Urvi Arora, founder of Thirst
Urvi Arora, like many others we have featured before, was underwhelmed with her career path. What she did about it is what makes her stand out from the rest. She explored her interests, partnered with her husband, and went down the path of wine and spirits. If you're not sold already, just wait. Through trial and error, wins and challenges, Thirst , the "curator of living wines" was born. Through this, Urvi caters to small businesses, the environment and you. Keep reading to learn more about how Urvi started such a badass company that thrives on localization and that glass half-full feeling, literally and figuratively.
Urvi, your background was not always in wine. When, how and why, and how did you decide to go down this path?
I worked a traditional job in healthcare for over 13 years. Though it was challenging and rewarding, it wasn’t necessarily satisfying. I always wanted to pursue a “lifestyle business” - one that would allow me to have flexibility, live anywhere, travel, and of course, do what actually interests me.
The idea for something in the wine and spirits space came to my husband and me one day when we realized we had become the unofficial mixologists at all the dinner parties we went to! That got the ball rolling and many months of negotiations and lawyer fees later, we were the proud owners of a small store in the East Village. I focused on the wine while my husband focused on the spirits side of the business, but we were always more of a craft spirits shop and came to be known as such. During those initial years I got deeper into wine, discovering it formally through WSET courses and exams as well as informally through the people we met and stories we came across. As much as I loved the complexity and depth of the wine world it was human aspect of winemaking that I eventually fell in love with. And that’s when I knew I wanted to do my own thing focused on small winemakers and naturally grown wines. That was late 2017 and another round of hunting, negotiations and more lawyer fees later, this time I was the proud owner of an even smaller shop in Brooklyn! Now, over 15 years later, I finally find myself excited to start each day and see what lies ahead!
Thirst is all about natural wines, can you explain what this means and the effect on sustainability and small businesses?
Interesting words - Sustainability and small business. Put together, they are almost oxymorons nowadays. This day and age, everyone wants cheap, quick, on-demand, 1-hour delivery, thanks to big box retailers or new age startups. Due to this reality, retailers in our space end up stocking wines that are long-lasting, consistent, mass-produced, always available. “Natural” wine, is anything but this. Though legally there is no definition or certification, natural wine is wine made without adding or removing anything in the process. That means organic farming, no additives, native yeasts in fermentation, minimal or no added sulfites, and no sterile filtration. Its living, and therefore, constantly changing. So for these reasons, natural wines are for immediate consumption, akin to some unprocessed foods that have a shorter shelf-life.
“Natural” is also trending right now. Some companies misuse the word for their own benefit and some, like you, are doing it out of long standing passion. How do you try to get ahead by standing out from the competition all while staying true to such an important practice.
Honestly, and I realize this may sound clichéd, but I don’t look at the competition too much. Instead, I think of the others in the natural wine world as ‘compatriots’. Everyone just has a different “why” and “how”, that's all.
Also, we’re looking “outside the box” with Thirst in trying to bring experiences to our club members via dinners, classes, tastings, etc.
Our purpose is for people to find a sense of home and hope when they come to our events. Home because of an un-stuffy atmosphere, and hope because the producers we support are truly trying to make this world a more hospitable place through their practices and convictions. Creating that sense of community and shared responsibility is my primary goal and as long as I’m doing that I don’t worry about anything else.
Thirst has been thriving within just one year of birth. However, you’ve shared with us that you started a few other entrepreneurial ventures in this business before and “failed”. Do you mind sharing that experience with us and how you picked yourself up and tried again?
I’ve tried a few different things in my past and there definitely have been a number of failures. But the failures I’m most proud of are the ones where we made “lemon out of lemonade”. Mashbill Wine & Spirits, for example, started off as a retailer trying to do craft spirits, but the neighborhood just wasn’t right for it. Really taught us the importance of location for a brick and mortar business. But out of that “failure” was born mashandgrape.com - one of the first online retailers for craft, small-batch spirits. Lemonade!
About a year after that, we launched a whiskey samples subscription club (called Mashbox Club) which was very successful, but ironically, turned out to be a little too successful! We were hoping customers would try the samples and then buy the full size bottles of the ones they liked.
However, it turned out that they were more interested in discovery and so the samples were enough. Since we weren’t making a profit off the samples, this customer behavior made the model unviable for us and as a result we had to shut it down after a year. But, learning from that experience, we were able to ‘pivot’ the club into a full size bottle club which still exist under the “Mashbox Club” name. Both these failures taught me the importance of getting back up once you get knocked down, and that nothing is ever as bad as it seems when the shit’s hitting the fan!
For those reading this interested in starting a business in alcohol- can you share some advice on how to work through the difficulties including the many barriers set by the state?
Here’s my advice - don’t get into alcohol! There are a lot of other ways to increase your stress levels :-). However, if this is your chosen one, then I highly recommend spending time with a good lawyer as alcohol laws are notoriously complex.
There is a three-tier system in place, first designed to thwart the erstwhile mobster Al Capone, that today continues to thwart non mobsters such as us. It prevents vertical integration, hurts margins and forces you to buy products from virtual monopolies in each state.
Shipping is another notorious area - with inter state shipping massively restricted - and costs of shipping much higher than for regular products.
Finally, licensing and regulations differ from state to state and each state is essentially a country in its own. So what works in NY doesn’t necessarily work in NJ and how it works is also different!
However - all these complexities and regulations make it tougher for people to enter as well creating a not so minimal barrier to entry which could work in your favor if you get in and understand it. It remains massively fun and one of the better ways to make a living!
What is next for you and Thirst?
Well, I have a million things I want to do for Thirst, but one of my main goals is to officially convert Thirst into a B-Corp. Thirst is a already a mission driven company - with a goal to support sustainable winemaking practices and the small farmers who espouse them. Incorporating as a B Corp bakes that mission into our DNA and hopefully into everyone and everything we come in contact with.
On a personal level, I want to continue to grow Heal India, a non profit I co-founded when I was in India for a couple of years. Heal India currently offers free diagnostic medical testing in underprivileged urban communities. Right now we’re focused on doing blood sugar testing as well as free eye exams for people, but I would like to focus more on maternal health issues. As I say this I realize it might be because I’m a somewhat new mom and I guess it’s another personal experience that is shaping my professional life - the cycle continues!
To learn more about Thirst, follow on social @thirstmerchants. A special offer for thecnnekt community. Use: “THIRSTCNNEKT” for $15 off your first subscription box and never expires (;
Interview by Emily