Made in Georgia: Local drink business taps into nostalgia for lemonade

No, Ni’Kesia Pannell and Choya Johnson weren’t among those entrepreneurial kids who open a lemonade stand to earn a little spending money.

However, the Peach State Drinks co-founders are counting on nostalgia for those neighborhood stands, and the memories of a refreshing glass of lemonade, to entice customers into trying their brown-sugar version of the drink.

Pannell said she remembers looking at Johnson one day and saying, “‘We need to start a lemonade business.’ I felt it was something God had put on me. I started thinking about it in September 2018 and, by February, I said, ‘We need to start.’ Choya immediately agreed, and suggested we try making lemonade with brown sugar.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Peach State Drinks

Credit: Courtesy of Peach State Drinks

They started by finding a source for bottles, deciding on the right look for their labels, and thinking about a name for their company. “We were riding down the highway talking about it and a moving truck pulled up beside us,” Johnson said. “It was ‘peach something’ and it just clicked. Peach State Drinks. It blew our minds that no one had already taken that name. It was meant for us.”

Then, they began recipe development. “I had $200 to spend, and since it had been my idea, I wanted to make the initial investment,” Pannell said. They bought small quantities of lemons and a $15 juicer, and started working on their recipe.

“We wasted so much time, fruit and money. We were just about at a point of wondering if we should be doing this when we finally locked in the recipe one evening,” she said.

“We had literally said if the recipe we were working on that evening didn’t work, we were done. And, when it did, it felt like hitting the lottery,” Johnson added.

They launched a website in July 2019, told family and friends, and sold their first 100 bottles within 12 hours.

That October, they were at the Savannah Food & Wine Festival; in November, they were at Chateau Elan’s Vineyard Fest — and then COVID-19 hit.

Still, when protests against racial injustice took place in spring 2020, the partners were there, with water, snacks and juice. “We wanted to stay safe, yes, but being there to support the movement was just as important to us as showing up to a market every week,” Johnson said.

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Credit: Courtesy of Peach State Drinks

Credit: Courtesy of Peach State Drinks

To keep selling, they expanded their social media presence, and, in April 2021, they began selling at local markets, starting with Ponce City Farmers Market. This year, they will be at eight farmers markets, ranging from Woodstock and Smyrna to intown markets, including Grant Park and Oakhurst.

They also have expanded their product line, using as much locally sourced fruit as possible, with muscadine lemonade being the most recent addition.

“When we introduced the muscadine, we heard so many people talk about their grandparents, being out on a farm, being in somebody’s yard,” Johnson said. “It captured that feeling of nostalgia we had been working toward.”

“We’ve been testing a few new flavors,” Pannell said. “I remember when we released our mango flavor. It started off, and didn’t get much attention, and then, suddenly, it blew past our expectations. Now, it’s a staple, and when we test new flavors, we wonder if they will have the ‘mango effect.’”

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Credit: Courtesy of Peach State Drinks

Credit: Courtesy of Peach State Drinks

Currently, the team of two is working out of a commercial kitchen in Peachtree Corners. “Choya and I do everything from start to finish, but we know to grow, and, to be more efficient, we can’t do everything by ourselves,” Pannell said.

For a $5 charge, Peach State will deliver in the metro area. The lemonade is delivered within 24 to 48 hours of being made and, unopened, will last up to two weeks in a refrigerator.

They’ve also come up with a recycling promotion. “For every five bottles people bring back, they get one bottle of the original lemonade for free,” Johnson said. “It’s our way of saving the planet one bottle at a time.”