“I got a chance to put the taste of a recipe that’s really known in Haiti, and put it in a form that’s going to be accessible to everyone.”
Born and raised in Montreal, Stevens Charles is becoming one of the most influential Entrepreneurs who’s breaking barriers in the liquor industry. With his LS Cream Liqueur, he has already put himself in a position to help out the community and accumulating accolades along the way—-from being the recipient of the Gold Award at the taste of the industry held in Las Vegas, to being recognized and nominated for the Business Figure of the Year Award. Start following Stevens Charles, as he’s on the road to becoming the King of Creams.
514: Where are you from?
SC: Montreal North.
514: Where are your parents from?
SC: My parents are from Haiti, in Jérémie.
514: Did you grow up in a household with both of your parents?
SC: NO! I never knew my father he wasn’t there at all. He fled the scene.
514: How old were you when your father abandoned his responsibility?
SC: I never met him until recently, through my own endeavors I decided to find him.
I was in a place in my life about four or five years ago where I decided that I wanted to find him.
514: How did you go about trying to find him?
SC: I never asked my Mom for information about him. So once I finally decided to sit down and ask her, she told me a bit of information, and with that information I started to contact people. It was a full manhunt, and through Facebook I started to contact people.
514: Did you know your father’s last name?
SC: I did.
514: Is that the way that you found him on Facebook by typing his name?
SC: Actually no, because his last name didn’t bring up anything. My dad is a no-show on any social media platform. So basically, I wound up finding his best friend that he had since high school and CEGEP. I contacted that guy and he reached out to me, and we spoke and he reached out to my dad, and then finally my dad reached out to me, and that was pretty much it.
514: How was the conversation when you finally got a chance to be face-to-face with your father?
SC: The conversation was not that good. He started blaming my mother for a bunch of stuff that happened. She came here from Haiti innocent, when she was 14 or 15 and she didn’t understand the game, and I felt that he took advantage of her and then he just bolted on her because he didn’t like the situation. It feels really weird talking about this, but because I know a lot of people can relate, let’s just say that I could have easily not be here. My mom didn’t know that she was pregnant, so when she learned that she was pregnant she panicked because she would’ve been looked down upon from my family. My family is a very structured family, she’s the youngest of seven kids, and from my understanding when she was pregnant her belly didn’t show. It’s just that she started to realize when she didn’t have her period for a couple of months.
514: How old was your mother when she got pregnant?
SC: My mom was 19 when she got pregnant.
514: How old was your father at that time?
SC: My father was 26.
514: Why was it so important to you to find your father and to build a relationship with him after all these years?
SC: The reason that I started searching for him is because throughout my life I was searching for people similar to me in my family. In my family I’m the only Entrepreneur, and a lot of people ask me where do I get that from. My mother is not an entrepreneur at all she’s quite the opposite. So I was thinking maybe, I would find my father and help me figure out why I’m the person that I am. Before I started LS Cream, I had a good job at the bank, I had a girlfriend, I had a house, and everything was easy-going. But I still felt like I was missing that spark, everyone around me always had a two parent figure and I never saw that. I never grew up with that and when I finally found him, I realized that he didn’t have the entrepreneurial either. So I guess it’s just a gift.
514: What High School did you attend?
SC: I went to Mont St-Louis. It was a private school in Ahuntsic .
514: Were you a popular kid in school?
SC: I would say yes, I was always trying to do stuff to get positive attention. For instance, starting in elementary I started doing comic books. It was really awesome because I started putting the people in my school in the comic books as characters.
514: Was there a lot of different ethnicity in your High School?
SC: Well out of the 1500 people in the school that I attended, I would say there were about 30 people from different ethnicity. So right away, when I saw that, I knew I had to expose myself, so I ran for President of the Student Council. I did my whole campaign, and my posters, and they voted for me, and I didn’t know anybody.
514: What did you want to be growing up?
SC: I wanted to be an Astrophysicist, and eventually an Astronaut.
514: It sounds like growing up you always set big goals for yourself?
SC: I had a passion for the solar system. Even till this day, now I want to start to explain to my kids about space. There’s something about dreaming about space that elevates your spirit to go further.
514: Since you’re good at drawing did you design the bottle of LS Cream?
SC: Yes. I designed the bottle of LS Cream, and I designed the logo.
514: So how did you end up in the position now as an Entrepreneur in the liquor industry?
SC: It was just a random circumstance. I don’t think whether it was the liquor business, or it was for the fact that for sure I was going to have a business of some sort. So to me it’s two distant things. But why liquor, because in the Haitian culture Crémas is something that’s embedded in us, it goes deep rooted in us.
514: How were you inspired by Crémas a popular haitian liqueur drink to come up with your own liqueur?
SC: I was 13 or 14 years old asking myself why are my family members doing Crémas in the kitchen and it’s not available at the store.
514: Why was it not available at the store?
SC: Because of the way it’s made it can’t be sold legally.
514: So you changed the format of how it’s made completely?
514: You diluted it. And did it become an instant success?
SC: In terms of the product it was a success to me. I got a chance to put the taste of a recipe that’s really known in Haiti, and put it in a form that’s going to be accessible to everyone. So that was the goal.
514: But Crémas which is the inspiration behind LS Cream is known to be really thick. Did it take a while for people who is familiar with the drink to get use to it?
SC: Usually with Crémas, because it’s so thick the first thing that you do is put ice in it. At the end of the day I just saved you some steps.
514: How did you come up with the funds to start in the liquor industry?
SC: Line of credit and personal money.
514: Is it a venture that is very expensive to start?
SC: Yes. But I would tell people not to let that stop them. Just go for it. Some people told me I would need half $1 million to start the Company, and they weren’t wrong. It’s just that you don’t need to have it at the beginning. You start little by little, you build your brand. You pay it when you can. But at the end of the day you have your product.
514: Does it take a long time to start seeing profits?
SC: Yes, for sure. Forget about profits it’s not happening. Right now people have a false equivalency of me being in the SAQ and being rich. It’s totally the opposite. It costs me a lot of money to be there. Eventually it brings me some money. But right now we’re still at the building phase, so a lot of money that’s going in, is going right out.
514: What is the amount of time that it takes to get approval for production?
SC: Since you’re dealing with the government, it’s going to take the same time for everyone. Some Companies like Diageo, who makes Baileys and Ciroc, if they want to have a new product for sure it would take them less time. But it’s still going to take some time. You need to apply to the Government. You need to apply for the formula approval. You need to apply for the packaging approval. You need to apply for the label approval. So all those steps in total, took me approximately 18 months. And that’s just to have the proper paperwork just to be able to produce.
514: Is it easier to get into the US market as opposed to getting into a Québec market?
SC: It’s definitely easier to get into the US market.
514: Why is it easier to get into the US market?
SC: I started in the US because the SAQ told me that in order for them to consider me I need to have a track record. And the only way to have a track record is to start selling, and to start selling I need to start in the U.S.
514: Do you always have to start in the US before trying to sell liquor in Québec?
SC: You can start in Québec, but basically a bottle of LS Cream in the states is sold at $18.99. Over here it is sold at $29.95. But what I’m saying is when you’re producing right in Québec it’s different. For me it’s cream. It’s not like my friend Nicolas Duvernois who sells PUR Vodka. He makes it in Québec because it’s vodka, so he does the process himself and then he bottles it and he has the infrastructure to do this. With milk it’s totally different, there’s no infrastructure in Québec officially that’s accessible to people that can transform milk to give this product. Some of the big brands that you drink at the SAQ or the LCBO, the product comes from one or two Companies. The produce the mix for them and then they have it bottled. Because milk can spoil, you have to make sure that it’s stable.
514: Since milk spoils what is the shelf life on the LS Cream?
SC: Unopened it can stay for up to 20 years. Opened I would say don’t push it past one year.
514: Why did you diminish the price is it to attract more customers?
SC: No it’s because there is a fluctuation with the price in the U.S. So depending on when the SAQ orders we have a say at what price it will be at retail. So we were at $31.75 for about seven months this past year, and now they just lowered it to $29.95.
514: What type of liquor is inside of the LS Cream?
SC: Its pure alcohol, 94% proof. It’s not rum. It’s not vodka. It’s pure alcohol.
514: Your Liquor has 17% alcohol inside of it, is that a standard liqueur percentage for a cream liqueur?
SC: No some creams are 13.5% alcohol. So basically I decided to put it at 17%. When you drink it it’s kind of a dessert. But I wanted people to have a feeling that they’re drinking alcohol at the same time.
514: Do Cream liqueurs appeal more to women than men?
SC: At the base cream liqueurs are targeted more at women, but I’ve learned that a lot of men drink cream, they enjoy it a lot. Baileys for example, if their market is divided 70% women and 30% men it might just be because of their marketing and the way it’s being portrayed. Because what I’ve discovered is that a lot of men drink cream, I do tasting in the US, and I do tasting over here, and it attracts men as well as women.
514: Is Baileys your biggest competition right now?
SC: No Baileys is in another category. I’m in the same category as them as far as a cream product but they can’t be my competition because they make so much money (laugh). So if were talking about competition, I would have to say Rumchata is my competition. So basically they’re newer, they’re bigger than me, they’re a machine, but in terms of the way that they entered the market with the shelf space, we were pretty much toe to toe in Québec.
514: You won the Gold Award at the taste of the industry held in Las Vegas. Was that a competition that included all the other liqueur brands in the cream category?
SC: Well basically all the Companies apply for this every year, and basically we won the gold medal in the creme category that year.
514: Since the product is influenced by Haitian culture. Is the Haitian community approving the LS Cream?
SC: Yes, I think a lot of people are approving it. Of course there is going to be a lot of naysayers saying that they can do it at home so I don’t need to drink LS Cream. What those people don’t understand is that LS Cream is a company that you need to support because of what it represents. But even further than that, I did it on purpose because I can still drink regular Crémas. It’s two different things. LS Cream is inspired by Crémas . In the end it’s simply a better tasting cream liqueur. Let’s put it this way, when I go for brunch they offer me thwo types of orange juice, fresh. or Tropicana, me personally I prefer Tropicana, fresh press orange juice is too sweet. I’m on the shelf next to Baileys, you cannot put my mom’s Crémas into the SAQ next to Baileys, it’s not feasible, it’s not going to happen.
514: What does the LS stand for?
SC: It’s actually my initials with my grandmother’s initials.
514: The S is for Stevens and L is for?
SC: I decided to keep that in the wraps.
514: What’s your vision for the LS Cream brand in the future?
SC: My goal is very simple. The African-American demography in the States, they identify themselves in terms of vodka with Ciroc. They identify themselves in terms of champagne with Ace of Spades and Belaire. No one of them identifies themselves with a cream and I’m there to take that place.
514: Recently you just sold 10,000 bottles –Explain to me that feeling?
SC: That to me is a good number, and I wanted to share it with people. Obviously I wish that number was 1 million so I have a lot of work to do.
514: When hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, for every bottle that was sold you donated two dollars that was sent out for the relief. Was that something that was very important to you?
SC: So basically G’s liquor called me, which is a store in Little Haiti in Miami. So they’re taking care of that. For every bottle of LS Cream that they sell, they’re going to give an amount to a relief fund in Miami. We basically started for the hurricane, but we’re trying to make it something that’s going to be permanent and with other stores.
514: It seems like you’re on a mission right now to help out black people as you’re now participating in conferences for the economic development of black communities. Do the organizers call you to participate?
SC: People call me for that, but I’m going to start doing my own things also. It’s going to be in conjunction with those people that invite me.
514: Are we talking about something for Québec specifically?
SC: Yes. I think we have a lot of stuff we need to fix over here.
514: Now you’re doing a podcast. Are you doing this as a hobby or is it something that you are passionate about?
SC: I’m definitely passionate about it, but it’s a hobby at the same time. If I can find ways to monetize it fine, but at the end of the day I will still do it.
514: You’re nominated for the Business Figure of the Year Award. How does it feel to be recognized for something like that?
SC: I mean it feels great to be recognized by your peers. I don’t know about my chances of winning because I’m up against a lot of big dogs in there.
SC: We do a lot of local stuff. Sometimes it’s an event that I’m going to send bottles to. Grimass. and all those other guys. Is a joint feeling about supporting each other and being Haitian. I tell them all the time that they’re part of the team, if this blows up tomorrow; I’m going to take them with me, because they’re supporting the brand, and they’re using their platform to support the brand. But at the same time they are using the brand to have a reason to connect with their platform.
514: What does family mean to you?
SC: My definition of family changed a lot in the past five years. Family is not necessarily the people that you’re born with, and it’s not necessarily people that you talk to every day. To me it takes a lot to be part of my family. I have a small circle, obviously my mom and my brother. To me family is supposed to be there to support you through good times and bad times.
514: Who’s the most influential person in your life?
514: I see that you quote Tupac a lot in your posts on social media. What type of impact did Tupac have in your life?
SC: I use to sleep with headphones in my ears when I was younger and just listen to Tupac. I’m just a crazy Tupac fan.
514: What’s the first app that you open in the morning?
514: Where’s the best place to hang out in Montreal?
SC: Wow! Good question. My basement is pretty cool (lol).
514: I saw that on your social media you made a reference about banking black. Are you starting to bank black now?
SC: I want to as soon as I can with my Company in the US. And it’s not because you support your own that you’re being divisive in society. It’s because you’re spreading the wealth and everybody can be more equal. If a rich white billionaire doesn’t give us money, it’s not because he doesn’t want to give us money, it’s because were not part of his community, and at the same time he’s not connected with you. So let’s make our own billionaires.
514: Do you have any final words?
SC: If you want stuff to change support the businesses that will represent your interests. Keep the money within your community
Facebook: Stevens Charles
Photo Credit: @gcastrophotographe
Writing By: Vlad Pierre
Edited By: Yvonne Sam