Why Croquet? Why Not!"It's this elitist game, but there's nothing elitist about any of us. We're running around playing in a public park in Brooklyn."
When you work hard and play hard, it helps to have a sense of humor. It's even better to have family and friends who share your irreverence.
That certainly was true for mom and entrepreneur Melissa Saunders, who left her job as a lawyer working with victims of domestic violence to start her own wine distribution company, Communal Brands.
A food and wine connoisseur, she also wanted to create, market and distribute her own brand. She got a nudge from her friend and business partner, Chris Antista, who showed up at her apartment one day with a label he had designed: a head, in profile, featuring a phrenology diagram with nothing but wine on the brain.
"Part of it was a joke, and [part] an ode to me," Saunders says. Antista even came up with the name OCD, because Saunders was so obsessed with wine. But when federal regulators didn't laugh (they don't allow medical terms on labels), the brand was changed to Otto's Constant Dream (still OCD, but in a good way).
The name Communal Brands references the close collaboration between Saunders, Antista, Saunders' husband, Dan, and their team of office workers and salespeople. "The brand is all about the communal table and the importance of this notion of community," Saunders explains. Their collaboration — creative and otherwise — extends outside the office and onto the lawn of Brooklyn's Prospect Park, where they play not-entirely-friendly games of croquet.
Why croquet? "My husband's family is from New Zealand, and they are big croquet players," Saunders says. "That's something we imported with our friends. It's fun because it's team-oriented, but it's also highly competitive, which we really like. And it's very social. And, in the right context, you can sip wine while doing it. So it makes it that much more fun."
With Antista and other friends and colleagues, they founded the Brooklyn Croquet & Drinking Club, even creating business cards with the cheeky tagline, "We Only Show Mercy at the Bar." They meet up every other month or so for a match. "It's this elitist game, but there's nothing elitist about any of us," Saunders says. "We're running around playing in a public park in Brooklyn."
When she's not leading her crew in the office or on the lawn, Saunders isn't necessarily taking it easy — at least not in the traditional sense. She and her husband enjoy long-distance running, and might take a run as long as 15 miles on the weekends. "We would incorporate Manhattan into that," she says. "It depends on the route. My favorite bridge to run over is the Manhattan or the Williamsburg Bridge."
Both bridges are relatively easy to access from Clinton Hill, where she lives in a pre-war co-op building with her husband and 6-month-old daughter. With a variety of restaurants in the area — such as iCi, which features local and seasonal foods — the neighborhood has been ideal for someone so immersed in food and wine.
Saunders also partakes in the nearby farmers market on Saturday mornings. "I go get my coffee and my chocolate croissant at Choice Greene, and we head over to the farmers market," she says. "That's definitely a nice ritual that's part of our weekend. My husband travels every week for work, so that's our family time."
Check out Melissa's New York.