Two Houstonians who are experts in helping other people have a good time are bringing the city a new place to party, fundraise and compete. Fresh off the success of the Day for Night festival, Omar Afra and Dutch Small have joined forces to open a Houston branch of the global Our/Vodka project in East Downtown.
Established in Sweden in partnership with spirits giant Pernod Ricard, Our/Vodka is a series of micro distilleries in cities around the world including Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Detroit and Seattle. In each city, the company partners with creatively-minded people who help source local ingredients for the vodka and program events at the distillery. Currently working its way through the permitting process, the facility should open later this year.
"One day I get a call from this guy named Thurman," Afra recalls. "He says, 'Yo man. Opening a distillery in Houston, are you interested?' I said, 'Who are you and where did you get my phone number?' He said, 'I’ve been researching you and looking for you. This one real estate guy had your number. Why don’t you let me come talk to you?'"
After a meeting, Afra and Small flew to meet with the Our/Vodka partners in the other cities.
"It’s a really rad group of people. Everybody in these respective cities are cool. They’re kind of the Dutch and Omar of Amsterdam, Detroit . . . We decided to move forward on it. From there, we’re here now."
The vodka itself will be packaged in a clear bottle with a simple label and a signature crown cap. While the spirit in the bottle is an important part of what's happening, Afra and Small are excited about the distillery's potential as event space for non-profit organizations.
With 3,000 square feet of space available to 501c3 organizations at select times "for gatherings of any kind" and 1,500 square-feet of space "attached to the distillery for galas or other events geared towards raising funds for non-profits," the distillery will likely become a major fundraising destination. A 600 square-foot patio will also be available either separately or in conjunction with the other spaces.
"The most sexy part about this was the way this program fits into the community," Afra says. "It’s got a lovely geography where it both works with and helps the local community of non-profits and entrepreneurs. It (also) ties Houston into this global movement."
Afra adds that it's up to the individual groups to determine how groups to use the space and what kind of events they hold there. He and Small are hoping the opportunity fosters creativity.
"We’ve worked with so many non-profits. People are constantly getting in our ears about 'hey, I need a space for this non-profit event.' There’s not a lot of great spaces for non-profits to program in at no cost. We’re glad to offer this space for that," Afra says.
In addition to fundraising events, the duo also have plans to allow organizations to hold fundraising happy hours at the distillery, and Small will plan bartender and chefs competitions similar in spirit to the Thanksgiving Leftover Throwdown he organized in 2013.