MariElena Raya grew up with cooking in her genes. Her father, Chef Robert Dickson, owned and operated one of the city’s most popular restaurant institutions—Robert’s of Charleston, where she worked her way up from washing dishes. She attended the Culinary Institute of America where she received a Bachelor’s in Culinary Arts Management. MariElena won several cooking awards including First Place at the Art Institute of Atlanta 2000 Culinary Recipe Competition and Honorable Mention in the National Art Institute Culinary Competition.

MariElena worked at the Relais & Chateaux property Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee and the Breakers Hotel and Resort in Palm Beach, Florida. She has also worked for Bloomingdales department stores as their culinary manager. MariElena soon landed back in Charleston where she served as Executive Chef at Robert’s for over five years. She also served as Culinary Instructor for The Art Institute of Charleston after it opened in the area and has an intermediate certification with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust on London.

When her father retired and closed down his infamous restaurant, MariElena, alongside her husband and fellow CIA graduate, Joe Raya, decided to open The Gin Joint. The Gin Joint opened August 2010 to spread the love of pre-prohibition cocktails and fine hand crafted spirits with Charleston and beyond. MariElena was chef and managed the kitchen, while Joe took the reins behind the bar.

In 2013, the Rayas ventured to help people make quality craft cocktails in their own home easily. After two years of tweaking ideas and testing recipes, Bittermilk handcrafted cocktail mixers came to the market in August 2013. Since then, it has won Garden & Gun’s Made in the South Award for Drinks and has been featured in national media outlets such as The New York Times. Bittermilk can be found in nearly 1,000 retail stores or restaurants worldwide. In 2015, the Rayas launched a second product line, Tippleman’s, a series of complex bar syrups intended for cocktails and beyond.