What’s a Jel Shot? Sarasota founder explains her startup
Her friends call her the shot fairy.
Birthday parties, tailgates, you name it — Ashley Zalkin is there with the alcoholic goodies.
Her focus, she said, is having a good time with all her friends but her specialty is what she calls jel shots: a gelatin and alcohol mix.
“At my parties, I always wanted to supply something,” said Zalkin, who first explored gelatin shots during her time studying at the University of Central Florida. “They were a lot of quality for not a lot of cost.”
A glaring issue popped up, though. Gelatin shots took forever to make and left her kitchen in complete disarray.
“I would have to go buy the ingredients, spending time making them and my kitchen would be a mess. The whole process took about five hours,” Zalkin explained.
After she was finished preparing a mega-batch of jel shots for her 25th birthday party, she “had one of those light bulb moments.”
“I turned to my roommate and said, ‘Why can’t I just go to a liquor store and buy these?’ He said that’s not a thing,” Zalkin said. “So I decided I’m going to make it a thing.”
Zalkin, a 28-year-old Myakka City resident, immediately found support from her family, which led to — through a series of complex networking connections — a partnership with Kevin Harrington, a star in the first three seasons of the hit show “Shark Tank.”
With Harrington’s help, Zalkin’s Jel Shot Co. has brought along well-known “industry muscle” to expand the business.
“We can just see the potential for all these people that believe in us and want to be with us and want to partner with us and invest in us. So we know we’re only going up from here, but I’m very humbled by it all, as well,” Zalkin said. “I know what I know and I know what I don’t know, so these people are my partners but they’re also my mentors.”
Harrington’s support has made the Jel Shot Co. business more credible, Zalkin said, and it’s helped increase their distribution footprint quicker than they imagined. He is also working on bringing influencers and celebrities onto the team to increase product popularity.
“The first time I met (Harrington) he told me, ‘You guys have already done all the hard work. Now I want to make it explode,’ ” Zalkin said.
The explosion is already underway. The company began with a small distributor in Florida but the product is now available in seven states and three countries. Jel Shots are also sold at liquor stores and bars in the Bradenton-Sarasota area. The company website lists where you can find them.
With flavors such as Blu-Razz, Candymelon (Watermelon) and Frosty Mug (Root Beer), Zalkin says customers love the taste and convenience of the prepackaged gelatin shots.
“Watching them taste our Jel Shots is like watching someone walk into Disney for the first time,” said Alex Zalkin, who helps out with her sister’s business. “Their eyes get wide and everything.”
Flavor isn’t the only thing Zalkin is proud of. She originally planned for about a year of experimentation to get the Jel Shot recipe just right; it ended up taking three after she matched with an experienced chemist. That added time came with benefits, however. Jel Shots are vegan, gluten-free, don’t require refrigeration and don’t melt up to 180 degrees.
“It’s not that I’m vegan and I’m not vegetarian, but I still care about quality products and if I can help the environment in any which way, I will,” said Zalkin, adding that the containers are already recyclable but Jel Shot Co. is trying to figure out how to make them biodegradable as well. “I care about what goes in my body.”
Jel Shots, with their 15 percent (30 proof) alcohol content, qualify as alcoholic beverages, but Zalkin hopes they can also enable responsible fun, as well, citing the hermetically sealed packaging as a benefit.
“We know that there are a lot of people who put their drinks down and walk away,” she said, referring to the use of date rape drugs such as Rohypnol.
In the future, Zalkin says she hopes to work with colleges to raise awareness about date rape drugs and safe partying. She’s also interested in giving back to the community through donations to local charities and hosting beach clean up days.
In the meantime, she’s happy to bring her dream to life along with friends and family.
“A lot of people say family and friends shouldn’t be in business together,” Alex said. “We’re not an ordinary family.”
Jel Shots can be found at local liquor stores and bars. They come in four-pack boxes for about $4.99 or 30-pack party trays for about $28.99. Jel Shots can also be ordered online and shipped anywhere in the country.
For more information, visit the company website at originaljelshots.com.