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Who We Are

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OUR STORY

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Ben Bell, a proud Arkansan, has dedicated 15 years to perfecting the art of sake brewing, culminating in the establishment of Origami Sake - Arkansas's first sake brewery.

According to Ben, it all started when he was working as a wine specialist in Little Rock. One day, a unique-looking sake caught his eye, and he took it home to try. That experience left him intrigued, but also sparked a thought - since Arkansas is the "rice state," why not bring sake production here? That idea stuck with him and has been his driving force ever since.

After his first sake experience, Ben's passion for the Japanese drink led him to travel to Hanamaki, Japan, where he spent two years working as a sake brewer - a rare accomplishment for an American. Upon returning to his home state of Arkansas, Ben was determined to use his newfound skills to open a sake brewery. He soon met Matt Bell, who shared his enthusiasm and saw potential in Arkansas as a hub for sake production.

Ben had a vision for Arkansas to become the Napa Valley of sake, and Matt was on board. While traditional sake rice is different from the long-grain rice grown in Arkansas, the state's farmers had proven their knack for producing quality crops. In fact, Arkansas produces more rice than any other state in the nation, with 48% of the total rice supply coming from Arkansas.

The key to making their vision a reality was finding a grower willing to specialize in sake rice. Luckily, they didn't have to look far - Isbell Farms, located near England, Arkansas, had been growing Japanese rice varieties for decades. They started with koshihikari rice, which drew attention from Japanese media and opened up new opportunities. Later, they also successfully grew Yamada Nishiki, the "king of sake rice," which caught the attention of a sake brewery in San Francisco.

Through a chance Google search, Ben met Chris Isbell of Isbell Farms in 2008. They kept in touch, and when Ben had a plan to start Origami Sake, he knew exactly where to turn for his rice supply. Origami Sake's first test batch was made in October 2022, and they plan to begin sales in 2023.

The founders of Origami Sake are proud to be brewing a 100% Arkansas-made product and are determined to lead the rediscovery of sake in America. They believe that being based in a small state is no hindrance and that their passion and commitment to quality will make Origami Sake a compelling choice for customers.

MEET THE TEAM

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Matt Bell

President & CEO

Matt is an Arkansas native and successful business entrepreneur.  Prior to starting Origami Sake, Matt was a founding partner of Bell-Corley Construction, a commercial general contracting company, Viridian, a green building and energy efficiency consulting company, and Entegrity, a commercial solar development and energy efficiency contractor.  Under Matt’s leadership, the Bell-Corley construction was named 27th in Entrepreneur Magazines Hot 100 Fastest growing businesses in America (2006), named 44th in Inc. Magazine Top 500 fastest growing private companies (2006), and finalist for Arkansas Business of the Year 2004 and 2005.  In 2008, after the sale of Bell-Corley Construction, Matt co-founded Viridian which was recognized as Little Rock Sustainable Business of the Year (2012) and finalist of Arkansas Business of the Year in 2014.  In 2017, Viridian successful merged to form Entegrity, and was a finalist for Arkansas Business of the year in 2020 and subsequently the winner of Arkansas Business of the Year in 2021. Entegrity was named as one of Arkansas’ Best Places to Work five years consecutively (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021), winner of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Business Innovation Award (2017 and 2021), AMP magazine Most Admired Companies in 2021, and Top Solar Contractors in America in 2022.  

Matt currently serves as the CEO and President of Origami Sake and is a certified Level 1 Sake Professional and is leading the growth and marketing strategy for the company. 

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  Ben Bell

Vice President

Ben is a Japanese drinks specialist and Arkansas native with over 15 years of experience at all levels of the drinks business.  He spent two years living in Japan and training at the international award-winning sake brewery Nanbu Bijin. Previously with Skurnik Wines & Spirits in New York City, (multi-time recipient of the Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Importer of the Year award,) Ben has received multiple certifications. He has recently been named one of the 2023 Wine Enthusiast Future 40 Honorees!

Advanced Sake Professional

WSET Level 3 Certified Sake Educator

Certified Wine Specialist

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CHRIS SICONOLFI

VP/General Manager

Chris Siconolfi, brings over 20 years of supplier experience in the wine and spirits industry. A Southern California native and Cal Poly Pomona University graduate, Chris has worked with industry leaders like Moet Hennessy, Trinchero Family Estates, and Riboli Wine Estates (Stella Rosa). His strategic vision and customer-centric approach drive business growth and innovation. Based in Frisco, Texas since 2018, Chris fosters collaborative cultures, inspiring teams to excel and elevate brands in a dynamic market landscape.

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  Brent Miller

Marketing Director

Brent is a native Arkansan with 25 years of experience in advertising and marketing. He specialized in B2B manufacturing, agriculture and sustainability efforts within row crop production. He has focused on projects that highlight new technologies to maintain resource stewardship and on-farm profitability for producers. Brent has directed, produced and hosted podcasts and documentaries in agriculture.

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Brett Bassett

Regional Sales Manager

Brett, originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, was immersed in the world of hospitality from a young age, thanks to his step-father, Chef Mark Abernathy. Starting his career in the beverage industry in 2009, Brett has held various positions, including Beverage Director at Yellow Rocket Concepts, President of the Central Arkansas Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, and Sales Representative at De Nux Distributors. With a deep appreciation for storytelling, Brett's love for craft beverages continues to grow as he discovers new drinks and their rich histories.
Brett's involvement in the industry extends beyond his professional roles. He proudly served as a United States Ambassador for the official launch of the Bat Friendly Agave Program in Guadalajara, Mexico. Additionally, he was a member of the Founder's Council for the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.
Brett's dedication to his craft is evident through his certifications. He holds certifications from The Court of Master Sommeliers, The Cicerone Certification Program, and is a Certified Sake Professional.

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Maggie Culp

Community Manager

Originally from North Little Rock, Maggie is a graduate of Maumelle High School and Arkansas State University, where, in 2021, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication with a Minor in Sales Leadership and a certificate in Social Media Management. Outside of creating content or planning events, you will find her walking her dog Kelly, baking, or when the weather is nice enjoying the lake!

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  Justin Potts

Director of Brewery Relations

A Pacific Northwest native, Justin has called Japan home since 2004. His past lives include roles media localization, marketing, education, event planning, digital publishing, agriculture, and tourism, resulting in his discovery of koji, and subsequently, sake; a path which led him to become one of Japan’s leading non-Japanese sake specialists. His focus is on meaningful project development that empowers Japan’s inspiring local food and beverage producers. 

Justin spent several years as a kurabito (sake brewer) at the distinctive Kidoizumi Sake Brewery in Chiba, having also done stints brewing while working on a range of projects with sake producers throughout the country. He’s a certified lecturer for the Japan Sake Service Institute and holds both sakasho and kikizakeshi certifications. Now a recovering sake educator gone rogue, Justin has been developing personalized education and entertainment experiences for private entities, while consulting on a range of products and services for a wide range of leading Japanese corporations. He’s a tireless kanzake advocate and thoroughly believes that the best of what sake has to offer has yet to be properly discovered and fully appreciated.  

 Justin has held advisory roles with Japan’s National Tax Agency, the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Cabinet Office of Japan. In addition to producing and co-hosting Sake On Air, the official podcast of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association (JSS), he also served as program facilitator and interpreter for the annual JSS Sake & Shochu Academy from 2019-2022. 

Prior to joining Origami Sake, Justin worked with leading global bioscience company, Chr. Hansen, developing new fermented beverage business and products for Japan’s domestic market. For his own company co-founded with his wife, together they create and host gastronomic experiences throughout Japan’s countryside proposing family-centric platforms for good food and sake.

At Origami Sake, Justin is central to helping assure quality, consistency, and character across every bottle and label that we send out into the world, leaning on his diverse exposure, experience, and insight into traditions and innovations throughout the Japanese sake industry. He works closely with our supporting breweries and brewers in Japan to help assure that he and the rest of the brewing team craft sake that’s both authentic and inspired. 

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Eric Morris

Brewery Director

Eric Morris was born in the vibrant city of East Chicago, Indiana. He attended Lake Central High School in St. John, Indiana, and graduated in 1997. Eric had a passion for music, and after high school, he played in several national touring bands. Eric's creative talent wasn't limited to music. He attended Columbia College in Chicago, where he studied graphic design. Eric's love for music and design led him to Little Rock, where he met Ben Bell while he was making his first batch of home-brewed sake. In Little Rock, Eric played in several bands, including his current band Diamond States. He joined Yellow Rocket Concepts and opened and managed several restaurants across Central Arkansas. However, Eric eventually grew tired of the restaurant/bar business and decided to step down to an entry-level position at Lost 40 Brewing. Eric's passion for brewing led him to move up the ranks at Lost 40, from packaging manager to shift brewer, and eventually to Floor and Training Manager. In early 2023, Ben Bell offered Eric a place at Origami Sake, and Eric couldn't be more thrilled to continue pursuing his passion for brewing. Eric Morris is an incredibly talented and multifaceted individual who continues to inspire those around him with his creativity and dedication to his craft.

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Michael Daigle

Brewer

 Michael Daigle is a talented brewer with a knack for creating unique and delicious beverages. With 13 years of experience in the brewing industry, Michael has mastered the art of crafting beer, kombucha, and is now on his way with sake. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, he brings a vibrant energy to his work that is inspired by the rich culture of his hometown. When he's not busy brewing, Michael enjoys cooking, staying active outdoors, and restoring vintage guitars in his spare time. He also has a furry friend named Moose who keeps him company. With his diverse skill set and passion for his craft, Michael is constantly pushing the boundaries of flavor and creativity in the world of brewing.