By Jordan Houston
An Arizona distillery promoting a new-age infused limoncello for young adults is making a splash in the liquor industry.
It’s opening its ownership to the public for the first time.
Chelly, a Tempe-based liqueur inspired by the Italian classic, launched its first crowdfunding campaign through StartEngine. The effort extends part ownership to anyone with a $250 minimum investment and an internet connection, according to CEO and co-founder Nicolas Guerrieri.
“Crowdfunding allows us to really push our brand in a public manner and also to have the public take part in what we’re trying to grow here,” says Guerrieri, whose product is based on a family recipe formulated by his Italian second cousin, Giuseppe. “One thing we pride ourselves in being Italian is we treat everyone as family. Opening it to the public is more than just accepting funding; it’s accepting people into our family to grow this business together and show them what Italian culture and family is like.”
The campaign sets out to raise $1.07 million to expand the business to “new levels,” says Guerrieri. That includes obtaining a co-packer, adding flavors and increasing brand awareness. So far, more than 50 investors have raised more than $57,100 since the campaign launched in February.
Chelly, which started bottling commercially in 2020, is at an inflection point, Guerrieri says.
Armed with a finance degree from UA, the founder notes he is looking forward to inviting others to partake in Chelly’s evolution.
“We’re at an inflection point, and we need to expand and scale our product. People love our product, but we need the fuel behind it to ensure that we can fulfill really large purchase orders and have the backing,” he explains. “We are really happy to have the opportunity for people to take ownership and interest in our brand.”
Since its inception in 2019, Chelly won a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and was one of the only two Arizona distilleries to make the Top 100 Spirits of 2021 list.
The liqueur, which costs about $20 per bottle, is made with natural flavors and seeks to redefine the limoncello — an Italian liquor made from the zest of lemons, sugar, water and alcohol (usually grappa or vodka).
A modern revival of the Guerrieri family’s handcrafted limoncello recipe, Chelly merges the flavor and texture of a lemon liqueur and a high-octane grain neutral spirit for a clear, smooth texture and lemon flavor. It has an ABV of 40%, which is 10% higher than the average limoncello.
“How we tailored ours is it has less sugar and it’s not as thick, syrupy or sweet,” Guerrieri says. “We are bridging the gap between vodka and a liqueur.”
Chelly targets the “young adult” demographic and is designed to mix, shoot or sip, the founder continues.
“We saw this target market of the demographic of 21- to 40-year-olds at parties and clubs — especially the 21 to 34 demographic — who don’t know what a limoncello is,” Guerrieri explains. “Not only are we introducing it to them, but we’re also opening up to what we believe a limoncello should be by showing its versatility.”
The liqueur lines retail shelves throughout Arizona, including at Total Wine, AJ’s Fine Foods and Pomo Pizzeria. It’s also available through drizly.com.
Born in California’s Silicon Valley and raised in Scottsdale, Guerrieri grew up in an “entrepreneurial household.” He watched both of his parents start and run numerous businesses — and it was only a matter of time before he would follow in their paths.
He began investing in financial markets at a young age and always had a keen interest in understanding how businesses operate and identify new business opportunities, he explains.
Guerrieri recalls making small liqueur batches for friends and family on a “small scale.”
“If we had a Christmas party or gathering, we would bring it over and give it to any of our guests,” he remembers. “Every time we would bring it over, they would say, ‘Man, this is some of the best stuff we’ve ever had.’”
Guerrieri recounts another instance, shortly after he graduated in 2017, in which he was hosting friends for a Waste Management party.
“I had a party at my house with a bunch of college friends. I had some of the limoncello at the house, and five to 10 of my friends tasted it,” Guerrieri shares. “We had a lot of different alcohol brands, so when they took this and said it was the best stuff at the party.”
Guerrieri is looking to expand Chelly’s sales throughout Arizona, increasing inventory and staffing, before ultimately tackling the greater Southwest region.
Guerrieri also has plans to broaden Chelly’s catalog through three new flavors: orange, grapefruit and lime.
“When we started this company, we decided to keep it the Italian flavor, but we want to build this business as a full portfolio of different flavors,” he shares. “Our end goal to have Chelly in every retailer and household. The product itself is versatile, but we also want to be versatile in our offerings.”