Dangerous is not a word you’d normally associate with a demure 92-year old woman, but once you’ve had a sip of her cherry vodka, you’d know exactly what we’re talking about. Hedy Steinbart, better known as Oma to family and friends (and now the world), is experiencing new found fame thanks to her dangerously delicious cherry vodka and the support of her family.
Oma grew up in Germany and remembers her childhood fondly; but when World War II started, life for Oma changed. After escaping gunfire near her home and crossing the border in the dark of night, Oma took a leap of faith and traveled to America. She didn’t know English and wasn’t sure what she would do when she arrived, but she bravely carried on in her travels before landing in Detroit.
“It was hard in Germany, but we did not know any different. So, I thought about it and decided, I’m going to America. I did not know English or anything about the city, but when I got here it was pretty. The Americans were nice and helpful (…) I made it,” Oma said.
Oma started work in a restaurant before meeting the manager of the men’s alteration department for Hudson’s, at a German picnic, and starting her career as a seamstress. Oma had finally settled into life in America when her next big adventure started, meeting her future husband Walter Steinbart.
Walter was tired of the difficult life as a farmer in Iowa and so he drove his Plymouth to Detroit to say farewell to his family and friends before he headed back to Germany, when, unexpectedly, he met Oma. Before going to visit his family in Lansing, he gave her a letter to mail. When she looked at it later, she realized it was addressed to her and was happy to read a romantic letter asking her for a date. Four months later in August of 1954, they were married.
“He kind of wrote a letter, addressed it to me and gave it to me to mail. Well, you didn’t have to be a genius to know, so I opened it and read it and it was very nice. That was April, and we married in August,” Oma said. “We were married for 48 or 49 years. It’s not always that you have to know each other a long time to have a good marriage. We had a good, very happy marriage.”
The pair moved to Lansing where they found work and started a family, having two children Dory and Willie. Together they enjoyed quiet family moments – some of Oma’s favorite memories. Family has always been the top priority for Oma and as her family grew so did her legacy.
Oma would make her famous cherry vodka in small batches to have around the house when friends came over, but as her family grew older the sweet vodka found its way into many special events, including replacing the champagne toast at her grandchildren’s weddings. And now, with the help of her grandson Kyle Miller, even more people will get to enjoy it.
“She made it every year and I wanted to make sure we could still have it in the family going forward, so I wanted to learn the process,” Miller said. “It’s quite the process and the fusion process is key. Oma showed me and we tried to replicate it in Chicago.”
As Kyle set out to replicate the recipe and share it with friends and family, Oma’s already beloved vodka found a new following, leading him to share it with even more people than he’d expected to.
“Working to keep the family tradition alive and getting such amazing feedback was so inspirational and motivational. It wasn’t meant to be a business venture; it was about keeping the tradition alive. In November 2015, Dave Perry and I met and I remember coming back and thinking about the story and making the recipe scalable. My roommate must have thought I was crazy when my girlfriend and I came back with 30 pounds of cherries and got started,” Miller said.
Miller’s entrepreneurial spirit (a trait he claims he gets from Oma) and his partnership with Perry, president of Accelerated Brands, took Oma’s cherry vodka to the next level. Thanks to the partnership, Oma’s cherry vodka will be on shelves soon, giving even more families the opportunity to create lasting memories.
“It’s a great product and has a great back story. It doesn’t taste like any of the products you find today, because it’s natural cherry juice. It’s rare you find something that has so much going for it,” said Perry. “Plus we get to carry on Oma’s legacy through the product. We are very fortunate to produce this product and share her story with the entire country. We are very thankful for Oma.”
When asked how she feels about her vodka going nationwide Oma’s response is simple, “I don’t know about all that, but if it makes him happy he should do it.”
To Oma, her cherry vodka hitting shelves is just the next adventure in her story and she intends to enjoy it just as she has the other beautiful and simple things in her life.
“I would say you need to enjoy things as they happen, enjoy the simple things,” Oma said. “Look at the beautiful snow falls or take a walk on the beach and let the waves cover your feet, enjoy the feeling of the sand being pulled away. Enjoy each thing. Enjoy the simple things, because if you only enjoy the big moments when you look back there won’t be as many.”
It’s easy to see why Oma’s image and name take center stage on the bottle of her soon-to-be-famous vodka because it’s not just the dangerously delicious taste that makes this drink special, it’s her spirit, wit and love of family that the brand was founded on. Oma believes each day should be lived simply and shared with family, because as she put it, “What’s more important than family?”
*Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka will be distributed statewide by Great Lakes Wine and Spirits of Highland Park, Mich.