She curated the Delta for nearly two decades in the print world and documented everything from traditions to food to fun and drinks.
Melissa Baker Townsend, reared in the heart of the Delta with an Ole Miss Journalism degree looked to blaze a new career path of sorts - one that took from all that she knew and had learned along the way from Indianola to Oxford with a bit of Chicago added in.
But a path of her own filled with fun and knowledge is what she wanted to pass on. So, she created her own brand and dubbed it Milk Punch. The name itself creates an image of southern cool with a splash of fun and creativity. The milk-based bourbon beverage recipe includes milk, bourbon, sugar, and vanilla extract – served cold and usually with a nutmeg sprinkling.
Milk Punch – healthy with a twist of fun and hint of excitement squeezed together the libation itself shows a foundation of innocence with a glaze of fun and a touch of frivolity. But the Indianola native explains hers as, “Milk Punch is a boozy lifestyle brand and online magazine. We are food writers, health and beauty bloggers, cocktail enthusiasts, and lifestyle content junkies.”
Townsend has assembled a competent, creative crew that construct an eclectic and delectable mix of content for her site. Described as a mixed drink with “one part shared lifestyle blog, and one part digital media company. Add an ounce of imbibing and restaurant-hopping” in New Orleans and “a dash of shopping each time we launch a collaborative collection – and stir.”
With a mission to “drink and eat better while also taking care of our health,” Townsend challenges her readers and social media followers to live life boldly. Throughout any Milk Punch blog get together, there’s a peek inside creative spaces with introductions to those who make and provide tastemakers behind cool modern lifestyle brands.
She admits it’s a strong turn from her base audience she procured previously.
“In some ways, I abandoned my Baby Boomer audience, who knew my work as a print magazine editor about the Mississippi Delta,” she explained. “I knew many of them, particularly men, would not resonate with a girly, sparkly lifestyle brand with pink disco balls and cocktails and talk about beauty products. But that’s who I am. I’m no longer walking railroad tracks looking for abandoned country stores and sharing nostalgia. I’m creating a place that informs and empowers modern women.”
And she’s not reaching out to the world but staying true to her soul and foundation.
“Milk Punch is not regional. Its heart lies at home in the Mississippi Delta with New Orleans as its ‘spirit animal’ city,” she said.
But just how did Milk Punch come about? Townsend knew she needed help early on to center her creative compass.
“I hired a marketing firm that specializes in naming. Incredibly, it was this six-month process of uncovering what I wanted to communicate plus developing brand foundations and researching domains and trademarks. In the end, I passed on six name options and when I later proposed Milk Punch, they loved it!” she said.
Her attraction to the new moniker was actually a life-long sibling tradition they created themselves before discovering the true value of the mixed drink.
“I can say that Milk Punch was the first cocktail I ever tasted if I count every holiday season when my sister and I would accidentally pour boozy vanilla milk over our cereal—yuck!” she said. “As we grew up, I began to understand Milk Punch as a cultural tradition. It rolls around every football and holiday season and is a huge tradition in our family, like so many others. The name also ties my Mississippi Delta roots to New Orleans, where a brandy milk punch is a brunch staple.”
Townsend, an award-winning writer and editor, knew what she wanted to do but needed to find a career glass and company to fit it all in.
“Milk Punch is the overall lifestyle brand that really has two sides: an online publication on milkpunchmedia.com where the content can be taken as a serious media source and a business side with VIP events, e-commerce, retail pop-ups and affiliate marketing,” she said. She also maintains a social media marketing service for other businesses while growing her own brand’s presence.
There’s also the Milk Punch swag as well. T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with creative phrases as well as other one-of-a-kind gear, show the Milk Punch spirit of fun with a touch of frivolity.
“I just launched a line of apparel called Milk Punch Label. It’s mostly t-shirts and athleisure that fit the lifestyle. It’s sold online with a few styles sold in boutiques,” she said. “It’s not seasonal so I can launch new t-shirts and products as I feel inspired. We also collaborate with designers to create capsule collections that go live and then disappear. My own friends have so far been buying them out before they’re officially launched!”
Townsend takes it all serious though to dole out education just tinged with a bit of alcohol when it’s all done.
“Milk Punch Media is an online publication, not a backyard blog. It focuses on Food and Drink, Beauty and Wellness, Style and a section specifically about New Orleans,” she said. “I didn’t want it to all be about me so I hired other writers to contribute and lean on the expertise of others as needed. I wanted to create a brand for ‘passionately curious’ women and share ideas, not just telling women what to wear and where to shop. There are tons of recipes and product reviews and recommendations. The New Orleans content is all about where to eat and drink, of course.”
During the coronavirus quarantine, she put together a helpful guide on milkpunchmedia.com and shared it on the Milk Punch Facebook page on how to survive at home. “‘Gimme Shelter,’ Melissa's 27 Ways to sane and healthy while helping others in small ways from her backyard in the Mississippi Delta,” stated the post. The “self-care quarantining shopping and sanity guide” has had tens of thousands of hits since its early April inception, giving folks at home a bit of humor and release with helpful ideas to live through the government-enforced solitary confinement.
Her “offline events” with appearances across the Delta and into Louisiana, Townsend and her crew have given some mixology sessions undergirded with health and lifestyle trends.
“Viking Cooking School in Greenwood hosted the premier Milk Punch ‘Beauty & Booze’ event last year and we continue to partner on wellness and cocktail-related events. I’ve also taught classes at The Cotton House in Cleveland and collaborated on tourism-driven events,” she said.
To follow along with the Milk Punch adventures of Townsend and her staff, go online to MilkPunchmedia.com, the Facebook page and Instagram @milkpunchofficial. There’s plenty more additional content, videos, recipes and more.
All in all, the Delta writer has found a comfortable mix of life, love and her pursuit of happiness with enough room for those who’d enjoy tagging along with a hot toddy in hand - Milk Punch with Melissa Baker Townsend.
Photo by Jay Adkins