Prior to opening KOVAL Distillery, one of the largest independent and woman-owned craft distilleries in the US, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart spent over a decade as a full professor in both the United States and Germany. In 2008, she gave up tenure in hopes of a different quality of life; one that would afford an opportunity for her to work with her husband, give up commuting, and return to the city she loved: Chicago.
As owner and president of KOVAL, she has spearheaded product development, distribution, and marketing, turning her family business into an international presence with availability in over 55 export markets. In light of the COVID-19 health crisis, she led KOVAL's transition into producing much-needed hand sanitizer for those on the front lines, including medical organizations, first responders, and community non-profits. Sonat is also involved in a number of philanthropic organizations, was named Illinois Business Person of the Year by the National Small Business Association, is a federally appointed member of the Illinois Export Council, and has been inducted into the Disciples d’Escoffier.