Dining & Wine

International Women’s Day Profile: Celia Chiang Of The Woods Spirit Co.

March 8, 2024

To celebrate this International Women’s Day (and really, shouldn’t that simply be everyday?!), we’re profiling some incredible women in the lifestyle space. Meet Celia Chiang, owner of The Woods Spirit Co—Noa Nichol

What is your professional background?

It feels like a lifetime ago, but my first degree was actually in science. I’ve always seen myself as a generalist, driven by my curiosity and passion for learning. This drive has led me through a diverse array of experiences, from nursing to entrepreneurship, banking to investing, and even running an Airbnb. I’ve also been deeply involved in not-for-profit work, co-founding both Shop Local Port Moody and the Asian Impact Society.

On a more personal note, I’ve tackled challenges like rock climbing the Chief, hiking to Everest Base Camp, and raising two amazing daughters. I’ve also successfully started and managed two successful flower shops. Completing my MBA this past year from SFU showed me that anything is possible.

Applying the skills and knowledge that I acquired will add to the tools in my tool belt to drive business success.

I used to be hard on myself for not excelling in one specific area, but I’ve come to embrace my diverse interests and love for learning. Dabbling in various pursuits has enriched my life with a broad range of knowledge.

When and why did you get into wine and spirits making, and how did the opportunity to take over The Woods come about?

I sold my floral businesses in the Tricities before COVID hit. I’ve always been curious about the wine and spirits industry, so I dove at the opportunity when James Lester and team from Sons of Vancouver, and Alex Hamer, founder of BC Distilled, started running its distilling program in early 2023. That’s when I stumbled upon The Woods Spirit Co. and fell in love with everything about it—the amazing products, the passionate staff, and their beautiful location in North Vancouver.

What blew me away was the complex art and use of vacuum distillation in all products, a technique that sets Woods apart from other distilleries in Canada. It was serendipitous when The Woods went up for sale a few months after I finished the program. I was wrapping up my EMBA from SFU at the same time. With my MBA under my belt, I was ready for a fresh start and felt ready to take on a new challenge.

As a serial entrepreneur, I viewed this venture as more than just a business opportunity—it was a chance to build something meaningful that I could one day pass down to my daughters, should they choose to be a part of it. I am incredibly thankful for the support of my life partner, as I am always on the lookout for new passion projects and can never seem to stay still.

My youngest daughter is currently taking a gap year, and she has already begun immersing herself in the operational side of the business, learning the ropes and contributing to our family enterprise. It’s exciting to see her getting involved and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes us as a family.

What made it a perfect fit for you/your next chapter?

With over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, I bring a unique perspective to this new venture. I’ve always believed that passion is the key to success in any endeavour. Building relationships and running a business with integrity are fundamental to me. I also value traits like positivity,

open-mindedness, tenacity, and adaptability—all of which I believe will be crucial in navigating the competitive landscape of this industry.

What does your day-to-day at The Woods look like?

My day-to-day at The Woods is a dynamic mix of structured tasks and unexpected challenges. Each day starts with attending to essential responsibilities like accounting, administrative work, supporting production, and strategizing for sales and business growth.

However, what sets each day apart is the unexpected nature of the craft distillery business. I often encounter unforeseen issues or urgent matters that require immediate attention.

Despite these daily surprises, we maintain a structured approach to our work. We follow a detailed calendar that guides us in creating new products, achieving key milestones, and planning for the future.

A crucial aspect of our work is staying nimble and creative with product ideas. Amid our daily responsibilities, we are constantly brainstorming new concepts and evaluating market trends. When necessary, we pivot quickly to adapt to changing consumer preferences or market conditions.

Additionally, a significant part of our day is dedicated to improving operational efficiencies. We constantly evaluate lean processes, look for ways to streamline operations and enhance productivity while decreasing waste. This involves identifying areas for improvement, developing new processes, and implementing changes to increase efficiency.

Overall, my day-to-day at The Woods is a balancing act between managing routine tasks, addressing new challenges, and staying innovative and agile in our approach to business at The Woods.

March 8 is International Women’s Day—a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In this context, when you hear the term “women in wine and spirits” what does it mean to you?

When I hear the term “women in wine and spirits,” I think of trailblazers who have defied the odds and shattered glass ceilings to make their mark in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

As someone passionate about bringing new perspectives to the spirits industry, International Women’s Day is a reminder of the progress women have made and the work that still lies ahead. It’s a day to celebrate the achievements of women in our industry and to recommit ourselves to creating a more inclusive and diverse future.

Are there any special challenges, or benefits, to being a woman in wine and spirits, or just to female business ownership/entrepreneurship in general?

I’ve always been a curious learner and I thrive in collaborative environments. If there’s ever an opportunity to support and uplift other women in business, count me in. I firmly believe that by working together and supporting one another, we can all reach our full potential.

I’m particularly passionate about helping those who may not have the knowledge or resources to succeed in business. It brings me immense joy to assist those in need and advocate for those who require support.

What I bring to the table is a unique perspective shaped by my varied work experiences, education, my viewpoint as a woman, and my cultural background. I believe that innovation blossoms in diverse environments, and I’m excited to introduce new and creative products to the market. I also aim to explore different approaches to conducting business and urge those interested in the industry to do their due diligence before diving in.

How do you maintain a work-life balance, especially during peak seasons?

Personally, incorporating exercise and meditation into my routine is crucial, as they help quiet the mind and prevent constant racing thoughts. Mindfulness, especially during times of high stress, is key to making sound and rational decisions. Lack of sleep and being in a constant state of fight or flight can diminish creativity, so I work hard at trying to get the right amount of sleep in.

Making time, even when it feels impossible, to spend with my family and friends can provide much-needed mental breaks. Trying to achieve a perfect work-life balance may seem unattainable at this time, but finding moments for these small breaks is essential.

In your opinion, what is the perfect cocktail or drink with which to raise a glass to women on March 8?

A perfect cocktail to raise a glass to women on March 8 could be a “Sparkling Chiaro Spritz.” This cocktail celebrates the spirit of International Women’s Day with its light, refreshing, and bubbly nature, while also highlighting The Woods’ signature product, Chiaro – which features 15 botanicals to create a wonderful bouquet of floral and aromatic herbs with soft green notes of mint, prominent citrus and velvety sweetness.

To make a Sparkling Chiaro Spritz, combine Chiaro, and a splash of Limoncello, and top it off with sparkling water or prosecco. Garnish with a twist of lemon for an extra touch of elegance.

What’s coming up/out for you at The Woods next?

We’re thrilled to announce that we have a couple of very exciting new products lined up for launch this year. One of them is a spritz-perfect Arancello liquor, a delightful addition to our lineup. As for the second product, we’ll keep that a secret for now, but trust us, it’s going to be amazing and delicious.

We aspire to establish The Woods as a premier cocktail bar destination in our community, cherished by both locals and visitors alike. While our current cocktail menu is robust, we plan to introduce seasonal offerings several times a year to keep things fresh and exciting.

Following the success of our recent sold-out Valentine’s cocktail-making workshop, our Bar Manager is enthusiastic about hosting more workshops regularly. Additionally, we will be offering tours and tastings throughout the year to provide an immersive experience for guests.


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