The owners of the new Zero Bar & Lounge mobile bar literally put the cart before the horse in July of 2022 to get started. That’s how excited they were to bring an alcohol-free, elevated bar experience to Jackson and the Washtenaw County area.
“She called me and said, ‘Hey I have this idea for a mobile bar, but I think it’d be great if we could do it non-alcoholic,” recalled Josnelly Aponte-Martinez, of a conversation she had with friend and business partner Sandy Yeager. “Later that month she messaged me, ‘I found a trailer, let’s go buy it.’ And she bought it. Before we even had a company.”
The woman-owned business specializes in flavorful, non-alcoholic alternatives that capture the experience of socializing over drinks without the complications attached to alcohol, like altered behavior and hangovers the next day.
Before deciding to quit drinking, Aponte-Martinez said her relationship with alcohol was wrecking her life. Once she did quit, some of her friendships went south, which she thought was sad. This made her realize that alcohol shouldn’t be the bonding point between people. The actual human connection should be what bonds people.
“There’s this idea that you can only have fun when you are drinking is very prevalent in our society,” Aponte-Martinez. “Or, to survive motherhood, you need wine. All these social norms that we get wrapped up in honestly don’t help develop healthy relationships sometimes. If anything, (alcohol) can be used as an escape for things you should be dealing with in life.”
Aponte-Martinez’s expressed thoughts like these while detailing her sober journey on her Instagram page in 2022, as Yeager followed along. Eventually, Yeager pitched the idea of a boozeless bar to Aponte-Martinez, and that’s when things picked up momentum. And now they’re “Living AF” (alcohol-free.)
“She had the dream and I had the drinks,” said Aponte-Martinez said, with a laugh.
Yeager, who drinks alcohol occasionally, added that beyond her hopes to launch a successful business, she hopes Zero can spark inclusivity, and help tear down some of the negative stereotypes associated with drinking culture.
“There’s this thing where we question people who don’t drink at a big event like a wedding, like that’s not normal,” Yeager said. “It’s not anybody’s business to know. Maybe you’re on some type of medication, maybe you don’t want people to know you’re pregnant. Maybe you just don’t drink, plain and simple. It’s such a peer pressure thing. Among adults, we don’t like that happening to our children, so we shouldn’t let it happen to ourselves, either.”
Don’t ‘Mock’ Me: Zero Bar Crafts Adult Beverages for Adults
In the 10 months or so that Zero has been opened, the mobile bar has anchored more than a dozen events in the Jackson area on the backs of its signature, zero-proof drinks. These are full-bodied beverages with a thoughtful profile and ingredients – “mocktail” is a dirty word to Aponte-Martinez and Yeager. They’re in the business of providing “exhilarating healthy choices.”
Zero Bar & Lounge owners Sandy Yeager (left) and Josnelly Aponte-Martinez pose for a photo.
“Mocktails are typically a mixture of juices and syrups,” Aponte-Martinez said. “If you go to a bar without alcohol as a base for a drink, all you’re going to get is a mix of juices. For me it’s like, you may as well give me a juice box like I’m a kid. That’s the advantage of these products, most of them are zero sugar, zero calories.”
Ritual brand zero proof spirits and Brewt’s brand mixers are at the heart of many of Zero’s signature drinks. Those products and many more are also sold and delivered by Zero for those living within a 25-mile radius of the business owners. That’s the second leg of their business model.
“I was a wine drinker, but there were a few drinks that I thought I was going to miss when I decided to live alcohol-free. But I’ve been able to replicate those flavors. It’s exciting because it’s like, I don’t have to miss those times,” Aponte-Martinez said, before making a joke. “I can have the same type of drink; it’s just not going to give me a headache or make me say something stupid. Well, I still say stupid things.”
Anchoring their menu for upcoming events include their crowd-pleasing, zero-proof margarita and Aponte-Martinez’s “Dog Tail,” which is a combination of Hairless Dog N/A beer, N/A gin, bitters and syrup.
What events are good fits for Zero Bar & Lounge?
A big part of Yeager’s vision for Zero was to service events and locations that traditional bars don’t mesh with.
“Because it’s non-alcoholic, we can do corporate events at lunchtime, we can do family events at state parks,” Yeager said.
The “Lounge” facet of the business includes a tent area with decorated upholstered chairs beside the cart at events.
“We have a lounge for people to sit and relax and have a chat over a ‘cocktail,’” Yeager said. “Just like a Starbucks or any place would have a sit-down area.”
Zero also markets itself for:
The business partners hope that weddings become a major source of clientele for Zero. Their long-term hope is to eventually move past the niche label and become commonplace at celebratory milestones like the ones listed above, as Aponte-Martinez believes there’s something to be said for being present and mindful during life’s biggest moments.
“Some people we have served or talked to over the last year say things like, ‘This is great, I’ve been sober for so long.’ One woman recently told us, ‘I wish you were around two years ago when I got married. My husband has been sober for so long and he could only have an Arnold Palmer at our wedding,’” said Aponte-Martinez, who credits her husband, Francisco Martinez, for helping to co-bartend in the business’ infancy. “We also get people who ask the question, ‘What’s the point?’ And of course, it’s their choice and their right to have that stance. We think the point is to be present.
“It’s to live in the moment of a celebration and to feel good the next day,” she went on. “There’s many reasons that not drinking becomes taboo. People ask, ‘Why are you not drinking?’ And that should never be a question.”
Dispelling the notion that you have to be drunk to have fun is Zero Bar’s mission. At the same time, they want to make sure guests don’t feel underwhelmed at classic N/A choices like soda or water. With Zero Bar, you get both.
They’re not preachy, they’re not judgmental. They just want to add to the growing list of alcohol-free social options in Michigan.
“It’s about choices,” Yeager said. “You can have pop or water most of the time if you don’t drink. Well, we want you to have better choices than that.”
Photo credit: Zero Bar & Lounge
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