck, and perfectly backed our truck to the dock door. Our truck now looked tiny next to those large ones.

Seven years ago, we grew as a family business as my daughter, Elizabeth joined Tim and me working at Son Beverage Company and handles all our marketing needs. Her older brother, John, joined the family six months later and is now our partner and oversees the operations of our business and will replace me, as I retire this fall.

In 2019 John’s wife, Samantha, joined the family and is our Quality Control/Food Safety Manager. As you can see, we are definitely a family business. We have four additional employees who have worked for us long enough to feel like family as well.

Right from the start, our snow cone syrups brightened every snow cone stand in the Alamo Plaza area with our new vividly colored new label and bright colors of our syrups. Our margarita mixes continue to be served at many of the San Antonio River Walk restaurants.

We started working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) to set up a food safety plan in 2003 and have continued keeping up with the F.D.A, required changes over the years. Samantha has a keen eye and watches over production like a hawk in addition to keeping the necessary records needed to manufacture safe and delicious products.

About seven years ago we decided to expand our co-packing and private label capabilities and have placed our focus on that area of our business for growth. We believe with all the knowledge we have learned over the years we can help other beverage startups as well as current beverage entrepreneurs. When working with private label and co-packing customers, we believe it is a partnership and want to do our best to help them succeed as well.

In the years to come, we hope the Jell-Craft label will continue to grow along with growing our co-packing and private label business. We hope Son Beverage will remain a family-owned business and God willing, be around for more generations to come.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
A family business is, by definition, never a “smooth road”. We have had multiple struggles that we have been able to overcome. We are a family of faith, and our Christian walk has been enhanced through these challenges.

Some of the major roadblocks included losing our top customer at the same time we moved into our new larger facility, overcoming the pandemic year and other lean years when there didn’t seem to be a way through, and losing key employees at times when they were desperately needed.

In each instance, we have relied on God to help us find a way through. He always has.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Looking back, we view our business as a ministry. The joy we have received has been through relationships with employees (family to us), vendors, and customers. We have shared experiences that are priceless. A couple of examples: we could not find a carrier to ship our product to a large warehouse in San Marcos. My husband and I rented a Pence truck, loaded several pallets, and drove for a late-night appointment. Once there, a kind truck driver backed up our vehicle next to the giant trailers on each side, something my husband didn’t feel he could accomplish safely.

Another special memory was the first truckload of a private label product for a large grocery store chain. We were in a small facility and were unfamiliar with the new filling line we had recently purchased. The purchase order required the product to be ready during Thanksgiving week. We all diligently worked and spent all night before the carrier arrived, finishing at 4:00 AM. We called in family members who willingly joined the effort. It was a joyous feeling to have completed the first delivery and the confidence we could continue to meet the demands of this great opportunity.

Our history is special. The roots of the company date to 1945, under the brand name of Jell-Craft products, which reveals an extended determination and focus over many generations. This provides credibility in the business environment of companies that haven’t survived. Because of our history, we get calls and have conversations with families that have used our products for family celebrations for years and consider our Jell-Craft beverages as part of their own history. It is gratifying to have these stories related to us and we appreciate the connection we have with our loyal customers.

As stated previously, we have an iconic brand familiar to San Antonio families, Jell-Craft Products. Jell-Craft is the name brand for beverage bases such as snow cone syrups/raspas, margarita concentrates, and punch concentrates. and lemonade concentrates. As we grow our private label and co-packing services, we can offer vendor and customer connections that are valuable to our new clients. We work with startups when many others won’t take the time or help them on their journey to develop, produce and market a product.

It is a tremendous undertaking to bring a beverage to the shelf and we are good at helping those with little to no knowledge the ability to do so. From formulation to shelf-life studies to sourcing of ingredients and packaging to connections with potential customers – we are able to help them through the process.

What does success mean to you?
Building relationships with employees, customers, and vendors: trusting in God to help us make decisions every day; being kind to those with whom we interact. We haven’t always been profitable, but the journey has been more than we hoped for when we started. We have been generously blessed along the way.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Landers Photography

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