"Game of Thrones," mom jokes, and a boost from Amazon have helped one San Diego couple build a booming business as they transitioned from careers in military and law enforcement to civilian life.
Husband and wife Zachary and Jamie Lewis are the owners of Integrity Bottles, an artisan drinkware business specializing in sand-carved glassware and liquor bottles that can also be customized.
The business operates out of a small, showroom-style storefront on Carlton Hills Boulevard in Santee that houses a few shelves stocked with items and a production area in the back where the drinkware is hand-etched by their staff.
The glassware – lined up neatly row-by-row – reflects a lot of dedication and change for the couple who started the business three years ago.
Zach Lewis served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years as a Special Warfare Boat Operator (SB) and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman before transitioning out of the service to become a small business owner. Jamie Lewis was formerly a deputy with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Both of their careers were fulfilling, but demanding.
When the Lewis’ had their first child four-and-a-half years ago – a bubbly baby girl – they both started thinking of a career change so they could spend more time together as a family.
“When he deployed again, I didn’t want to it to go back to working those kinds of shifts where I would have to be gone all the time,” Jamie Lewis told NBC 7. “It just kind of happened to be that the etching came up, and we decided to go that route.”
“While I was in the military, we decided, ‘Hey, we found an option to sandblast liquor bottles and sandblast wine bottles,’” Zach Lewis explained.
Inspired by a friend’s sandblaster, Zach Lewis got to work.
His first mission: sandblasting a bottle with custom etching to gift to a U.S. Navy Commanding Officer at a change of command ceremony in San Diego.
“It turned out to be a big hit,” he said, smiling and remembering that first little “light bulb moment” that would propel their big dream.
They started selling their etched bottles on a small scale.
And then, "winter" came – at least figuratively.
A close friend asked the Lewis’ to etch a special wine glass for her with a quote from the popular series, “Game of Thrones.”
The quote – made famous by GoT character Tyrion Lannister – really lent itself to a wine glass: “That’s What I Do. I Drink and I Know Things.”
And, then, another light bulb moment.
Jamie Lewis got the idea to launch an online shop on Etsy offering a few of their products, including bottles and the GoT-themed wine glass. Fans of the fantasy drama series liked the product.
“We just happened to have a good first glass, I think, that did well,” Jamie Lewis said.
From there, Integrity Bottles expanded on different designs and started taking on more custom etching requests. The military community supported the business, ordering bottles as special-occasion gifts.
Jamie Lewis started selling the drinkware at craft fairs. The so-called “Master Blaster” began etching mugs catering to busy moms like herself, with fun phrases like “Mom Fuel” and “Tired as a Mother.”
Over the next three years, Zach Lewis was deployed three times. The business kept growing and Jamie Lewis left her job as a deputy to fully run Integrity Bottles.
At first, they operated out of a 400-square-foot office space in Point Loma.
“We quickly – the very first year, we blew out of that. Christmas just, kind of, blew us out of that office,” he said.
The couple moved Integrity Bottles to their garage where they had a staff of 15 people – including friends and a military spouse – working in a “horseshoe assembly line” that Zach Lewis fondly remembers spilling into their backyard.
He used his organizational skills learned in the Navy to help him organize that assembly line, delve out duties and get the job done.
Amazon took notice of the couple’s shop on Etsy. The online retail giant invited Integrity Bottles to join its Amazon Handmade category in 2017.
That was a game-changer for the business.
“Once we got into the ‘Amazon Handmade’ category, we’ve been working closely with their Handmade team to, kind of, increase the visibility of our products,” Zach Lewis said.
The couple’s family grew too, by one baby boy born in January 2018.
With two kids and a thriving business, it was time for Zach Lewis to make a big decision.
“I found that I couldn’t keep up with the demand of the product while I was serving in the military and deploying,” he said.
Zach Lewis decided he would transition out of the Navy and join his wife as a full-time business owner. He became a civilian in December 2018.
And together, the military veteran, former deputy and their tight-knit staff found strength in numbers. Zach Lewis said profits for their company have doubled year-over-year, to nearly $1.1 million in revenue in 2019.
“We just got some of our bottles into Costco, and different places are looking to purchase wine glasses,” he added. “So, we’re scaling at the moment.”
Integrity Bottles’ best-seller on Amazon Handmade is a stemless wine glass with an etching of a sea turtle and a crackled, teal bottom – another Jamie Lewis idea.
“Every one of her ideas has been the No. 1 seller,” Zach Lewis said.
While the Lewis’ careers in service may have changed, the couple said they will never forget their roots.
Integrity Bottles is dedicated to employing veterans and military spouses – something very close to their hearts.
“It’s extremely important. We won’t ever lose focus of our military crew and our military heritage,” Zach Lewis said. “A lot of our best-selling and favorite products are geared toward military and patriotic.”
And, in their civilian lives, the Lewis' continue to serve -- just in different ways now. The couple co-founded the ZTActive Hero Project, a nonprofit organization that works to create opportunities to enhance the lives of military service members, support their families, and foster financial independence.
Integrity Bottles plans to host an opening celebration of its showroom in Santee this Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.