By Taylor Arnold

Jesse Altman and Andy Wessels never set out to start a beverage company, but that is exactly what they did. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. In the last five years, Whynatte Latte has become a staple in over 750 restaurants and bars all across Atlanta.

It’s a coffee and energy drink that is perfect as both a mixer and a standalone beverage, and it’s made with milk that’s free of antibiotics and artificial hormones.

“It’s not insanely sweet like other ready-to-drink coffee drinks on the market,” Altman says. “Liquor has an inherent sweetness, so we made Whynatte lower in sugar and calories.”

So what made this beverage such a local phenomenon? Altman and Wessels credit good old-fashioned word-of-mouth to their success. It all started back in 2004 in a friend’s kitchen when Altman was dared to drop a shot of Jager into a latte. He shrugged and said, “Whynatte?” The rest, as they say, is history.

“We had a brand before a product,” Wessels says. “Most bars didn’t serve coffee, so we asked ourselves, how can we get this name to catch on like the Shirley Temple? Let’s see if we can get a drink people know by name in Atlanta.”

So Jesse bought the Whynatte domain and began posting pictures of friends with the drink. Friends told more friends, and pretty soon Whynatte cocktail parties were popping up on college campuses all over the country. Then Rolling Stone heard about this underground phenomenon and featured it in the November 2006 issue.

After that, Altman and Wessels turned to friend Jim Natoli who brought over 23 years of experience in product development from The Coca-Cola Company. By 2008, they released their own read-to-drink latte on the market.

Today Whynatte cocktails are served in a growing list of Atlanta hotspots including TWO Urban Licks, Tin Lizzy’s, and Taco Mac. “We’re in a lot of places with live music, so the brand is a natural association,” Wessels says. “Now we sponsor local artists and use Twitter to advertise shows and drink specials.”

Thanks to the Atlanta community, the Whynatte Company has single-handedly created a market for a coffee beverage used as a mixer in the bar and nightclub world. “Now bartenders have taken it and run with it,” Altman says. “We’re so grateful for the community in Atlanta because it’s all about word of mouth. People have gone out of their way to help us along.”

These days you’d be hard pressed to find a bartender in Atlanta that doesn’t make a Whynatte cocktail. In addition to restaurants and bars, you can find Whynatte in every Quik Trip in the state of Georgia.

Yet with all of their success, the Whynatte Company still considers itself a word-of-mouth community with deep respect for their social heritage. “We’d like to be in three major markets, but you’ve got to lock down your own market first,” Wessels says. “If we can do that, we have a model we can replicate anywhere.”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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