By Madison Flager
Portrait by David Benhaim
One in eight Americans experiences food insecurity. That means more than 40 million Americans regularly do not know where their next meal will come from, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When Danny Lafuente and Dan Maslow first learned these statistics, the South Florida residents were brainstorming ideas for a business that would give back. In the years since, they’ve created an unlikely way to help fight hunger in America—and it’s something you can find at the liquor store.
The idea for Simple Vodka was born in 2014, when Lafuente was working at The LAB Miami, a co-working space he co-founded in Wynwood, and Maslow was working in health care technology. Not wanting to waste extra food from events at The LAB, they began bringing leftovers to a food bank down the road.
“Every time we went there, there was a different group of people,” Lafuente says. “It was staggering to see in person how many people were affected by food insecurity just in our area.”
Lafuente and Maslow decided to tackle food insecurity head on. In 2015, they started Simple Spirits, the company behind Simple Vodka. The brand has a TOMS-like model: For every bottle produced, 20 meals are provided to hungry Americans. Each bottle contains around 20 servings of liquor, so one drink equals one meal.
“We wanted to create a product that would not only draw attention to the issue, but that people would also enjoy consuming,” says Lafuente of Simple Vodka, which hit shelves in March.
In less than a year, Simple Vodka has donated more than 61,000 meals to those in need by working with the Miami Rescue Mission, Feeding America and No Kid Hungry. Donations are made at the point of production, so every bottle made—even if it is broken in transit or donated instead of sold—makes a difference.
Simple Vodka can be found in liquor stores in New York and throughout South Florida, as well as at several local bars and restaurants, such as The Wynwood Yard, which held a hurricane relief fundraiser in September and included Simple Vodka on the menu. In West Palm Beach, the liquor is featured during Tackle Hunger on Football Sundays at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ.
The vodka is made from potatoes and water, with no added sugar or preservatives. Potatoes give it a “unique body and slightly sweet taste,” Lafuente says.
“We wanted to create a product that was inherently American, and what’s more American than Idaho potatoes?” adds Maslow.
The amount of care and effort Lafuente and Maslow put into creating their product is evident; now, it’s all about increasing awareness to help fight hunger on a larger scale. Simple Vodka plans to expand into more Florida markets, as well as into New Jersey, Texas and California. By 2020, Lafuente hopes to be donating at least 30 million meals annually.
“It’s an ambitious goal,” he says. “But you have to aim high… I don’t think we’re so naive to think we’re going to end hunger in America, but we’re sure as hell going to make a dent.”