Meet Your Neighbor: Leah Mills

12621779296?profile=RESIZE_710xHypoluxo Island resident Leah Mills and her daughter have come up with a ‘better-for-you drink.’ Photo provided

 

What 10 years ago was a summertime drink Leah Mills would serve friends and family is now a gin-based refreshment the Hypoluxo Island resident and her family are marketing nationwide.

The drink is called The Original Southside, which hit the market in January. It is a gluten-free concoction of gin, lemon and mint that is 10% alcohol and, according to Mills and her daughter Meredith, healthier than almost anything your local bar is serving. You can buy it in cans at www.drinksouthsides.com.

“We’re starting to pay attention to what’s in our food now, and our water, but nobody ever thinks about what you’re drinking when you order a drink at a bar,” said Mills, 59. “Our idea was to make a better-for-you drink.”

Her daughter earned both an undergraduate degree and a master’s at Southern Methodist University, then after a time in the workforce, went for another master’s at the University of Southern California, this one in consumer behavior.

“One of her projects was to study a company that makes a wine-based cooler, and she thought about how good my drink was,” Mills said. “She had access to a lot of research in the alcohol industry and it came to her attention that gin was an under-represented category.”

A family friend had worked at Brown-Forman, one of the largest alcohol producers in the world, and Meredith Mills used that resource to help with distribution and sought out Flavorman in Louisville to help with flavor development.

After more than a year of testing and refining, the Millses — Leah, her husband, Brent, and Meredith — decided to offer their drink at their annual Flamingle party on New Year’s Eve in 2022.

“Everybody loved it, so we went from there,” Leah said.

The Millses also have two sons: Parker, who is in law school at SMU, and Sutton, an analyst who works with his father in venture capital acquisitions.
— Brian Biggane


Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I was born and raised in Oklahoma City. I went to Edmond Memorial High School. From there, I attended the University of Oklahoma where I received a degree in finance and my Juris Doctorate degree. 

Growing up and living in a place like Oklahoma gives you a unique perspective. Oklahomans are friendly and made up of many different cultural influences. It is full of resilient, hardworking people with strong values of family, patriotism and civic engagement. It influenced me to be the same: hardworking and resilient, but also to appreciate others no matter their differences and backgrounds.

Q: What professions have you worked in? 
A: I was a practicing health benefits ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] attorney for 25-plus years, but after I retired, I became an official brand ambassador and board member for The Original Southside. Helping run a spirit beverage company is quite a departure from the practice of law and I will say it makes law look easy. 

Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of? 
A: I am most proud of helping others with my law degree. Before I retired in 2018, I spent the majority of my career representing people who were denied health insurance benefits for medically necessary procedures. The specialty area I worked in had a tremendous number of denials, particularly for women and children. It was gratifying to see my efforts help people receive the medical treatments they needed. 

I am also proud that my professional accomplishments helped Meredith have the confidence and support necessary to embark on this entrepreneurial journey of creating her own business, in a largely male-dominated industry with more barriers to entry than you can imagine. 

Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: Learn as much as you can and laugh along the way. I am a big believer in education. Education exposes you to new concepts and new people. You grow as a person — you better yourself. Whether you choose the path of trade school or college and beyond, we must be curious learners our whole lives, working to make our own and others’ lives better.

Jerry Seinfeld recently spoke at Duke’s commencement ceremony and his advice was full of meaning. He gave traditional advice to “focus on work and fall in love” but he went on to defend humor. “The slightly uncomfortable feeling of awkward humor is OK … even at the cost of hard feelings.” I think we’ve forgotten to laugh at ourselves and others and this creates intolerance. Education combined with humor along the way helps all of us all appreciate our differences.

Q: How did you choose to make your home on Hypoluxo Island?  
A: We began to seasonally visit Florida more than 20 years ago. My husband, an avid outdoorsman and boater, took a Florida map and drew a circle around the longitude and latitude of where the year-round weather would be best. We would choose different places to visit within the circle to see where we would most like to settle. We happened upon Hypoluxo Island after renting a charming house in Manalapan. We hired a real estate agent that weekend to take us to available homes — by boat, of course. We saw a few homes, but one stood out among the rest for its magical front courtyard. We settled on our Lantana location after finding what we think is the quintessential whimsical Florida Keys-style home.

Q: What is your favorite part about living on Hypoluxo Island? 
A: We love our location and neighbors. Hypoluxo is the best of all South Florida worlds. We have friendly neighbors, convenient local amenities, and proximity within 20 minutes north or south to the finest shopping, dining and culture in the world. Miami is not far and the boater among us enjoys the proximity to the Bahamas and the Florida Keys.

Q: What book are you reading now?
A: For work, I am busy reading and learning about the consumer goods and alcohol industry: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent; How Brands Grow, by Byron Sharp, and Mission in a Bottle, by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff. For pleasure, I am reading No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is a surprisingly prescient book to be reading today.

Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: To relax, I listen to smooth jazz and ’80s, ’90s and 2000s soft rock. If I want to be inspired, I try and keep up with the younger generation by listening to the top 20 hits of the day.

Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: I didn’t have one specific mentor, rather in the late ’80s and early ’90s every female lawyer in practice was a mentor. There were not as many female partners then as there are today, so it was a real marker of success to be a female partner at a law firm. It was a time where other female lawyers exemplified the ideal of having it all — a successful career, relationships and family.  I am inspired by women who break barriers and traditional molds encouraging other young women to do the same.

Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you? 
A: Sandra Bullock. She has the down-to-earth, girl-next-door quality combined with wit, determination and intellect.

 

 

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