A year ago, Scott and Stephanie Meadows of Mount Pleasant were enjoying margaritas with friends when one in the group complained about the number of calories in the popular cocktail. "Somebody should come up with a margarita mix with no sugar," she said.
Later that night at home, the couple talked about the feasibility of making a mixer that was low in sugar and carbohydrates. Still, the discussion was in the realm of a pipe dream, until the next day. "We woke up and said, 'Let's do this,' " says Stephanie.
So they blew on the spark. Stephanie, a stay-at-home mom for 13 years, went shopping -- she still has the original receipt for lemons and limes from the grocery store. She concocted, and concocted, and concocted some more. Scott and the neighbors served as tasters.
Yet the right taste of the margarita still eluded them. "The taste was really, really good, but we couldn't get that tart bite," she says, so they called on a food chemist.
By August, they had nailed it. The margarita became the flagship in a new line of zero-carb, zero-sugar, low-calorie cocktail mixers to be named "Scales." Sweet-and-sour and strawberry daiquiri mixes were to follow.
Stephanie began knocking on doors in January. The Sea Island Piggly Wiggly became the first taker, buying five cases each of the margarita and sweet-and-sour mixer, which are all bottled in North Carolina. "They knew it was local and how well local was received by the customers," she says.
Since then, Scales has grown legs, and sales are taking off. Nine other Piggly Wiggly locations from Kiawah Island to Myrtle Beach have signed on, as well as Wild Wing Cafe and Senor Tequila restaurants. A South Carolina distributor has been engaged. Kroger stores in Georgia recently placed a big order.
Stephanie says she's getting positive reaction, including the inevitable "Why didn't I think of that?" After all, there are light beers, baked chips and hundreds of other items aimed at the diet-conscious shopper. "Every aisle has that to offer. This product fills the niche for mixers," she says.
She also is hoping the name and design of the labels will stand out. The name is a play in part on weight scales, reinforced by catchphrases on each bottle, such as "Scale back the calories, not the taste."
Each product has its own "creature" -- alligator, sea turtle or fish so far -- on the label, and they all have scales of their own, she points out. "We wanted it to look like nothing else in the store," including bright colors on a black background.
The design was created by Adam Fowler, a graphic design student at Trident Technical College who is now on the new company's payroll.
The Meadows are aware that success may breed imitators and are hoping to get established ahead of the competition. "You can patent your recipe but not the thought or idea. ... As long as we build a household name and our prices remain competitive, there's enough room," she says.
Prices range from $6.99 to $7.99 per liter, depending on the store, she says.
Low-sodium Bloody Mary and carb- and sugar-free Mojito mixes are in the works. The Bloody Mary product is expected soon.
Stephanie, 41, says she and her husband, 43, always have been entrepreneurs at heart and wanted to have their own business. The hope is for Scott, who now works in finance, to join her full time in the new venture.
Stephanie thinks she has learned a lot in the past year.
"That I actually know how to do something besides change diapers and be a mom. I learned actually how to run a company."
Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.