By: THV 11 Mercedes Mackay
HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — A family-run business in the Delta region is creating buzz and breaking barriers, one bottle of vodka at a time.
Flipping through the pages, Harvey Williams lists all the different states people who visit Delta Dirt have come from who have now taken a sip of what was once was just his dream.
"You know how you talk about it and talk about it and you work towards it, and for it to finally happen, it's pretty exciting," he said.
Tucked away in the city that raised him—Helena West-Helena— Harvey grew a distillery from his deep family roots.
"This was my way of staying connected to the farm and being an extension of the farm and this actually helps the farm grow in a way that most people wouldn't think possible," he said.
As a sharecropper on the land, Harvey's grandfather bought the farm in the 1980s, probably never expecting what his crops could be used for decades later.
"My younger brother and my parents went off to a vegetable growing association conference and he came back and he was all excited about these sweet potatoes and what they were doing with sweet potatoes," he said.
Only three other distilleries in the nation use sweet potatoes to make vodka and the Williams family wanted to be number four.
"It was actually Donna who said, 'okay, you're quite obsessed with this. Either do it or don't.' She might not have put it as nicely, but," he said.
Harvey's wife Donna said she knew he could always do it.
"Who could not be excited for your spouse to be able to live out their dream?" she said.
With his high school sweetheart by his side, they launched Delta Dirt Distillery in 2017, on a street where they made memories many years ago.
"When I was growing up it was a very popular place, so that's what we wanted to get back to because Cherry Street is beautiful," Donna said. "So we want others to see the beauty of the street and the town."
COVID-19 stopped people from seeing that beauty for a couple of years between distance restrictions and equipment delays.
What Harvey originally described as a nightmare, he now looks at as a blessing.
"We needed that time, whether we realized it or not. I hate to say something good came out of COVID like that, but I think in our case it did help the business some," he said.
Then, they bring it to the distillery and that's where Thomas Williams makes the magic happen.
"When you go through that exercise of, 'where do you see yourself at 25?' This is definitely not what I had in mind," he said.
The man behind the magic and the man behind the bar is none other than Harvey and Donna's 25-year-old son, Thomas, who was on track to head to med school when his dad came to him with the idea.
"It's quite different, but also I enjoy science and I enjoy experimentation, and so I looked at it as I'm getting my own big lab right here," he said.
As head distiller, Thomas produces between 30 to 50 cases a week of his sweet-blend vodka.
A unique mix of family-grown corn and sweet potato that over the past three months, people have come from all over to try.
"I can't believe someone is driving two hours just to taste something I've made," he said.
If you didn't think there were enough family roots in this business yet, the Williams middle child, Donavan, just joined in.
"My role is basically just learn everything that I can, so I can integrate myself and actually make a difference and make this place grow," he said.
Donavan moved back from Chicago only a week ago just wanting to be a part of something special.
"One day I hope to see Delta Dirt Distillery all across the country and, hopefully, international," he said.
While the family's goal is to make their home-grown liquor a household name, Harvey said they're also striving to do something way beyond "raising spirits."
"I really appreciate the opportunity to let people know that there's a lot more to come out of the Delta than what they've known," he said.
Right now, Delta Dirt Distillery is only selling vodka, but gin will be rolling out later in the month and bourbon is to be determined.
You can only buy the Sweet Blend Vodka at the distillery, but they're hoping to expand soon.