Monday, May 6, 2013
Time flies when you’re having rhum
Two families, crippled with grief, found a way to carry on and pick up the pieces after the deaths of their loved ones, by simply moving forward with an up and coming business that their loved ones had begun to create prior to their deaths.
After the tragic murders of Mount Pleasant residents, Mike and Thelma King in St. Maarten, the siblings of the pair picked up where the couple left off. The end result is a unique rum, made and bottled in St. Maarten (a Dutch and French territory located in the Caribbean) that is now available in the United States, and specifically in South Carolina.
Topper and Melanie Daboul started making flavored rhums for Topper’s Restaurants, based on Melanie’s concoctions.
She had been perfecting their tastes since 1995 so that Topper’s Restaurants in St. Maarten could give a complimentary after dinner drink to their restaurants’ guests.
Their customers loved their rhum (the French spelling for Rum – the Rhum factory is on the Dutch side of the island), and constantly asked if it could be bottled to take home as a memory of their time in St. Maarten.
The couple quickly went from fulfilling individual requests for guests out of their kitchen to producing a supply for their restaurants.
Topper, a Boston native, and Melanie, who is from the mid-west, have lived on St. Maarten for a number of years.
Mike and Thelma King bought a second home on the island and quickly fell in love with one of the more popular restaurants there.
The Kings frequented Topper’s Restaurants and naturally ended up meeting Topper himself.
According to Mike King’s brother, Finley, the men hit it off and developed a really close friendship.
A beer distributor from South Carolina owns a time share on the island, and when he tasted this homemade rhum for himself, he encouraged Topper to distribute it into the United States. And being a beer distributor, Jeff LeVine, owner of Prime Beverage Imports, LLC could help make it happen.
Further conversation led to Mike expressing how much he would love to get involved.
One of the first steps involved putting together a rum factory on the island.
Mike turned to Jim Irvin, of Irvin House Vineyards and Firefly Vodka on John’s Island.
Mike and Jim quickly developed a friendship, and according to Finley, Jim offered come to St. Martin to help.
“Mike passed away before that could happen,” said Finley. At the time, the factory was just a shell with only part of infrastructure in place. “The family talked to Jim and he was having a hard time with their deaths. Here we were in the midst of everything and we truly didn’t think he would go to St. Maarten,” Finley said.
“But he did, because he said he gave his word to Mike. He went with us to help put the factory together. We’re potential competitors, and he still did it. And it goes to show how strong their friendship was. The fact that Jim kept his word meant lot to us, and was a huge help.”
Today, all of Mike’s and Thelma’s siblings are involved in the business along with Topper and Melanie who are the Managing Directors and play the crucial role of running all of the day-to-day operations of the factory and the business abroad.
Todd King, Mike’s other brother, is the President/CEO and Finley is the Vice President and supporting role to Todd.
Topper’s Rhum uses natural flavors, characteristic of the tropics and blended with premium Caribbean rhum to create a delicate and true-to-its-flavor spirit, with an undeniably smooth finish. Toppers currently has in the market four distinctive gourmet flavors that are truly unique to Topper’s Rhum, and many other flavors that will be available seasonally.
Flavors include Banana Vanilla Cinnamon, Coconut Retriever, Mocha Mama and White Chocolate Raspberry.
As of February, it can be purchased in the Charleston area at Total Wine, Bottles, most area watering holes and liquor stores.
The rum has won numerous awards including the Gold at the Ministry of Rum contest and Gold at the Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association competition.
They have chosen attractive packaging, using brightly colored glass bottles, with swing top closures, and labels depicting island scenes that are beautifully designed. The bottles are reusable as vases, decorative glass, table lamps, oil & vinegar bottles, salt & pepper shakers, and more.
New labels now feature Mike’s signature on the bottles next to Topper’s. In addition to their current flavors, they will be releasing their Caribbean White Rhum within the next few months.
“Mom went to the island for the trial, and we surprised her by presenting the new labels with Mike’s signature to her,” said Finley. “It was a real emotional moment for all of us, and meant a lot to her,” he said.
“It truly is something special to see Mike’s signature, which also represents Thelma and both of our families, on all those bottles.”
He added, “Had we not gone forward with this, after all the work they put in it, I could hear the lecture we’d be getting from Mike,” said Finley. “I think he would be very happy with what we’ve done.”
Every detail, including the customer’s experience of the product, is carefully considered and unprecedented. The rum is handmade, and each and every bottle is hand filled and packaged with precision, in St. Maarten.
Until recently, the rum was found exclusively on the island and, of course, in Topper’s two restaurants, Topper’s Restaurant & Bar and Topper’s by the Sea. For years, visitors on the island encouraged Topper and Melanie to distribute the rum around the world.
“This is very important for us because we feel like it is a real positive thing for the family,” said Finley. “It is kind of a way to carry on for Mike and Thelma, and keep them symbolically alive. In a way, we want it to represent triumph over tragedy and be a representation for everyone who has lost someone close to them,” he said.
“This is our way of carrying on and moving forward in the best possible way that we can. That’s what is important.”
In January of 2013, approximately four months after Mike and Thelma’s deaths, the first bottles of Topper’s Rhum made their debut on shelves in South Carolina.
The group is getting ready to launch in Georgia, and then Florida.
A foundation has already been established in their names “It is called the Mike and Thelma King Foundation. Through this ordeal, we realized how expensive it can be for funeral home services, arranging to get your loved one back home, flying back and forth to meet with authorities and attend court proceedings and the time it takes away from home,” said Finley. “For any family, it can be financially challenging. We researched to see if there was anything available that would financially help families in these types of situations, but there wasn’t, so we decided to create something that would. The Foundation will provide financial and emotional support for families who lose a loved one tragically abroad (not war or military related). A portion of the proceeds from each bottle of the rhum will go toward the foundation. Friends of Mike and Thelma established a golf tournament this past March (that will be held every year), that raised money for the foundation.”
Topper’s Rhum is not only a unique experience; it’s also symbolic of great friendships, loving families, and a celebration of life.
Visit http://www.toppersrhum.com to learn more.