When he was younger, Brandon Igdalsky could not understand what made bloody marys so special.
"It probably stemmed from a vacation with my grandfather, where he made me and brother eat tomato soup for the better part of two weeks," Igdalsky said in an interview. "I just probably got a bad taste of it in my mouth. I just did not like tomato juice."
But after he tried the drink for the first time, with what he called a more mature palate, he discovered a life passion that would lead him to create a company, Dude Wow Cocktails, selling his own personalized bloody mary mix to local restaurants and bars.
Igdalsky's 32-ounce bloody mary mix, which includes "horseradish, Worcestershire, steak sauce and a unique blend of spices along with a mixture of tomato and vegetable juice," was recently awarded a gold medal for Best New Product at the sixth annual Drunken Tomato Awards, where judges said the mix "has a lot of spices" and a "nice variety that gives it a lot of flavor."
"The judging was back in January, so I had to sit and wait for three months to find out (the results)," Igdalsky said. "To find out you got a gold medal is pretty special, especially with as many entries they had this year — over 70 entries."
Next year, he has his sights set on capturing the Best Overall Bloody Mary award.
From NASCAR to bloody mary mix
Igdalsky was born in Philadelphia and has lived in New Smyrna Beach for six years.
But the spark that ignited his passion for bloody marys began when a friend turned him onto them some 20 years ago.
"I was always adding things to it. I was seeing other people adding things to it, and I'm like, 'Why?' So I figured there has got to be a better way, right?"
From there, Igdalsky started playing around with different recipes and concoctions until he found a mix that he liked, which, at that point, "was all I was trying to do."
"Then I started making them for my friends, for parties and stuff like that," he said. "And then everybody started raving about it, saying 'You have got to do this for a living,' and I said 'No, no, no.'"
Igdalsky continued his hobby for about 15 years with no plans of pursuing a career in the bloody mary mix business.
But that all changed when the COVID pandemic hit in 2020.
"I was working from home, and I hadn't even made (the mix) in a few years," he said. "I decided to whip up a batch while sitting at home, and the reaction from people who had never had it was the same reaction my old friends had in Pennsylvania.
"I was like, maybe I'm onto something."
So he quit his job with NASCAR's marketing team and founded Dude Wow Cocktails, LLC. Since then, he has also carried the title of chief mixer at the company.
"Originally it was just a paste, just a concentrate," Igdalsky said. "As I started to get that into some restaurants, I realized it was harder for the bartenders to have to make it for each drink individually."
He decided it was time to figure out the actual mix, with the tomato juice. He spent six months with a manufacturer and their chefs "trying to figure out the right blend."
"And we hit on it the second try, and I was just blown away," Igdalsky said.
Building on the local success
One of Igdalsky's clients is the Avanu on Flagler restaurant on Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach.
Avanu's manager, Gillian Westhoff, personally likes the Dude Wow mix, saying "It's better than a lot of the mainstream mixes that you'll find.
"We put it on our brunch menu, and people ask about it," Westhoff said. "And I tell them it's a local company, somebody right here from New Smyrna Beach that's making the product. They love it. A lot of people come back for it and ask where they can buy it."
Igdalsky said the business has been growing since he started. He had help from a friend to connect with a national retailer to get the mix into restaurants.
Most of the effort right now is dedicated to the e-commerce side of the company, Igdalsky said, selling the mix online at dudewowcocktails.com.
"The focus now is more and more food service companies, but also I'm big right now on building the retail business, so hopefully we'll be able to see it up and down the East Coast here in the next 12 to 18 months," he said.
And with the validation coming from the recent award, he's excited to see what comes next.
"It's a local product," he said. "While I have aspirations for a global enterprise, at the same time, it's home-based. That's what I want to do: Keep it local, but share globally."