By Sarah Hauer Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jessica Bell, the founder of stemless wine glass maker "HaloVino" is a trained sommelier who once worked at "Modern", a two-Michelin-star restaurant in New York City. The Wisconsin native also brings some business acumen to the table too. She worked in investment banking for Goldman Sachs after graduating from Duke.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Jessica Bell is an investment banker turned sommelier turned entrepreneur.
Her product -- shatterproof, stackable, stemless wine glasses -- goes by the name HaloVino. Bell has sold more than 100,000 of them since first making the cups in 2016. She plans to sell 200,000 in 2018.
It's not just another plastic cup. The cup's curved design makes wine taste like wine, she said.
"If you have a narrow rim and a wide body like most wine glasses are, it's going to enhance and optimize the aromas of the wine," Bell said.
To demonstrate, Bell often will pour the same wine in a curved and straight glass for a tasting.
"People's eyes will pop out of their head because they can't believe it's the same liquid," she said.
Bell knows what she's talking about. She's a trained sommelier and worked at Modern, a two-Michelin-star restaurant in New York City.
The Whitefish Bay native brings some business acumen to the table too. She worked in investment banking for Goldman Sachs after graduating from Duke University.
In February, she will ramp up production and hopes to sell 200,000 HaloVino glasses in the coming year. She already has contracts with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Miller Park and the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
HaloVino comes in two pieces that snap together to form the curved glass. Bell has tested the seal again and again -- no leaks. The unassembled pieces can be stacked and stored. This feature is what Bell said sets HaloVino apart from her competition. It makes HaloVino popular for use in stadiums, on boats and out camping.
The cups are dishwasher safe to be used again and again.
HaloVino sells an eight-pack of cups for $11.99. In addition to her vendor contracts, the cups are on Amazon and Walmart's website and are at about 30 retail locations in southeastern Wisconsin.
The Rep switched from using plain plastic cups to HaloVino after one tasting with Bell.
"The difference in the taste of the wine was fantastic," said Claire Rydzik, the theater's concessions manager. "I never noticed how the shape of a glass makes the wine taste better."
The Rep sells the glasses, customized with the theater logo, with the wine sold. Customers who bring their glass back get 50 cents off another pour. The Rep sells about 200 HaloVino cups a week.
For Rydzik, it's about more than just making the wine taste better.
"Most of our storage space goes toward props and costumes," she said. "I have very minimal storage. The stackable works out perfect for me so I'm using as little space as possible."
The cups are made by a plastics manufacturer in Sussex called Sussex IM that does custom injection molding. Sussex IM also makes products for GE Healthcare, Briggs & Stratton Corp. and Nike. Bell said Sussex IM provides sophisticated production and gave her good pricing. It has also invested in HaloVino.
In February, Sussex IM will start making HaloVino cups with a new, $150,000 mold.
Most of all, Bell wants to share her passion for wine.
She cut her teeth in the wine industry when she left Goldman Sachs after three years and moved to Spain at 25.
"I got there and said I had my quarter-life crisis," Bell said. "I got taken out of the investment banking world and was like, 'that was crazy.' I was working 80 hours a week, and that is not living life."
Bell intended to take a yearlong break and then return to investment banking or maybe go back to school for an MBA. But she spent two years learning about Spanish wine working at a winery.
Bell returned to New York and started studying to become a sommelier at the International Wine Center. She has her level 4 certification, one step below the ultimate level, Master of Wine.
Personally, Bell reconnected with her childhood sweetheart Ben Crichton, now her husband, and returned to Wisconsin. The couple have two children. For about a decade after she moved back to Wisconsin, Bell taught classes at My Wine School and hosted programming on Wisconsin Foodie.
She recently hired her first full-time employee. Bell hasn't taken home a paycheck in two years. Bell estimates she's put about a quarter of a million dollars into HaloVino.
"If someone told me how much I would spend," Bell said, "how long it would take me to get this off the ground, I don't know at this point if I would have done it. Five years from now when it all works out, this is just a blip in time. At this point still, there's uncertainty."