How to Start a Beverage Company for $30,000 with Anastasia and Phil Broikos of OPA! Originals, Creators of the World's First Ouzon Soda

Have you ever wanted to learn what it takes to start a beverage business but just didn't know where to start? Phil and Anastasia Broikos of OPA! Originals did not come from the beverage industry but had a passion to create something that celebrated their unique heritage and that allowed them to work together as a husband and wife team.

So, they set out to create Ouzon Soda, the first ever Ouzo flavored soda. What is ouzo, you ask? It is the unofficial national liqueur of Greece, of course! Phil and Anastasia are of Greek extraction and found an interesting way to create a non-alcoholic version of a Greek treasure. They handcraft a sparkling beverage that is made with all-natural, pure cane sugar and infused with certified organic star anise. It is truly a craft beverage that you can feel good about.

Phil and Anastasia show us that it is possible to create a soda company if you just follow your dreams and are able to put in the work. In this interview, you will learn the step by step processes that Phil and Anastasia Broikos took when they started their own beverage business. You can learn from their successes and their lessons learned. They are teaching the course that they wish they had taken when they were just starting out.

After watching this interview, please let us know what you learned and thought about the show in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to like, subscribe and share it with others.

Phil Broikos and Anastasia Broikos

Phil Broikos and Anastasia Broikos

OPA! Originals - Ouzon Soda

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Phil and Anastasia Broikos are the founders of OPA! Originals, Creators of the World's First Ouzon Soda

OUZON (pronounced “OO-zone”) soda is a premium all-natural sparkling beverage based on the flavor profile of ouzo, the unofficial national liqueur of Greece. The proprietary syrup for OUZON is meticulously handcrafted using pure cane sugar, and is infused with certified organic star anise to impart subtle notes of licorice. Much of Greek cuisine is flavorful, aromatic and universally popular outside of Greece. But never before has there been an all-natural soda inspired by the traditional palate of Greek cuisine. If you are thirsty for something different, OUZON soda is delicious, refreshing and simply unique.

Soon after OUZON debuted, mentions in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Specialty Food magazine followed. OUZON received high honors when it was awarded the Bronze BevStar Award for best carbonated soft drink by Beverage World magazine.

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Transcript


Javier: Hey there beverage enthusiasts. My name is Javier Morquecho and I'm the founder of specialtysodas.com, where you can find the largest selection of craft soda and specialty beverages anywhere in the U.S. as well as this Specialty Sodas Podcast, where ambitious entrepreneurs and leaders in the beverage industry come to share their story. So my mission is to build a community within the beverage industry so we can all meet and learn from one another and connect for meaningful relationships. So I'm joined today by Philip Broikos, the president of OPA! Originals Incorporated, as well as with his wife, Anastasia. Both co-founded the company in New York. They founded OPA! Originals back in 2009. This is a husband and wife team and they produce Ouzon Premium Soda, the first and only Ouzon flavored soda in the world. So hi Phil and Anastasia. Thank you for being here today.<\p>

Anastasia: Hi, Javier. Thank you so much for inviting us on.<\p>

Javier: And so in today's episode, we want to learn about what is Ouzon, what is ouzo, how you guys started the company as a husband and wife team and also just what kind of growth you've seen in the number of years that you've been in business. So can we start off by learning a little bit more about the company and the beverages you produce? So what is OPA! Originals Incorporated and what is Ouzon Premium Soda?<\p>

Anastasia: Well, OPA! Originals Inc. is dedicated to bringing all natural sparkling beverages that are inspired by the palate of Greek cuisine to the marketplace. Our premier flavor is Ouzon, which was inspired by Ouzo, the Greek liquor. Phil and I are both of Greek extraction. His family's from the north, my family's from the south so it's a mixed marriage but somehow we've managed to make it work thus far and coincidentally, we both have a problem holding our liquor. So we decided to come up with a non-alcoholic tribute to ouzo, and it was very popular with friends and family. They helped us name it and we decided to make it commercially.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, essentially ouzo, I'm not sure if you're familiar with, but ouzo is the Greek aperitif that's hugely popular in Greece. If you ever go visit Greece, one of the first drinks you'll have is probably a glass of ouzo with maybe some ice in it and it's a very strong alcohol and it's got a nice flavor, but it's pretty...<\p>

Anastasia: Potent.<\p>

Phil: Pretty potent.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, every time we demo, there's somebody who has a story about, "Oh, I had this in Greece and it didn't seem that strong and I kept knocking it back and I woke up on a freighter in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea two weeks later."<\p>

Javier: So yeah. Let's go back. So you mentioned ouzo and it's an aperitif in Greece, but both of you guys don't drink alcohol. So in 2000... You started in 2009 or 2010? Which one?<\p>

Anastasia: I think it was a little earlier than that. Phil had been working as an attorney and I was a stay at home mom. Previous to that, I had been in publishing. I had worked for Time Magazine and U.S. News and World Report, and actually Phil was using his law degree to work as a legal publisher here in Rochester, and we had been kicking around the idea of wanting to work together. I wanted to go back to work but I was concerned about juggling motherhood and a full time job and so Phil said, "Let's start a company together." And we bated a few ideas around and he would say...because he's got a very entrepreneurial spirit. I'm more of a Debbie Downer and so he would say, "How about this?" And I'd say, "That's a terrible idea. I'm not doing that."<\p>

And so this went on for a long time and finally, one day he said to me, "What about a Greek soda? What about..." And then we kicked around the flavors for a while and he said, "You know, I'm interested in ouzo. I think that is the quintessential Greek drink and I'm concerned about breaking into a very crowded industry with, you know, a flavor that's already been done. Let's try to blaze a new trail here." And I said to him, "You know, I think you've really hit on something. I'm all in. Let's do it."<\p>

And so we kinda threw caution to the wind and here we are. It seems to have worked out for us thus far. Ouzon has won...I'm sure you're already aware but for your audience, in 2011, Ouzon won the Bronze Bev Star Awards for best carbonated soft drink and last year, 2015, it won a Silver Sophie at the Summer Fancy Food Show. So for a couple of novices with absolutely no background in the industry, you know, I think we've done okay.<\p>

Phil: But to answer your question, I'm pretty sure we launched in 2010.<\p>

Javier: 2010?<\p>

Phil: We had been kicking around some ideas but officially it was 2010 when we launched.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, so yeah. That's really good and I noticed that you guys were playing around with the idea back in 2009. You guys purchased...let's see. The ouzosoda.com, ouzonsoda.com, greeksoda and opaoriginals back in 2009. So even one year earlier you're coming up with the idea but...<\p>

Phil: Javier, are you stalking us because it kind of...<\p>

Anastasia: Because it feels that way.<\p>

Phil: I think we're both pretty impressed that you found that.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, thank you. We actually appreciate that level of attention. Nobody else seems to care that much.<\p>

Javier: Okay. Well, yeah. I just want to find out or learn as much about the company but yeah. So you were playing around with the idea back then but even before that, since you didn't drink alcohol, when...was ouzo something popular in your family or it was just... How did you...<\p>

Anastasia: Every Greek family has a bottle of ouzo, you know, and they're very...some of them are very decorative. So it's not...the bottle is also there for decorative purposes even if you... Like, my family doesn't drink at all and we had a bottle of ouzo, and also for... Like, when somebody comes over, you have to [Greek 00:07:36] them, you have to show them hospitality. So you know, you give them some spoon sweets, like a little shot of ouzo. You have to, you know, and Greek culture is very geared toward being hospitable to anybody who comes over to your house and opening your doors wide and giving them the best of what you have. So my family was not a big drinkers. I don't think yours was either, right, but you...I know your mom has a bottle in her house too.<\p>

Phil: Yeah I mean, essentially, when you're thinking about Greek cuisine and food and beverage, I think food is kind of easy to think of. When it comes to beverage, like you might think about wine and immediately ouzo when it comes to the Greek culture, but outside of that, there are some beverages but it seems to me that ouzo is a pretty iconic beverage. Like, if you go to a Greek festival, you'll see T-shirts that say, "Got ouzo?" It's just second nature for people of Greek descent. So we wanted to take advantage of that iconic status and kind of make it into something that no one had ever done.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah. It's very difficult to find a flavor that no one's done before but has a certain level of brand awareness already. I mean, when you think about it, you don't want to come up with a flavor that nobody understands. You know what I mean?<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: Because how are you going to get them to buy it?<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so...<\p>

Anastasia: They'll be scared off.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so back then, yeah, you mentioned that, yeah, you were...Anastasia, you were working in the print media publishing for U.S. News and then Phil, you were a musician but then you became a lawyer or music production and engineering from Berkley College of Music and then you went to Syracuse College of Law. How was it working as a lawyer, how was it working in print media marketing and what changed? Why did you want to quit eventually and why did you want to start a business?<\p>

Phil: You k now, I think the big thing for us was, "Let's do something together." I had gotten laid off at the end of 2009 so I needed to make a decision. Was I going to stick with lawyering or was I going to try something completely different? And at that point, it had been almost 10 years and I kind of felt like I hadn't really reached the place where I wanted to be and I just thought it would be kind of a cool idea to just start something completely fresh, completely new, and you know here we are today.<\p>

Anastasia: We both loved what we were doing before and we had achieved a certain level of success in our industries. Like, we felt affirmed but we really did want to work together and we had just had our second child and they were both very young and we thought, you know, "If we don't do this now, when are we going to do it?"<\p>

Phil: Essentially, you come up with a crazy idea and... I never wanted to, you know, live the rest of my life in regret. Like, "What about that..." If I hadn't have done it, it would've been like, "What about that idea that I had?"<\p>

Anastasia: Should we have gambled? Should we have played it safe? Should we have, you know, thrown the dice? What would've happened? I think we both...I mean, he definitely has a more daring spirit than I do, but you know, I could see where he was coming from and, frankly, what did we have to lose? We gave it a shot and we said, "Look, if it doesn't...if we don't get any play from, you know, people in the industry, we'll just go back to what we were doing before." We had solid resumes and we weren't afraid of that and, frankly, I think that's a good story when if you're trying something new and it doesn't work out and you're reentering your previous job market and you say, "Look, I tried something new. It didn't work out. I'm back to this which I always loved anyway."<\p>

Phil: Yeah, at this point, we're not going to have any regrets. Even if, you know, we don't become a multimillion dollar company, we're still going to be able to say to ourselves, "Look, we tried it, we gave it a shot and..."<\p>

Anastasia: We had success. Who would've thought, you know, five, six years ago with no experience in the industry at all that we'd be where we are today?<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so yeah. Anastasia, you were on maternity leave and Phil, you were...well, you said you were laid off. So you had that time to be together and you were coming up with different ideas, different, random ideas, like even a diaper truck idea. So what...<\p>

Anastasia: Did you tell him about the diaper?<\p>

Phil: No, I didn't say anything. I don't know...<\p>

Anastasia: How did you know?<\p>

Phil: Are you reading our mind or how you...<\p>

Javier: What other kind of business ideas did you guys have at the time?<\p>

Phil: Well, like you said, there was the diaper service and then...<\p>

Anastasia: There were some other ideas that I was like, "Oh, my god. That's terrible. There's no way we're doing that." I can't remember. I said, “Bury them.”<\p>

Phil: I mean, I still have ideas, frankly. I think it'd be very cool to open up...<\p>

Anastasia: Oh, you wanted to do a store. You wanted to be in retail and I said, "There's no way I'm going to do retail. You can forget it."<\p>

Phil: But how about this? A slick Apple-like store that sells all sorts of different sodas. So it looks... I thought that would be cool. Like, they have these stores that sell all sorts of beers. You know, Galco's in...<\p>

Anastasia: Los Angeles.<\p>

Phil: In Los Angeles. That's the only place that I know is kinda like that. I mean, there are probably a few other ones but...<\p>

Anastasia: There are. There's some places in the Midwest. I'm not really sure. We don't live...we used to live in New York City and we relocated to Phil's hometown of Rochester, New York which is a fabulous place to live but it's a smaller metropolitan area and if you're going to have a specialty store that is sort of relying on, you know, foot traffic and so forth, you need to be in a major metropolitan hub and as fantastic as this area is, it doesn't meet those requirements.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so...<\p>

Anastasia: So it's...several times.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, so yeah. You guys were coming up with different ideas and Phil, you were like a self-proclaimed soda enthusiast. Were you drinking lots of soda at the time?<\p>

Phil: No, I don't think I was. I mean...<\p>

Javier: Oh, okay.<\p>

Phil: I think that, you know, whenever we went on vacation to other places, the first thing I want to do is I want to try something different, something regional and to me there wasn't any special soda from Greece. You have these other Greek sodas but they're essentially knockoffs of American favorites like lemon lime or orange.<\p>

Anastasia: It's kind of generic. It could come from anywhere and one of the things we noticed...before we had kids, we traveled a bit and we would try to go to Greece occasionally and one of the things I remember having a lot of fun with in the local stores was... like, I think it's Lays. They would have feta cheese and oregano flavored potato chips. Now, that's a Greek influenced product but there was nothing analogous in the beverage world, and he would complain about that every time we went to Greece.<\p>

And we traveled through Switzerland. Like, we'd make a layover in Switzerland and he'd go get a Rivella in every like, flavor. There's three of them, right? There's the red one, the green one and the other one, and so every holiday, like every birthday, for Christmas, I would order a mixed case from Galco's in Los Angeles and for a while Rivella had a distributor in Florida so I could order him a case of Rivella. He likes these Japanese sodas that have the marble in the top. He’d get really excited about it, you know?<\p>

And then, at some point, I think we were worried maybe a little bit about the ingredients because some...they taste great and they're fun and they're fizzy but he said, "If I had made my own soda, I'd make sure it was all natural." And then, you know, when we started kicking around this idea, we agreed that we would only make something that we were comfortable like, letting our kids have once in a while. So we decided very early on in the process that it was going to be completely all natural.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so back then, you said that when you travel or go somewhere, you want to try something regional, you want to try their cuisine, you want to try just what makes something uniquely of that area and you found that there wasn't anything in the beverage and, specifically, there wasn't anything in the Greek beverage that was non-alcoholic that you can feel good about drinking. So back then, you...can you tell us about the moment when you said, "Okay, let's do this soda company." What was that conversation like?<\p>

Phil: I think we were always very careful about...even today, we're very careful about making decisions so I don't know that it was necessarily a eureka moment for deciding to go ahead and do it. I think we'd been building up to figuring... We started out saying we wanted to start some kind of a company together and through these different ideas together...and eventually, we had to say, "Okay, let's make the jump here. Is it going to be A, B or C?" And we went with, you know, making soda.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, it was a long drawn out process. And you know, we were in our 40s with two small children and a mortgage. You know what I mean? Like, if we had met 20 years ago, then it might've been a completely different scenario, but we were super careful. Every decision just was...we kind of agonized over and... But eventually I think once we decided the direction we were going in...I mean, and we had a big educational curve. Like, we didn't know how to make soda. We didn't know anything about distribution, like how to get...using trucking companies, how to get it from point A to point B. How to, you know, sublet a warehouse, how to pick up a distributor, what to price it at. I mean, we were complete newbies. That whole process took us many months to figure out, "Okay, what are we doing here?"<\p>

Phil: I think about when I was thinking about becoming an attorney. You know, I talked to my parents about it and the response was, "You know, well, why don't you try? Why don't you try to take the test first of all?" And then once you pass the bar exam, then it's like, "Okay." Or actually, before that. Yeah, it's just to get into law school, because if you don't get a, let's say, a high enough grade on this exam to get into law school, then you're probably not going to go to law school. So very similar to that, we just kept taking these baby steps forward. Let's see if we can get a good name. Okay. Let's see if we can register for the website. We didn't have the website. We had to register for it first, right, and we picked any number of names first and then slowly, you know, we began to maneuver our way down that path. At any one point, something could've come up which would've, you know, indicated to us, "Hey, this might not be a good idea. Let's do something else."<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, at any moment we could've been torpedoed and then we would've given it up and gone in another direction, but you know, doors kept opening and so we just kept walking through them.<\p>

Javier: And so yeah. Early on Phil, like you mentioned your parents are an inspiration in taking...just trying something out and seeing if it works. I think I read somewhere that your dad, who was an engineer at Xerox at the time, had a...<\p>

Anastasia: He's totally stalking us.<\p>

Javier: No, he had a big role in helping formulate this company. What role did he have specifically and also, Anastasia, did your parents have any influence?<\p>

Phil: Well, for me, I remember asking him, "What do you think about an ouzo flavored soda?" And he just kind of matter of fact, he looked at me and said, "Try it." He wasn't going to say, "Oh..." My parents are not the type of parents that would be very overly encouraging for anything. They were always very down to earth about things and you know, that has benefits and it can also present some difficulties. For me, I think it was an honest answer. Like I think, who knows? Because it had never been done and...<\p>

Anastasia: The interesting thing about his dad, though, is he was an engineer and I think his job at Xerox was to reverse engineer the products of competitors and so always in Phil's house they were taking stuff apart and Phil was always encouraged to do this and, to this day, his mom always says, "You would've been a great engineer." You know? He's just got the kind of mind, he's got a very inquisitive mind that can figure out how things go together and it extends beyond circuitry into other areas like cuisine. I mean, he happens to be a fantastic chef as well and he does most of the cooking, frankly, and we can go out to eat and he can try a dish and I don't have a clue what's in it. I just like the way it all tastes but he's like, "Oh, yeah. I can taste the white pepper. There's some paprika in here." Like, he can figure it out and put it together again and I think his dad's...like that influence growing up really helped him figure out, "Okay, how do I make this soda?"<\p>

And my parents, you know, always very encouraging, always you know, "Yeah, you can do it. You're smart, you're good enough, you're smart enough and people like you." What's that old TV, that old SNL thing? You know, I think we both come from families that are very encouraging and nurturing and encouraged us to just try it and we'll be here for you if it doesn't...if you fall flat on your face, you get up and dust yourself off and try something else.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and I think when you guys were starting the company you had a framework that you guys used to help develop your ideas. You had two questions that you asked. What is unique and what is the specialty to this particular culture? And can you just maybe talk a little bit more about how looking at these two questions helped with formulating the idea? And I just I guess for anyone in general, for entrepreneurs out there in general, if they're trying to come up with an idea, how does looking at what's unique and what's special to each culture, how can that framework help them to start a company? Beverage company or any kind of company.<\p>

Phil: You know, I think we were trying to create layers of uniqueness with Ouzon. So first there's the flavor itself. You know, this anise flavored soda. To this day, we still don't know of anything out there that's like it. I mean, if there is...<\p>

Anastasia: We haven't come across it. We haven't found another anise or licorice flavored non-alcoholic beverage.<\p>

Phil: So then, you know, beyond that how could you make it somewhat unique? Well, instead of plastic or cans, how about glass bottles? That presents a certain niche I think, and you know, what else? Maybe the...<\p>

Anastasia: The sweetener.<\p>

Phil: Well, the ingredients within it. You know, we're not using anything artificial. That in and of itself is another hurdle that someone would have to surpass if they wanted to compete directly with us. Then, beyond that, well, how is it made? We're taking raw ingredients and we're making a soda out of it. I think there are people out there doing it but by and large, the vast majority of soda makers are not doing that. They're getting a flavor concentrate and putting it in there. So we just kept trying to build like, layer upon layer of uniqueness to set ourselves apart, and I think in terms of the industry, getting recognized with these awards, you know, that makes us feel good that we did create something that's kind of special here.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so now that you're talking about the beverage more, I want to show people. So here is the Ouzon Soda, and I think this is one of two different bottling types that you have. From what I saw, you also have another 12-ounce long neck and I looked at the ingredients of both of them and I think that they're different ingredients. This one says that it's made with 100% natural ingredients, the purified sparkling water infused with USDA certified organic star anise, pure cane sugar and citric acid and the other one on the label said carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural flavoring and citric acid. So is there some labeling requirements in different regions or is it just the same ingredients but you just called it differently or is it two different recipes?<\p>

Phil: You're not going to ever stop surprising us with your knowledge about...if we have questions about ourselves...<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: We're going to call you up and say, "Javier, what..."<\p>

Anastasia: Do I prefer chocolate or vanilla because I can't remember?<\p>

Phil: Back in 1993, was I on a train going to London or Salzburg? I can't remember.<\p>

Anastasia: That's really impressive Javier. That nine-inch-long neck, our very first... When we first broke into the industry, we bottled with a bottler in Pennsylvania.<\p>

Phil: Actually, I don't think that's true. See, we don't even know but I think what happened was we started out with the shorter ones.<\p>

Anastasia: We did?<\p>

Phil: I think so.<\p>

Anastasia: I don't think so.<\p>

Phil: And then we switched to the long necks. It was just the matter of finding the right fit for us in terms of a bottler and so every time you go to a different...<\p>

Anastasia: Different bottlers have different machines that require... You know, what size is the label, what kind of bottle? They're the ones usually that buy the bottles in bulks so you use whatever bottles fit their machine.<\p>

Phil: And so we had to create...we had to keep recreating these labels and I think, you know, if you had asked me what did that label say, I would've thought it was exactly the same, but the fact that you're telling me it's different...like I trust you more than I trust my own memory.<\p>

Anastasia: No, no. I remember when we changed the bottle because we felt like...we noticed that some of our competitors, like, they weren't just using the ingredient panel for straight informational purposes. They were really like, using it as another opportunity to market what's great about their product.<\p>

Phil: I think the new label that's on the shorter bottle, it more accurately represents what's happening in the process. It's always been made the same way but, along the line, I think we got more savvy to, you know, how should this...<\p>

Anastasia: Be presented.<\p>

Phil: How should this label read really, because the natural flavoring almost suggests that it's a concentrate, and that's not how it's ever been done. It's always been...I mean, it started in our kitchen where I happened upon star anise and so we're... You know, I can tell you a little more about that but I don't want to get too ahead of myself here.<\p>

Javier: Oh, no, yeah. I'd like to talk about that. Let's talk about the drink first and we'll talk about how you concocted the recipe after. So I'm going to just taste it on camera and then just describe how it tastes and see...<\p>

Anastasia: I hope it's nice and cold, Javier.<\p>

Javier: Oh, it is cold.<\p>

Phil: Okay.<\p>

Javier: Well, I got it out of the fridge but maybe it's already heating up right now but... So I don't know if you can see there's light effervescence, really light effervesce. I can't... I smell a slight anise flavor but it's really soft but it could just be that it's from the south so if I pour it into the cup, now you see all the effervescence and the bubbles are really sparkling out and still, the scent is very, very mild. So to me, like I don't smell the anise that much. Maybe it's really soft. Okay, and the liquid has a slight tint to it. It's not 100% clear white but it's slightly tinted maybe yellowish. Not even yellow. Just really...yeah. It's just tinted a little bit different color but we can go into that later.<\p>

Phil: To your health.<\p>

Javier: Okay, and now that I'm drinking it, it tastes extremely good and the anise flavor is very, very soft. It's very refreshing, it's really light. The sugar comes off really soft. It's like I just took some of the anise seeds and just bit into it, but really soft...like a softer taste of that and has some sugary element to it and yeah. I can see drinking this with a meal. It doesn't taste like you're drinking the soda as you would expect it.<\p>

So I know you guys said that when you have people tasting the drink for the first time, it's like an experience of discovery and can you talk more about just the first time people experience drinking Ouzon Soda?<\p>

Anastasia: Well, we do a lot of demos together so correct me if...or add to anything but I think something that I never get tired of is, because it's such an unusual product and they don't have any point of comparison, even if they come over to the demo table expecting to like it, I'm always charged by how excited they are when they taste it for the first time. Just today, I had somebody say, "Wow, that was totally not what I expected." And that happens over and over and over again. Even with people who enjoy anise and, frankly, there are people who don't like anise. Occasionally, there will be someone who doesn't care for it. I think more often than not I have people say, "You know, I'm not a big licorice fan but this is really good. It's really subtle."<\p>

When he was in the process, when he was in the creative process of coming up with a formula, we had maybe 17 different versions, some with more carbonation, some with more sugar, some where the flavor of the anise was even stronger and he worked really, really hard to come up with a perfect combination of...you don't want the carbonation to be harsh and you know, sort of hurt your nose and palate going down. You want the anise to be present but not overwhelming because it can be an overbearing flavor and you don't want it to be too sugary because, frankly, this is a more sophisticated take on soda. You know, this is...I mean, it is a fun, fizzy drink and believe me, there's plenty of kids that like it, but it's something that you want to pair with a good meal. You can pour it over vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet and you know, turn it into a desert.<\p>

Phil: I think, back to your question, you know, one of my favorite experiences was we went to a Greek expo in Atlantic City where you just get Greek customer after Greek customer and I had old people coming up and...<\p>

Anastasia: Older.<\p>

Phil: Older people coming up and be proud, old and proud. What's wrong with that? Coming up and literally dancing in front of me because they were so excited to taste the soda, and I think maybe it was because they don't drink alcohol much anymore and maybe they were thinking about when they did have ouzo back in their youth and whatever it was, it was just a joy to be around, to have people like, taste the soda and just start being ecstatic about it.<\p>

Anastasia: It's really fun to see people get so excited about you know, something that you made.<\p>

Phil: And, again with the Greek people, I've told people...they'd say, "What is this?" I'd say, "It's an ouzo flavored soda." They're like, "No, it's not. Come on. Don't tease me. What is it?" I'm like, "Go ahead try it." And they'd be like...they'll taste it and be shocked that it's close to what...<\p>

Anastasia: It should be.<\p>

Phil: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: But you know, the funny thing is although we had originally envisioned this as being really a strictly Greek product like for the Greek niche market, you know, anise is appreciated across cultures. Like, it's popular in Caribbean cuisine, other Mediterranean cuisines, French, Italian, Asian and so it's not just the Greek customers that get excited when they taste it. Like, it doesn't matter. It's not specific to any one nationality. People just like it. It tastes good and it's so different.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and I'm drinking it more as you guys are talking about it. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Ring Pop lollipops. It just has that flavor. Maybe if there is a neutral flavor but it has that kind of flavor to it, but you said...so it's like the Greek ouzo minus the alcohol and that's literally how you would describe the flavor?<\p>

Phil: Well, I think it's...to me...<\p>

Anastasia: I say it's ouzo without the kick in the head.<\p>

Phil: I mean, to me it's more like a comparison between beer and root beer or ale and ginger ale. I mean, even though...if you take those beverages and separate them from their original alcoholic version, they're quite different. I would say Ouzon is, you know, closer to ouzo but there's a difference in that there's a sugar component that I don't think ouzo really has and, again, ouzo is pretty high proof so just taking that element out plus the fizziness of it, it's like a funnier version of ouzo I think.<\p>

Anastasia: But when I get… When I demo, I get a lot...people who are familiar with ouzo say...they'll try it and they'll be like, "Huh, you know, this reminds me of ouzo." And then they'll look at the bottle and they'll be like, "Oh, okay. It's supposed to, right? That's where you got the name from." So I think that the link is much stronger between ouzo and Ouzon than it is between beer and root beer.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, yeah. I would agree with that.<\p>

Javier: Okay, so now let's talk about the ingredients. So I'm here on the camera. Right now I'm showing regular anise seeds and then here is star anise which looks like this and then yeah, the seeds are here. So can you tell us about the difference between these two and why you chose one or the other and were there any other kinds of ingredients like fennel or some other similar flavor profile that you were looking into?<\p>

Phil: For whatever reason, when thinking about ouzo, I was focused on the anise component of it. Which I didn't even know what that was. I wasn't familiar with either of those things but I remember being in Indian store, an Indian grocery store and you know, maybe I was looking for something else and then I saw this thing called star anise and...<\p>

Anastasia: You were looking for curry leaves.<\p>

Phil: And something just clicked. I immediately grabbed the bag, I went to the cashier and I said, "Can you tell me about this?" And he said, "It's used in cooking." And I said, "Could you use it in a beverage?" And he scratched his head a little bit and said, "Maybe like in a tea." And once he said that, I'm like, "It's a done deal for me. I've got to try this." So I immediately went home, made some tea with it and that's kind of where being a novice in this really like...<\p>

Anastasia: Paid off?<\p>

Phil: Well, I don't know if it paid off but it really showed itself in that anybody with any sense would say, "Okay, I want to...let's say I want to make an anise flavored soda. Okay, let me call these different flavor houses and see what kind of concentrate they can send me." Nobody but a novice would say, "Well, let me try to make this. How am I going to make this? Let me try to make a syrup from scratch." So essentially, I knew how to make a simple syrup by taking water and sugar and that's pretty much it. So instead of water and sugar, I decided to flavor the water by putting star anise in and making tea out of it. Another way to do it would be to just put the star anise in the water and like, leave it there for 24 hours or a set period of time, but this is just kinda the way it evolved was to make the tea, then take the star anise out, put the cane sugar in. Right there is your syrup, right there is your simple syrup.<\p>

And you know, once I went to figure out how to do this commercially, I was told to keep this syrup stable, I would have to look at the PH of it and it was suggested that putting something in like citric acid could deal with that issue. So I was very nervous when I was told that because we had...like Anastasia said, we had asked a lot of family and friends and we kind of went with...<\p>

Anastasia: They taste tested for us.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, this was before citric acid was in it and...<\p>

Anastasia: We didn't know how it would affect the flavor.<\p>

Phil: I was very scared that it would sour it up quite a bit, but at the end of the day, it really didn't. It almost added like...<\p>

Anastasia: A little tang.<\p>

Phil: Perhaps it added some complexity to it. I don't know for sure but...<\p>

Anastasia: And we also didn't know what the effect of the pasteurization process would be. So we were concerned about that also. I mean, it's one thing to cook up a batch in your kitchen and another thing to like, invest your life savings in the first run and say, "Okay, I wonder how all these different processes will actually affect the flavor." I mean, we were pretty terrified when we brought that first run back home and popped the cap on it.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and...<\p>

Phil: So when you're talking about doing a first run too, nobody really wants to talk to you. At that time, it was 200 cases and that 200 cases seemed like an absurd number to us, like 200 times 24. What is it? Five thousand? Five thousand bottles? It's just, "How are we going to get rid of 5,000 bottles?"<\p>

Anastasia: We didn't have any customers. You know, we didn't have any customers, we didn't have any distributors, we didn't have a warehouse. We were storing it in our garage. We didn't know what to price it. I mean, you know, we're either really brave or really stupid. I'm not quite sure if we figured that one out yet.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, so yeah. I want to just talk about the bottling and also the early distribution but, just going back, I want to say that I think it's really cool that you guys started out and brewed it in like a tea, and that's taking elements because, after speaking with multiple beverage company founders, they draw inspiration from other industries. Some take a craft beer approach, some take a wine approach. It seems like the approach you guys took was brewing like a tea from the fresh herbs and then building the simple syrup out of that, and so I just really think it's cool how you brewed it.<\p>

How many variations of the tea did you brew and what were some of the most surprising things that came out from trying all your different experiments?<\p>

Phil: I think I was just very lucky to happen upon star anise because I didn't...I've never even tried it with anise seed, which I think would actually probably be closer to the Greek. I don't think the Greeks have...<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, star anise...<\p>

Phil: I don't think they manufacture star anise but they definitely have anise seed like, growing in the fields and stuff. But that said, I think I just... When I made that first tea and then turned it into the simple syrup, I knew it was very close to what I wanted. I knew it wouldn't take much effort to get from point A to point B. I knew it was something special for us and... So at that point, it's just a matter of playing with different ratios like, "Okay, instead of adding five of these pieces of star anise, let me try 10. Let me try two and a half."<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, I don't remember you fiddling with the syrup recipe that much. I remember that there were a lot of different variations of the final product in terms of, "Okay, more carbonated, less carbonated, more sugar, less sugar." But I think he hit on the syrup recipe really fast and then decided, "Okay, I'm not going to monkey around with this. This is what we're going with.”<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: I mean, again, Javier, I'm going to ask you how I actually did it because I think the two of us disagree a little bit on this.<\p>

Anastasia: You can be the referee. You were probably there.<\p>

Phil: I think there was some fiddling around with, you know, how many different...how many pieces of star anise do I put in or... It wasn't a huge difference from batch to batch but I mean, it took a little while to, I think, whittle it down to maybe three to five bottles and then I think at the... We were surprised with the end result. Like, I think we were going to think that most people would've picked the sweeter version of it and, in fact, people picked sort of the less sweet version of it and I think it was good that we listened to the very limited data we had and we went with what we did because it's turned out to be good for us.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and I think the cool thing too is that star anise naturally has a sweet taste to it so when you went about adding the sugar, you were able to add less sugar too because it's naturally sweet in terms of flavor. So going... Now that you had your recipe, you guys didn't have food industry knowledge at the time so you guys did a lot of research and then you guys came across the New York State Food Venture Center at Cornel University. So how did you guys even come across this group and how did you engage in conversation and what happened? What did they help you with?<\p>

Phil: I think it was...<\p>

Anastasia: Didn't we run into another entrepreneur somewhere at a...there's a...maybe it was at the conference.<\p>

Phil: I think it might've been, but the way I would remember it is that we were just looking on the internet and we found it. Maybe somebody else told us about it. I don't remember for sure.<\p>

Anastasia: Somebody said, "Why don't you give these people a call? They might be able to help you out."<\p>

Phil: But essentially, they're a bunch of food scientists. They know what they're doing and they're more than willing to help work with...<\p>

Anastasia: Well, that's their reason for being.<\p>

Phil: Yeah. I mean, exactly. They're set up to help people who've never done it before.<\p>

Anastasia: Like us. People who...there's tons of people across New York State who... You know, they make cookies and they sell them at a local Farmer's Market and they don't know how to get to the next level. They don't know how to do the nutrition panel, they don't know anything about the packaging requirements. They'd like to be on a shelf in a supermarket because they've already built up a clientele and you know, the people at the Food Venture Center are there to assist them. So it's a fantastic resource for food and beverage entrepreneurs in New York State and probably beyond. I wouldn't be surprised if you know, people from areas further out came to them for help.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, essentially, they explained to us that things have to be a certain way to be shelf stable, and so they helped with the formulation and frankly, they helped with the manufacturing because once I explained how I was doing it in my kitchen, they gave us ideas about, "Okay, well, you could probably go to this place." Which, for us, has been a place called Martin's Kitchen in Dundee, New York. It's an Amish family. They do jams and preserves and all sorts of...<\p>

Anastasia: They're certified by the New York State Board of Health. So we couldn't continue doing it in our kitchen unless we were certified and we weren't prepared to take that step so...<\p>

Phil: So they help us with making the actual syrup and then the syrup gets transported to Worchester, Massachusetts where it's bottled at...Ginseng Up is the bottler.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: And so the Food Venture Center was really helpful in terms of giving us recommendations for all kinds of partners. Who's going to do our nutritional label? Who's going to be our certified kitchen? Who's going to be our bottler?<\p>

Phil: And the process itself too. I mean, I was...I think we were both pretty insistent that it stay all natural and so the Food Venture Center explained to us, "Okay. Well, if you take the syrup and then you bottle it and then it gets pasteurized, then you're good to go." So we had to find a bottler who pasteurized.<\p>

Anastasia: And whose minimums we could meet because we were not prepared to, you know, sign a contract for thousands and thousands of cases per month with no customers.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, that's really interesting because another beverage company I spoke with also started out bottling at Ginseng Up as well. So it seems like they're really open to beverage bottlers who are just starting out and have smaller minimums and they can meet the requirements of pasteurization and labeling.<\p>

So when you worked with them, how was that process and what kind of fee does it cost to do a minimum of...I think you said 200 cases. Was it 200 cases?<\p>

Anastasia: We didn't do that first run with Ginseng Up.<\p>

Javier: Oh, okay.<\p>

Anastasia: I think we did it with Lion Brewery in Pennsylvania.<\p>

Phil: In Wellsburg, Pennsylvania.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: So yeah. I'm not sure. I think you'd have to talk to them in terms of what their minimums are.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: I think we were doing...<\p>

Anastasia: It may also depend on what your...our pricing may not reflect what the average price is because we do things a lot differently. We're not doing a powder. I think I would guess that most of their other customers are not brewing a syrup from scratch.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I mean, we...<\p>

Anastasia: You'd have to do an interview with Ginseng Up. And they've been amazing. They've been incredibly so professional. They've helped. With our education curve, they've gone out of their way to explain things to us and they've been very nurturing and I don't think we would be here today without them.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, and again, our process is a bit different because we're providing the syrup whereas I would say the vast majority of beverages out there, they're going to have a formula that involves a flavor concentrate and then they'll tell the bottler, "Okay, add this much sugar or corn syrup." Or whatever they're going to do with that.<\p>

Anastasia: So really, who knows what that does to the pricing?<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so you said that, originally, you went with a different bottler which was a brewery and then now you're at Ginseng Up and you said that Ginseng Up provided a lot of good education. What was different from the two different bottlers? What did you learn from the two different experiences?<\p>

Anastasia: They were bigger.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I think Ginseng Up is...they understand the entrepreneur because they've seen a lot of the...that's been their business in the past. I think what usually happens, you'll usually fall into two categories and so you start out with...let's say you do a run of 500 cases. If you're back the next year, essentially they're going to...they're expecting that...<\p>

Anastasia: Your production will increase.<\p>

Phil: Yeah. Eventually, those numbers will go up. You'll do 500 one year and then you'll maybe do 1,000 next year and it keeps moving up and up because I think usually what happens is they'll know pretty early whether the company is going to be able to move forward or not. If a person can't get rid of those 500 cases, you know, that's essentially the end of their business, I think.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: And I think the other brewery...because they were bigger, they really couldn't or they weren't interested in nurturing the customer. I find Ginseng Up to be very customer oriented. They're just really interested in how you're doing and how they can help you and it feels more like a...I know it's not a family business but it definitely feels that way when I'm dealing with them on the phone. Like I feel a level of familiarity that makes me feel really good to be doing business with them.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so what is just one really interesting thing that you learned working with them?<\p>

Anastasia: Everything.<\p>

Phil: There is a lot.<\p>

Anastasia: I mean, I think they taught us everything there is to know about bottling. I mean...<\p>

Phil: I would say this...I'd say...<\p>

Anastasia: Bricks.<\p>

Phil: Bricks. I think it's always an overwhelming experience for me to see my bottles come down that line and because there's 500 cases. That's 12,000 bottles. That's a lot of bottles that come through there and to see them coming over and over and over again, it's really scary and it's really exciting at the same time.<\p>

Anastasia: And we know we're in good hands there too. So I think at one of the early bottlers that we used, we were concerned. We felt that there was a difference in run to run. Do you remember that? Very, very early on. And we've never had that concern at Ginseng Up. Like, quality control has been excellent.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so...<\p>

Phil: I don't know if that really answers your question but...<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, I think it's so hard to know what we didn't...what did we not know that we know now that we can pinpoint? It's really hard. It's a hard question.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, so I guess it's just some multiple things that you learned. And so you were bottling there, and then you had the product stored at a warehouse in Farmington, Ontario County, New York. How did you find this place to hold on to the product at the time?<\p>

Anastasia: So we had some...your sister's godparents were visiting from Arizona. His sister's godparents were visiting from Arizona and Uncle Gus said, "I'm so excited about this new business you guys are doing. I want you to call my friend. He might be able to help you out." Because they used to live here in Rochester.<\p>

Phil: They used to have owned a restaurant business and he also used to do...had something to do in the beverage business, to tell you the truth. As a distributor maybe? I can't remember.<\p>

Anastasia: So he put us in touch with someone and I gave them a call and it turned out we've been doing business with them ever since. So again, you know, we've really relied so heavily on good wishes and tips from other people. Like, "Well, why don't you call this guy?" And you know, "He might be able to help you out." And, "You might be able to do business together." Again, because we had no contacts in, literally, any industry except publishing. If Phil and I had wanted to print a magazine, you know, we would've been in good shape but...<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so yeah. Now you have the place to store the products, you had the beverages made. Are you able to give us an estimate of how much capital you needed to put in? Because this was self-funded. You didn't get outside investments.<\p>

Anastasia: No. In fact, we went to... I went to Beverage school at…it was at Beverage World Magazine had beverages...<\p>

Phil: Bev Net?<\p>

Anastasia: Bev Net. I can't remember but it was really, really early on and I remember one of the...there was a seminar with some VC people and one of the things they said was, "If you have less than a million dollars to invest in this business, don't even bother." And there was a kid next to me. I don't know if...have you spoken to... I can't remember his name. He also has a beverage company and I turned to him and he's way younger than me, you know, right out of college, and I said, "Do you believe this?" And he's like, "Yeah, I've got over 1.2 million invested so far." It's like, "Whoa." So I can assure you, it is significantly less than one million dollars but for us it was a lot of money. You know, it represented everything that we had saved in our marriage and prior to that, but we're really fortunate. I would hesitate to chalk it up to our fantastic business skills. I think we've just been fortunate that, since that first year, the company has turned a profit, you know, and we haven't gone into debt. Thank God. Knock on wood.<\p>

And we're chugging along, you know. We're not going to be millionaires but we are chugging along.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so I spoke with another beverage entrepreneur and she said that when she started, I think it was 75,000 that she started with. So is it safe to guess that it's maybe in the 50 to a 150,000 range?<\p>

Anastasia: I think it was...<\p>

Phil: For us, it was...<\p>

Anastasia: It was less maybe.<\p>

Phil: It was significantly less. I think we started with 30. So there's positive and negative for that. So we have been...because it's just the two of us, we are able to be lean and I think the more you put into it… It's a catch 22. The more you put into it, then the quicker your rise is going to be but there's also, you know, more at stake. There's a bigger risk.<\p>

Anastasia: And I think a lot of people...I think it's possible to invest unwisely. Not every dollar you spend is going to make you two dollars back and we've seen other people, other entrepreneurs. Not people that we know personally but we have seen...we keep track of other companies and not just in our industry and you know, I think that it's really possible to get caught up in what you think you have to have and we never...we don't have an office really. We don't have an office space. We work out of a tiny corner of our home and wherever we could economize, we did.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and I think it's good that...<\p>

Phil: Go ahead, go ahead.<\p>

Javier: Oh, no. I was just going to say I think it's really good that you start with your own money and you bootstrap it because, like you said, every dollar you spend is really wisely spent and it's used on the most important things but then, yeah, you are limited because you said the more money you put in, the faster you can grow.<\p>

Anastasia: Supposedly.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, supposedly. So yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: I mean, everything we do ourselves. Phil did...okay, so of course Phil is the creative genius behind the formula but he also designed the label, he designed all the marketing materials, he designed...I don't know if you can see behind us but this is our...what do you call it?<\p>

Phil: Conference display.<\p>

Anastasia: This is our conference display and he did all that himself and if we had had to outsource that, you know, it would've cost a pretty penny.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: And we do all the demos ourselves and yeah. We could hire somebody to do that but, frankly, I think nobody represents the product as passionately as we do and it really makes a difference. It comes across.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and I really like the design. So is this...<\p>

Phil: Thanks.<\p>

Javier: Oh, is that a Greek thing where they make the letters smaller like that?<\p>

Phil: Yeah, that...oh, that stylized O is a Greek O.<\p>

Anastasia: An omega.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, there's different ways of...just like in English there's different way of writing different letters, the O with a line under it is one of the ways to write one of the O’s in Greek.<\p>

Anastasia: I think it's supposed to go...I mean, technically, grammatically, that particular O is supposed to go at the end of the word but we figured, I think, that most of our customers...we wanted to capture the spirit. We didn't want to get too hung up on the technical aspects and I don't think... I think we've never had a Greek grammar enthusiast ding us for that. So it worked out okay.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and I think it helps with the pronunciation because it is a different way to pronounce it. It's U-zone and maybe the O...for someone who doesn't know, thinks that that's how you pronounce that O letter, the second one.<\p>

Phil: I think a lot of people pronounce it Oozon.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: Because, frankly, that's how it looks too but...<\p>

Anastasia: We don't care how you pronounce it as long as you buy it.<\p>

Javier: Yeah. Yeah, and so yeah. I want to just go back. You said that in class they were telling you that you need a million dollars and the student next to you...so he already did put a million, which is what you said. So what other...<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, he had investors, yeah, and I mean, I think he was right of college so he must've been... I think he started when he was in high school, bootstrapping and I was just like, "Whoa." That is impressive.<\p>

Javier: Do you remember the name of that company?<\p>

Anastasia: I'm going to look it up.<\p>

Javier: Oh, okay.<\p>

Anastasia: I will email it to you after.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so the thing is what else did they teach you in that class that you said, "You know what? We're going to do it differently."<\p>

Anastasia: That particular...it was a couple of days, right, I think it was gone for a...I think it was a two-day conference maybe, and that particular class, how to get VC funding, I think I was just...my heart was sinking with every word. In fact, I think at one point she said, "If you're a 40-something man with a stay at home wife and a couple of kids and a mortgage, this industry is not for you." And I thought, "Oh, my God. This is not good news.”<\p>

Javier: Yeah. So it seems like everything that they were teaching went against what you guys actually did.<\p>

Anastasia: Right. The VC funding people were...I mean, I think they're just coming at it from a completely different perspective and, frankly, in the production...I don't...I honestly cannot remember. That was what stayed with me from the conference and I can't really...I think I made a lot of contacts and I stayed in touch with people and that was very helpful but if there had been, let's say, a seminar on production, I'm sure they wouldn't have said, "Hey, make a syrup." They would've said, "Use the flavor concentrate." So every single probably piece of advice that's sort of industry standard we've gone the other way. Not out of willfulness or hubris but just out of ignorance, sheer ignorance. We've just done something else and you know, thank God we haven't torpedoed yet.<\p>

Phil: The flipside is that this advice is out there because it's a question of math to a certain degree. They're looking at models that have already happened and how business runs and they're making the best decision that they can...or they're giving the best advice that they know. I mean, the reality is maybe if you don't have that million dollars to start off with, you better have a clear understanding of how long you can do this and have the clear understanding of...<\p>

Anastasia: What your market is.<\p>

Phil: How are you going to live in that time that you haven't sold anything or like, from run to run? I mean, that's...<\p>

Anastasia: There was a big part of this seminar, of this VC seminar, that was like, "Well, the venture capitalist will tolerate you using X percentage of this for your living expenses." So Phil makes a good point. Not everybody who starts a business is running it out of their home, running it lean, willing to not take a salary, willing or able to not take a salary for a year and so forth and, frankly, what's your end goal? Do you want to be like, a national brand or are you content to be a regional, you know, staple? There's enough business in upstate New York, I think, to sustain us. We'd love to be national. Don't get me wrong, but to be able to promote it nationally in a string of supermarkets, yeah, maybe we would need that million dollars but we're not doing that so we don't.<\p>

Phil: When you're talking about 30 grand, some people will see that as something that they can sneeze at any given day of the week and there's other people who, $30,000 is like their life savings.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah. I mean, it meant a lot to us. We weren't rich. We're not rich now but we're happy and we're happy working together, we're proud of our product. It's in Wegmans which... It's a regional supermarket with a national reputation and every product that's on the shelf in Wegmans is there because a buyer believes in it and you know, that means something.<\p>

Phil: And I think at the end of the day, when it comes to how much money, I think, to a certain degree, it's what are you willing to invest and how can you make it work for your individual case by case basis? So if somebody can figure out how to put a million dollars into a business or to raise that kind of money, great, and if somebody can't, then they better figure out how to...if they really want to do it, how are they going to manage and my advice would be to try to plan out how are you going to last from one month to another and...<\p>

Anastasia: You just jogged my memory. The keynote speaker was the founder of Pirate Booty and he said that...he came on, I think, right after the VC funding seminar and he is like, "Okay, I am here to completely go against everything these people just told you." He said, "I lived in my parents' basement. I made $4,000 a year and I was never happier." He said, "I had 30 different products fail, one after the other." He said, "Can you imagine if I had raised a million dollar and then went belly up? Who would invest with me again?" He said, "I didn't. I did it on my own. I bootstrapped and, for me, it was more about enjoying the process than making the money." And that's what I took...when I left that conference, it was his words that really buoyed me up and I said, "We can do this. We don't need a million dollars. As long as we are enjoying the process and even a slim profit is okay for me because it's more about quality of life, a good quality product and just..." I loved everything he said. It was so affirming.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so what I want to just bring to your guys' attention is you guys are teaching the class on starting a beverage company…<\p>

Anastasia: With $30,000.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, with $30,000. So you're helping so many people who want to know how is it really to start a business because I think most people are going to be in your situation and what you said, which was really important is that you wanted a business that you can do together and then the second thing is something that you can be happy about. So I think that's really great that you guys are doing that and another thing you touched on was when you are starting with a smaller amount, how do you survive and the thing is, the different roles. Phil, you're doing creative and Anastasia, I read that you were the Excel...anything that had to do with Excel, you were the master of that. So were you managing the day to day finances and how did you guys live in the first, I guess, first year or so? For the first few months.<\p>

Anastasia: Very simply, and also that was part of...we lived off our savings. I mean, Phil's family...their economic...their financial philosophy is, "You don't spend a dollar until you've saved five." And when we first got engaged he said to me, "Okay, I'm going to need to see your finances now." So I had to open up. I said, "Here's my credit card debt and here's this and here's that." And he was like, "Wow. We're going to have to clean this up." So Phil really...I can budget. I could budget for my company when I was at Time Magazine. I managed an 18-million-dollar budget but my own budget was a mess and Phil said to me, "We're paying off this credit card debt and you're going to start investing in your 401K and you know, you're going to have to tighten your belt a little bit. We have a wedding to save for."<\p>

And so that was an eye opening experience for me and if you are going to start your own company, you better have your financial house in order for a couple of years before because if Phil did not have that background, we would've gone out of business a long time ago because my family's philosophy was, "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we may die."<\p>

And so, really, thanks to him we had... Not only did we have that money put away that we could rely on but during the early years when things were very lean, it didn't seem like that much of a...we were already living pretty close to the bone. We're not big...we don't have cable TV. Until just recently, we didn't have a cellphone. I mean, I literally got a cellphone two weeks ago. So who does that? You've got to be...<\p>

Phil: Warren Buffet and Prince don't have cellphones either.<\p>

Anastasia: Well, Prince is dead. That's why he doesn't have a cellphone.<\p>

Phil: I think at the end of the day, if you're going to start a beverage business for $30,000, like, be prepared to live lean for a while or even make sure you have some kind of backup finances to help you through it because...even today, five years later, we are not going on extravagant vacations and we are not making home improvements. There's a lot of...<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, we're not going to Greece this year. We're going to go tent camping in a national campground so...<\p>

Phil: I think the question...you have to ask yourself, "What is success?" I mean, in turns of business, I think it's easy to answer that in terms of, "Okay, success equals X dollars." But success can mean other things to other people, like wining National Taste Awards for your beverage that you created in your kitchen, or success could mean being married to the person that you love and having two kids that drive you crazy and make you happy. I mean, it really depends on person to person and again, I would say if you're going into this, be prepared for everything to take a lot longer than you would expect it to take. If you think you're going to...I thought this would be a runaway hit and that people would be knocking down our doors from Greek Festival saying, "We need to have Ouzon at our festival." The reality is you can have something...you can be inspired to create a very... You can be inspired to create the best product there is but, at the end of the day, it's still a marketing game and it's still a sales game and it's still selling widgets and you have to create...making sure that there's a need for your widgets.<\p>

Anastasia: And people understand why they need it.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so I think that's something that I do want to...you touched upon it and I do want to talk about it. So three things that came up. One is you expected it to be a runaway brand and be national right off the bat. The other thing is you started with Greek festivals and you launched the product in 2010 at the Rochester Greek Festival and then Phil, you rented a van and went coast to coast all the way to...from East Coast to California going to Greek festivals and going to specialty beverage stores and specialty food stores and then the third thing is, that I want to talk about, is just living frugally but then you said you turned a profit the very first year. Is that...you turned a...is that what you...<\p>

Anastasia: We launched in, I think, April or May.<\p>

Phil: I think at the end of the day it's about... You know, even profit can be defined in different ways, right. At a very early point, we didn't have to keep investing in this business. The business started...<\p>

Anastasia: Maybe after that first...after that initial run, I don't think we had to inject more money into it. It was self-sufficient, and that's when I think we felt like, "Okay, we're going to be okay because if we have to keep pouring money into this to keep it afloat, we're going to pull the plug."<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a good point. If you find that...you've set your threshold for X dollars and then you run through that money, you have to seriously ask yourself do you really want to keep investing from your personal savings for this business that may never...<\p>

Anastasia: Pay you back.<\p>

Phil: Yeah. Again, it's a weird thing to think about something like craft soda making as being anything but an art form, but it is. It's a business. You're trying to create...you're trying to generate a positive cash flow.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: But we did...you bring up an interesting point which was that in the beginning, we did not envision this really outside of the Greek niche market. We saw this as something that we could sell to festivals and there's, you know, 6 or 700 Greek communities across the country that are like, easily identifiable, let's say, and we started up by contacting each and every one of them and that's how Phil started going across the country selling it and what happened was, people who had it at a festival were also local business people who called us up and said...in particular one businessman in Pittsburg, Gus Stimulis, he's a distributor. He owns a specialty store and he said, "Oh, I had this at a festival and I really liked it. I'd like to carry it." And we looked at each other and we were like, "Oh, it looks like our business model is about to change."<\p>

Again, complete novices. We had a pricing structure and a business plan for Greek festivals, for selling on consignment, but we weren't sure how...so this was a completely new model that we hadn't envisioned. So he helped us work out...he actually helped us work out the pricing and the business model and we branched out from there to other Greek specialty distributors and then, from there, one day we got a phone call. Someone said, "Hi, I'm calling from Wegmans corporate office. Someone here had your product in a local restaurant and we understand you're local. We love it and we'd like to carry it in our store. Can you drop off some samples for us?"<\p>

So really...I mean, I've got to say it's been pure dumb luck from the very first batch and we're very, very fortunate. Somebody's looking out for us because I know that there are some really good manufacturers who are looking to get into Wegmans and haven't been able to get a foot in the door, but we were fortunate. We were home town. They recognized us from around and then once you're on the shelf at Wegmans, that gives you a certain level of...I don't want to say notoriety but acceptance in the industry because it is very difficult to get your foot in the door.<\p>

So yeah. We started out with a very limited, defined vision and it's...we were like, "Okay, let's try it and see what happens." And because people liked it and it was out there, it just kept pyramiding, you know, just up and up and up and up.<\p>

Phil: I'd just like to add at this point that if you really have been watching for this hour and a half, thank you and I'm kind of shocked that anyone would actually sit through an hour and a half of watching us talk.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, we're interesting and...<\p>

Phil: I don't know. Not that interesting. Not an hour and a half interesting. We're like 10 minute...well, one of us maybe.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, it's a really, really like, interesting story and people do watch it to the end and it's because they really...<\p>

Anastasia: [inaudible 01:25:26] backhanded ding on Javier?<\p>

Phil: No, it's us. Who's going to sit and listen to us? We don't know anything anyways. Pay no attention to anything we just said.<\p>

Anastasia: We're complete idiots and don't do anything that we do because it is a bad idea.<\p>

Javier: You'll be surprised. This is, I feel, pure wisdom. You're sharing your story and, yeah, I'm intrigued.<\p>

Anastasia: Well, look. If any of your viewers are interested in chatting with us, the contact form on our website greeksoda.com comes right to our inbox and we certainly received a ton of advice from people along our way and if we could pay it forward in any way we're happy to do so.<\p>

Javier: And so but are you guys comfortable or do you have time limit? Is it okay to ask some more questions or do you guys need to...<\p>

Phil: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: You can but I cannot promise you that our children will not invade.<\p>

Javier: Okay. So here's the thing. You said that going to the Greek festivals was not a sustainable business model and you happened to come across a different business model which was distributing to the Greek foods distributors. So why couldn't you guys continue going to festival after festival on consignment model and why is the distributor model a little bit better maybe?<\p>

Anastasia: Okay, so if you're going to sell on consignment to a festival, what we didn't realize at the beginning is that it's completely unpredictable because the festivals are run by volunteers, okay. They change from year to year. It's not always the same people you're dealing with and the success of a particular festival is dictated almost completely by the weather. So you can have, let's say, you can do really well at a festival one year because you've made a connection with the people who are running it. They've had great weather and they showcased it and then they want you back the next year. Except the next year you call back and the person you get says, "Oh, you know, they're not involved with the festival this year. They had some health issues. Let me put you on to someone else."<\p>

So it's not a renewal. It's a completely new sale you have to go through. You have to send samples again. Even if it was at the festival the year before, the person who's making the...who's buying it says, "I wasn't running the beverage stand. I don't remember what it tastes like." Even if you have good numbers to show them...because they're responsible for it, they don't want to just re-up the order. They want to get some samples, they want to run it past the committee and if you make it past...so it's like a whole new...when you're working with a distributor year over year, you're not having to resell your product to them. I mean, in terms of yes, this is the product you really need to have in your stable of products. So once you make a sale to a distributor, they're committed to you and they're going go out there and sell it whereas with a festival, it's a whole new thing every year.<\p>

Let's say you get it in the door. They're completely rained out or they forget that it's there. They forget that they have it and they don't put it out and you've delivered 20 cases or 30 cases or, God forbid, a whole palate and it's not...and they are in Maryland or Virginia and it's on consignment. It's on us to ship it back. That's the promise that was...at the time, that was our business model. We took full responsibility because we didn't want...if a festival didn't sell it...we tried to help them come up with...we didn't want to oversell them.<\p>

Phil: I think the other thing is when you're introducing a new product, our thought was "Well, how are you going to get these people to buy it unless they know that they're not going to get stuck with it." It's not like it's a store that can...<\p>

Anastasia: Eek it out over months and months.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I mean, this is like, three days, you're going to sell X cases and how are you supposed to really make that kind of a prediction? So we wanted to make it easier on the customers. Again, the problem being that if I've just made a delivery of 20 different festivals on the East Coast and then two of them come back and say, "We have three cases left over." Do I really want to go drive all the way eight hours away just to pick up six cases? I mean, there's an economy that you have to think about there.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, so going the festival route, is that a profitable route or did the profit come from generating business from the restaurant owners and the different companies that were there selling the foods and tasting it?<\p>

Phil: I think the festival can be profitable but you've got to be smart about it. Again, you have to think about delivery. I think delivering soda is a huge hurdle for us even today. Somebody wants a case of soda. Do they really want to pay $30 just for the shipping? I mean, we're not making a profit when we send it UPS for $30 somewhere. So I think that's a hurdle that any new company would have, trying to figure out how to get it from point A to point B.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: It's probably the biggest thing. Then the next biggest challenge is trying to figure out a right price where people will be willing to try something new.<\p>

Anastasia: And you're not losing money on the deal.<\p>

Phil: Yeah. I mean, at one point, our philosophy was just, "As long as we're making something off of this..."<\p>

Anastasia: We wanted to be net positive. You know what I mean? And it is...our...the reason we've been successful, the reason we got a foot in the door is it's a completely unique product. That also comes back to hurt us sometimes because people are like, "Gee, I just don't know what this is going to taste like. I'm not sure I'm willing to take a chance on it." You've got to give them the incentive to say, "Okay, it's not going to hurt me too much if I take a chance on it."<\p>

Phil: It's amazing to me that we will go to Wegmans more than once a week to sample and it never surprises me when...<\p>

Anastasia: Or it always surprises you.<\p>

Phil: Oh, yeah. It always surprises me when you say to somebody, "Would you like to try this?" And they're like, "No." I'm giving you something new and cool and different and...<\p>

Anastasia: And free.<\p>

Phil: An award winning...<\p>

Anastasia: Or no, no. I think what gets me is not the ones who say no right off the bat but the people who say, "I'm not sure. I don't know."<\p>

Phil: We're giving you this much. All you have to do is take it and...<\p>

Anastasia: And throw it back.<\p>

Phil: And taste it and you're...<\p>

Anastasia: But we're such foodies. I don't care what it is, I'll try it. We're very interested, our kids are very interested. We always encourage them to try new food. I mean, I think sometimes when we hang out with other people's kids and all they'll eat is chicken fingers. I'm like, "Okay, I've got to stop yelling at my kids for not eating the squid in the paella." You know what I mean?<\p>

Javier: And so why is it so hard to get people to try it the first time?<\p>

Anastasia: I think a lot of people just do not have adventurous palates. You know, they don't want to try something new or maybe they're afraid they're going to like it and they don't want to...<\p>

Phil: No, I think some people just...you say the word sugar and they run away or you say the word carbonated beverage and they're like, "Oh, I don't drink any carbonated beverages." It's like, "Okay."<\p>

Anastasia: I think people just are not adventurous.<\p>

Phil: I think it's a combination of all those things.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, did you find...<\p>

Anastasia: I mean, there's a lot of stuff I don't eat on a regular basis but I'll try it. I mean, I'm not a huge fan of snails but I've tried them. I've had them a couple of times and if somebody was demoing it in Wegmans, I'd try it.<\p>

Phil: Look, there's one thing I didn't try recently but it...<\p>

Anastasia: What was it?<\p>

Phil: It was an energy bar made out of cricket flour.<\p>

Javier: Oh, yeah, yeah.<\p>

Phil: That I can understand but it's like...<\p>

Anastasia: But our kids tried it, didn't they?<\p>

Phil: But my kid tried it, yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: All right.<\p>

Phil: Good for her but again, it's a soda or beverage. I don't know why you wouldn't give it a shot.<\p>

Javier: And so the interesting thing is how do you get people from trying it as just a new experience just to try something different and have it be a one-time thing to someone who drinks it and loves it and want to have it every day, at every occasion, at every party?<\p>

Anastasia: Well, how to convert a new order to a renewal as we used to say in the publishing industry.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: Well you know, I can't give you an answer to that. I don't know how we do it but I do know that it happens because I think that...first of all, I think it's a very versatile drink. I think I mentioned earlier that you can drink it by itself. It's a nice, sophisticated alternative. It's not your regular pop. You can pour it over vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet. You can have it as a dessert or you can use it as a mixer with cocktails. There's a local bartending school here. We gave them a case and they created a whole cocktail menu for us and we've got sort of a marketing piece that we take to all our demoes. We've got it on our Facebook page and our website and I think once you hit enough hot buttons for people, they like the product and there's a number of ways they can use it and I think you can't leave it to people to come up with those ideas on their own.<\p>

Again, it's marketing. It's not just that it's a good product but here's why you need it. Because people are busy. They've got a limited amount of money they can spend on luxury items and I consider this something of a luxury item. I mean, it's not staple and because it's got all natural and organic ingredients it might be a little pricier than a Coke or a Mountain Dew and so if they want a pop, you've got...and they're not necessarily wedded to all natural, you've got to show them why this is a better alternative.<\p>

Phil: I think really to answer your question is who knows? It's got to be a perfect blend of...it's something that a person really likes, they really want it and it's got to be at the right price and it's got to be easy to get to. If you don't have those three things going for you, then...<\p>

Anastasia: Right. It's got to be easily accessible. If you're going to buy it online and it costs...and it's not going to come for two weeks or whatever...you know what I mean? You've got to make sure you've got enough distribution so that it's available to people. I mean, look, we have people asking us for it all over the country but we just can't get it to them.<\p>

Phil: I mean, we can but...<\p>

Anastasia: At a ridiculous price, totally not worth it.<\p>

Javier: Do you think...<\p>

Phil: [inaudible 01:37:48]<\p>

Anastasia: Well...<\p>

Javier: Do you think that's your biggest challenge right now or is your biggest challenge really focusing on the New York market or is it on growing it to everyone who wants to try it?<\p>

Anastasia: I think distribution has bedeviled us since the very beginning. I think that is...and I think even at beverage school everyone said that that was everybody's biggest problem. I mean, some people are so motivated that they fund their own trucks because it's really hard to partner up with a distributor who's going to pay attention to you and treat you well and take care of your product and get it...and who also services the market that you want to be in. I mean, it's really hard.<\p>

Phil: I think there's two huge hurdles. I think that one is distribution and the second one is getting people to know what your product is. How many...<\p>

Anastasia: Education.<\p>

Phil: How many people will walk by Ouzon when it's sitting on the shelf? And then the way to get them to buy it is to actually get them to taste it. If they taste it, then they'll be like, "Okay, yeah. I'll buy it." But if it's just on the shelf and nothing else is going on and they haven't tasted it, like, I don't know that there's a lot of people that would see that packaging and say, "I need to have that. I'm going to buy it at this price."<\p>

Anastasia: Our stuff has done well with distributors or small business owners, small stores or restaurants who really believe in it and so they take a chance on us and they tell their customers, "This stuff is amazing. You have to try it." And they get the word out and they build up the business for us and without those customers of ours who believe in the product and who think that it adds something special to what they're offering, we wouldn't be here today.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so who is your customer? Is it the distributor? Is it the restaurant? Is it the retail store or is it the end user?<\p>

Anastasia: It's all of them. I mean, I think we feel a responsibility to all those people and look, we don't do any advertising. I mean, I think in that first year we ran a couple ads in a national Greek publication. I think we ran one ad and since then I don't think we've done any advertising at all. So it's all been word of mouth. It's all been social media. It's all been people saying, "Oh, my God. I just tried this totally weird, amazing drink. You have to try it." So I might not be...I'm not selling directly to the end user but I'm really depending on that person to like it and take it to a party and have it go...viral marketing. I mean, I'm sorry. I know that's a really overused case but in our case it's absolutely true.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so I know that you guys did an advertising or someone advertised for you guys as Greeko-Suave in 2012.<\p>

Anastasia: Oh, that's a friend of ours, yes. We made a video. An old high school friend of Phil's, he's actually Italian. I probably should not blow his cover. He's not actually Greek but he donned...we had a lot of fun with that. He's so funny. He's a ham really and there's no other way to describe it.<\p>

Phil: Back to the million dollars. If we had that million dollars, we...<\p>

Anastasia: We would've blown it on commercials and...<\p>

Phil: No, but we would've really kept doing that Greeko-Suave thing and developed a whole series. So every week there'd be a new episode for somebody to watch or something but...<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Phil: We'll see.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, it's really interesting because, yeah, without any advertising, you're just doing your own efforts and you guys started your website. You had a blog and your last post was three years ago. You did eight posts and then stopped.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, that's my fault and I'll tell you what happened. So I wanted to start a blog. I was very interested in the social media aspect of it. I started Twitter, I started Pinterest, I started the blog and one thing that all of my friends in marketing told me was, "The big thing with the blog is everybody starts them and everybody just...they fall off the map." You have to build up...well in advance you've got to write a ton of blog posts so that if you have a couple of weeks or even a month where you can't get to it, you've got some stuff in the can that you can just drop in. So I did that and so I had a couple of months' worth and I started it and then my mom died. She was diagnosed with cancer and she had pancreatic cancer and we walked into the doctor's office on a Wednesday and the next Wednesday she passed away and so I had all those months...I had two months in the can and I kept posting and posting and posting and at the end of the two months...I was a mess for a year after that and actually...can I...<\p>

Phil: No.<\p>

Anastasia: Okay. So we had some other... And then six months after that we had some other health issues that...we ran into some difficulties personally, personal health issues and...<\p>

Phil: I think at the end of the day it does come down to planning and...<\p>

Anastasia: Life happens and you've got to be prepared for that.<\p>

Phil: And ideally, you want to do any number of things to promote your business and to keep it going. Again, without that million dollars, you've got two people running a business and you have to decide you know, where you're going to prioritize today. Are you going to focus on putting that blog post up or are you going to call these stores to see if they want to start carrying your soda? It's a juggling act.<\p>

Anastasia: And if you've got...add two kids and a dog and older parents and... You know, it takes a while.<\p>

Javier: And so when you're starting the company and your own and life happens and you have people to call, you have your website, you have the social media, you have to interact with distributors, you have to do taste testings...how do you prioritize that and what brings the most value? What is the most impactful thing that you can do? Or are you going to do all of them?<\p>

Phil: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: I think we're still trying to figure that out.<\p>

Phil: We are. We still are trying to figure that out and a lot of times we find ourselves sort of, you know, running from emergency to emergency saying, "Okay, we've got to deal with this today because it's...we should've done it two days ago." And I don't know. I think it's probably something that a lot of companies struggle with in terms of prioritizing and you know, you've got limited budgets and...<\p>

Anastasia: Well, new entrepreneurs...I mean, somebody...<\p>

Phil: I think you just do your best. At the end of the day you do your best and hope that it's enough. We're going to...are we going to be around tomorrow selling Ouzon? Maybe. I don't know frankly but we're going to keep trying. I think it's the old saying, "When I asked a 100-year-old man what's the secret to life and he answered keep breathing." I mean, that's what we're doing. We're doing the best that we can and we don't have a magic formula that says, "Do X, Y and Z and you're going to be successful."<\p>

Anastasia: There's probably a lot of things we could've done better, more efficiently, quicker, smarter.<\p>

Phil: But it comes back to this...what we said before which was we'd be kicking ourselves today if we hadn't given it a shot. No matter...if we had gone on and I continued in the legal profession and Anastasia continued in publishing and we were you know, making all sorts of money, at the end of the day we'd still look back and say...<\p>

Anastasia: What if?<\p>

Phil: What if we had done that stupid Ouzon Soda idea that we had?<\p>

Anastasia: Or the diaper.<\p>

Phil: Well, I don't really...I never think like, "Oh, I really..." There was no passion behind that one but...<\p>

Anastasia: No, it's hard to be passionate about poo.<\p>

Phil: But again, I think you just make a decision whether you want to go for it or not and you do your best you can. How do you prioritize? You try it one way and hopefully it works and if it doesn't, you pivot. We've been all about pivoting like, ever since we started.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah. I mean, I think that one great thing about having a very small organization is you're nimble. You know, you can really change your direction very, very quickly if something's not working or if you need to do something differently.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so this brings an interesting thing because, as a small company, what is it that helps you to break through and be a big success? Back in 2012 you applied for the Mission Small Business, Chase Bank and Living Social $250,000 grant and you made it to the finalists' spot but I'm not sure if you guys got it because you didn't announce it.<\p>

Anastasia: Well, how come you don't know that Javier? I'm a little surprised that you're...this lack of investigative skill on your part.<\p>

Phil: If we had gotten that money, we might not be speaking with you, sorry to say.<\p>

Javier: Well, so that's okay. Would that have gotten you the success that you could have had or are you happy that you didn't get it?<\p>

Anastasia: Who knows? I mean, I think there's a possibility the answer is no because money alone is not enough I think. I don't know if that makes sense. I mean, who knows what we would've spent...what we would have thought at the time would be an efficient use of that money.<\p>

Phil: We've seen small companies with money who have...you know, they started when we started and they're not doing it anymore because they burned through it. It's just a reality.<\p>

Anastasia: I mean, and it's easy to...I mean, it's very easy for us to say, "Wow, if only we had the money, we could be doing X, Y or Z." And being absolutely sure if we could spend that money on...I don't know. Whatever it might be that it would be a game changer for us and, frankly, who knows? Our model is so different and so weird that it's impossible to tell if we...I could definitely see a company saying, "Okay, we need to spend a lot of this on marketing because people need to know what it is." And getting a branded car or doing advertising or hiring demo people. I just don't know if, in the end, that's really efficacious.<\p>

Phil: I think another piece of advice would be, "Try not to get bogged down on other people's success." I think it's easy to...<\p>

Anastasia: Or even to look at what somebody...and even to look and say...because I remember this was a big thing when I was at Time...or was that U.S. News? The team would say, "Well, so and so..." Maybe it was Newsweek or whatever. They're doing X, Y or Z and the VP of marketing is saying, "You don't know if that's...you don't know what that's doing to their bottom line. It's impossible...when you look at a competitor or another entrepreneur, it's impossible to say whether they're successful or not successful. In the end, you really don't know. You've got to just do what's right for you.”<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I think it's easy to look at other people in the business and say, "Oh, I wish we were there. I wish..." But again, at the end of the day, you don't really know what's behind that. If somebody...you could look at somebody and they have all these branded trucks and vans and you know, a year from now they're going to be gone because they...<\p>

Anastasia: Or not. Or they're going to still be around and be successful but it doesn't matter.<\p>

Phil: It doesn't matter.<\p>

Anastasia: We're trying to be zen here, right. We're trying to just say, "Look, all that matters is are we happy with where we're at, are things going well, is the product well received, are we paying our bills?" There's really nothing else in life that's important. "Are we healthy?" Thank God we're healthy. Our kids are healthy. We have nothing to complain about.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so once you guys decided that you wanted to go through the distributor model, things started picking up. As you mentioned, you got a call from Wegmans. You also did a Cost Plus World Market seasonal that took you to 30 states and right now...so you're available in at least a dozen states and over 250 stores.<\p>

Anastasia: No, it’s not available Cost Plus World Market anymore.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: So that was a learning experience for us. It did well. It did really well in some markets and it didn't do well in others.<\p>

Phil: Frankly, I think they approached us, didn't they?<\p>

Anastasia: They did.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I think they were...they had this Mediterranean...this was a few years ago now but they had a Mediterranean display and somebody...<\p>

Anastasia: They saw us at a show. I can't remember how they...oh, we were in Beverage World. We were in the magazine. I think they saw...it was the year...maybe was it the year that we won the Bev Star award and they saw us in a magazine and they said, "You know, we think this might be a good fit for our seasonal Mediterranean shop,” and it did well in some stores. In some states, I should say and it helped us, it did. In the end, it helped us figure out what our consumer...like what price point they were willing to bear in what areas of the country.<\p>

Phil: It was a little strange because...and I don't know if it was state to state. It was more like this location is sold out and this location has sold two bottles. It was just a little bit weird, frankly, that there was such discrepancy between different places. We would call to check on stock and some places were completely sold out.<\p>

Anastasia: Like, after the first week they were gone which was great. I mean, we did...like for instance, Colorado. The whole state was sold out in a week and that was great. It was a great learning experience for us but...and I don't know that...actually, we called the next year and the Mediterranean shop, they were trying something else. Again, it's a seasonal thing, it's something they were trying. Hopefully, some day we'll partner with them again but it is very difficult when you're a small company and you don't have the marketing dollars to put behind a big campaign. Like, we didn't have the money to put it in the coolers first thing. You know what I mean? Somebody couldn't just take it out of the cooler and try it cold.<\p>

Phil: I think at the end of the day you've got to sell where you can sell. The first year for us was, you know, "Call a bunch of festivals and some specialty stores and delivered them." That's how we got rid of some of the soda.<\p>

Anastasia: I wouldn't say maybe got rid of. I would say...I would maybe pick a different...<\p>

Phil: I'm going to say got rid of because I like it.<\p>

Anastasia: See, he's not the marketing guy. You can tell, right?<\p>

Phil: Since Wegmans has picked us up, like really, our focus has been with them to make sure that we continue to grow within the Wegmans family which means we can't pay as much attention to other places too though.<\p>

Anastasia: Well, yeah but I'm going to disagree with you here. I'm going to say well, we just picked up a distributor in California and he's doing very well with it and I'd love to support him but I can't travel. It's not cost efficient for me to fly out to LA and demo for him or even to hire somebody locally to demo for him.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: So I think Wegmans, we've got the most leverage locally and Wegmans is a big...I can't deny. Wegmans is a big customer for us.<\p>

Javier: And so in California, the distributor, I believe, is Real Soda in Real Bottles, right?<\p>

Anastasia: No, no. They distributed for us very, very briefly and...<\p>

Phil: It just didn't work out.<\p>

Anastasia: It didn't work out, was not a good fit.<\p>

Javier: Okay, and so this distributor is Galco's Distribution?<\p>

Anastasia: No, actually John Neese is a big fan of ours and we love him to pieces. He's one of the very first customers we ever had. Actually, I am referring to a small company in [inaudible 01:56:50] and Nick Houvardas runs a company called The Fat Greek, and he's doing a great job for us. Again, we just picked up somebody else in North Carolina, another small Greek specialty. Gus Megaloudis who owns Gussie's Place and the Greek Devil. These are people who have tried the product, loved it, believed in it and talked to their customers about it and their response has been commensurate with their belief in the product.<\p>

So you know, it's all about...if somebody loves something, they talk about it. So our goal is to make people love it so that they tell their friends and their customers about it.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I think if we could look into a crystal ball and it shows us as being, you know, very successful soda entrepreneurs, I think our root to that would be small distribution in different places that kept picking up and picking up and grew and grew and grew. I don't think it's...I think similar to the record industry some years ago. It used to be the big thing was, “As long as I get signed to a record label, I'm going to be a big star,” but the thing that was not apparent very quickly was that getting signed doesn't really mean much. I mean, you really have to still go out there...<\p>

Anastasia: The label's not going to invest in you [inaudible 01:58:44]<\p>

Phil: Right, and...<\p>

Anastasia: And I think that's true of maybe the big distributors.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, that's where I'm going with this is that just to think that you're going to get a huge distributor who's going to knock it out of the park for you...well, the part that you're not getting is they've got hundreds or thousands of other products that they're trying to do the same thing with those products too.<\p>

Anastasia: And those companies have dollars to invest because for every dollar that they give you to pay for the product, they're asking back 50 cents in marketing fees.<\p>

Phil: So I think if there is a pathway to success...and I think there could be many different pathways to success but for us it would be this smaller, grassroots kind of movement that, over time, will pay off.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: Be an inch wide and a mile deep.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so I want to go to the close of the interview and ask a series of final questions.<\p>

Anastasia: No, this can't be the end Javier. I feel like we...<\p>

Phil: We're just getting started.<\p>

Javier: Okay. Well, in that case, let me bring on all the other questions that I have. Oh, no. Because I have a ton of questions but we'll just try to wrap it up.<\p>

Anastasia: I'll order the Chinese or the pizza and we'll just keep going.<\p>

Javier: Okay, so I'll ask some, let's say, 10 more questions or so.<\p>

Anastasia: Okay.<\p>

Javier: How do you stay passionate about this business in the long run and how do you stay motivated because it is a daily grind and there's ups and downs and you know, maybe you're not making profits and there's so many directions you can be pulled in. How do you stay happy?<\p>

Phil: I think it's okay to not be happy. I think it's okay to not be passionate and, like you said, there's ups and downs and be prepared for that kind of rollercoaster and when things are feeling like, "Oh, I'm not sure," just try to give yourself a little bit of a boost and say "You know what? You don't know what tomorrow's going to bring and just keep going here." Try to do your best.<\p>

Anastasia: I think for me, yeah. I totally agree with Phil that you cannot expect anything to give you happiness 100% of the time and I know that's a very unpopular philosophy today. People want to be happy all the time. Our parents grew up in Nazi occupied Greece. We're happy that...there's people all over the world who are really suffering and we are extremely fortunate to live where we are in the time that we are. So we try to remember that all the time when things aren't going our way and the roof is leaking and we thought we made a sale and the distributor decided he didn't want it. You know what? It's okay and you've got to keep a sense of proportion.<\p>

And also, I think we contribute...we have other interests besides the business. We're very involved with our local church community. We volunteer and there's...we're interested in something that's bigger than ourselves and we try to...we just try to keep a sense of proportion.<\p>

Phil: Number nine.<\p>

Javier: Well, the thing is...yeah. One thing that, yeah, you mentioned is giving back and being fortunate so 5% of after tax profits go to the Virginia H. Farah Foundation and that supports...<\p>

Anastasia: Farah Foundation. They do amazing work. They build orphanages and they contribute to camps for kids who can't afford to go, and they're a fantastic charity that I think everybody should be contributing to.<\p>

Phil: Wait, was that a question?<\p>

Javier: Oh, no. Well, it was just a follow up because I had...<\p>

Anastasia: He's just showing us he knows more about us than he...<\p>

Phil: I'm just trying to figure out what number we're on.<\p>

Javier: I know, so...<\p>

Anastasia: We're still on number nine.<\p>

Javier: So the thing is...okay, the next question is, yeah, you can't stay passionate all the time. It's a business, there's up and down so what are you struggling with right now?<\p>

Anastasia: Our kids are home from school for another month and I think it's difficult to balance home life. I personally am having trouble with the home life balance.<\p>

Phil: I think for me, in general, it's you know, something I've heard from everybody is, "How do I get to the next level?" I've been saying that for the past five years. How do I get to the next level? And maybe the answer is, "Maybe you're not going to get to the next level. Maybe you should try to figure out how to just make this level be the level that works for you." I don't know.<\p>

Anastasia: That's also very zen.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: Number eight.<\p>

Javier: And so what sacrifices have you had to make along the way?<\p>

Phil: I can answer this one. This is very timely. We haven't made any sacrifices. I'm trying to be Warren Buffet.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, if you were Warren Buffet, our roof would not be leaking. Number seven. I mean, what sacrifices? You know, we don't have a lot of extra cashola but that's okay. It's okay. Sometimes there'll be something I want to buy for myself or for him or for the kids or for a friend and I can't do it. I mean, I think money's tight, time is tight. I think that...<\p>

Phil: I'll tell you what. I think you sacrifice this sense of security. When you look at how most people work, you know, they work for a company and there's a sense of security and you know what your day is going to be like. You start out at, whatever, 8:00 and you go home at 5:30, whatever that is.<\p>

Anastasia: But that's a [inaudible 02:05:32] as well because your company could go belly up tomorrow.<\p>

Phil: That's true but I think when...in my own experience in working for companies in the past is, it's a much different situation than being the boss of your own company. You don't have...<\p>

Anastasia: As much existential dread.<\p>

Phil: You don't have that...there's no safety net. You know what your job is, you know what...when I wake up in the morning, I don't necessarily know what my job is. I have to figure out...<\p>

Anastasia: Because there's so many things to choose from, you're wearing so many different hats. I mean, [inaudible 02:06:12] says that freedom is dizzying. Freedom is a terrifying experience and we have the terrifying freedom to make every choice for our company and not know what the right choice is.<\p>

Javier: Yeah.<\p>

Anastasia: So that's kind of scary.<\p>

Javier: Number seven? Or was it number eight? Okay, we'll...but okay. So the next thing is how do you keep sustained income because you said at any day you could go belly up. How can you make sure that you're...<\p>

Anastasia: I mean, you've got to get out there and keep selling. You've got to continually cold call, find prospects, you know, try new restaurants. I mean, if you have...we currently have a distributor and we want to improve how the soda's doing for him so we do some marketing on his behalf. We'll go out, we'll call in the territory that he delivers to, we'll call people, we'll send samples. I mean, we're just constantly trying to bring the numbers up and make sure that we're just doing a little bit better today than we were yesterday.<\p>

Phil: Does that answer your question or was it a different question?<\p>

Javier: Oh, no. That answers it and so if you can pin down one thing to OPA! Original and Ouzon Soda’s success, what would it be?<\p>

Anastasia: I would say the uniqueness of the product.<\p>

Phil: The caliber of the product too. I mean, it's...<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah. I mean, it's a high quality...the fact that it's high quality made a huge difference because I don't think we would be in Wegmans if it wasn't such a high quality product, but I also think if it was a cherry cola, we wouldn't be in Wegmans either.<\p>

Phil: You've got to get something that people really like. I mean, when...and it's fine for people to not like it because that happens every day when we're sampling. Somebody's going to say, "I don't really like it." But you've got to at least have some contingency out there where people are saying, "This is amazing." When somebody says to you, "This is amazing." It makes you...I think you...not only do you have something there but it also sustains you for any number of people who are like, "Meh."<\p>

Javier: And so what are your future plans for the company because Phil, you said that you can be the king at your level or you can grow to the next level. Where does Ouzon Soda and OPA! Originals want to be in the next few years?<\p>

Anastasia: Man, if you can figure that out for us, we will hire you.<\p>

Phil: I think it's just like anybody, you know. Let's try to get bigger, let's try to get more customers, let's try to get more presence out there. Let's try to grow.<\p>

Anastasia: I mean, Rochester is not a huge city. It's not even the biggest city in New York State after New York City, right, and there are plenty of people in Rochester who have never heard of this soda.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, it's bizarre. We will be in the same store every week and I would say at least 90% of the people who we give samples to have no idea who we are.<\p>

Anastasia: Never heard of it, have no idea.<\p>

Phil: Same store every week.<\p>

Anastasia: So same neighborhood shoppers. You know what I mean? So I think my ambition right now is to be a household brand in our city. I think if we can't do that, then we've got some problems.<\p>

Javier: Okay, and so you just mentioned that, yeah, even Rochester, which is not that big of a city, some people still don't know it. If you can describe your customer in a few words, who is your customer?<\p>

Phil: We had some people...we had one of the local universities try to figure that out for us and they came up with this person.<\p>

Anastasia: Profile.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, this profile but I'm not sure that that's really accurate, to tell you the truth.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, that's a really interesting question Javier, because I would have...I mean, I think we have a bunch of different... We appeal to several different niches. There's the family that wants a healthier twist on a treat for their kids. They don't want to outlaw sugar completely. They want to give their kids a fun, fizzy drink every once and a while but it's got to be all natural. So that's one subgroup. There's sort of the foodie...people who really appreciate good food and they want to pair it with their cuisine, or they're amateur mixologists and they appreciate a good drink and they like to mix it. There's Mediterranean person who...they grew up with this flavor and it's very evocative to them of a time and a place that they were happy, felt very safe and so, for them, this is like a comfort food.<\p>

And it doesn't seem like these niches overlap much. They're very different and distinct. So I don't think we can say we have one typical customer.<\p>

Javier: Okay, and so why does Ouzon Soda and OPA! Originals exist and what would happen if it didn't exist and what's your guys' mission?<\p>

Anastasia: That's three questions. I'm not sure that's fair.<\p>

Javier: I'm bundling them up.<\p>

Phil: I think we exist because it's something that we wanted to do.<\p>

Anastasia: And we wanted to hang out together.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I think it's almost by chance that I had this idea, right, because maybe I would've never had the idea to make an ouzo flavored soda which means that the soda would never exist. I think if we go away...I don't think that there's going to be anything quite like it.<\p>

Anastasia: Well, we'll...I think we'd come up with another business to do together.<\p>

Phil: No, but in terms of...I think one of your questions was what happens if Ouzon doesn't exist, and I think my answer is I think we've created such a unique product that it might take a while for somebody else in the marketplace to replace it with something similar, because we've essentially taken an American tradition of soda making, we've gone back to the roots of using real, whole ingredients and we've adopted a drink that is traditionally consumed in a different country and we've made it our own unique...<\p>

Anastasia: Blend.<\p>

Phil: Blend in America and is that going to happen again? Yeah, but when? I don't know it would be any time soon.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so when you are a pioneer in a brand new category of type of a product or beverage, bringing something new to the country, new flavor, who are your competitors?<\p>

Phil: I think the competitors just might be...maybe I'm going to answer a different question. I think one of the difficulties is when you see that there's been such a culture engrained in soda consumption and when you see people walking by you in the store with a Coke and not having an interest in trying something completely unique and different...<\p>

Anastasia: And all natural.<\p>

Phil: That's something that's been engrained for a long time. This is what soda is, this is how much it should cost, this is what it should look like, this is what it should taste like.<\p>

Anastasia: And this is how it's packaged.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, I mean, I don't think that there's any product that we complete with one to one with, but there certainly are plenty of beverage choices for people and it's...again, it's a game of educating people to say, "Here. This is what our product is." And let them make the decision for themselves I guess.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so what advice would you give to someone who's just starting out a beverage business or any other company and they're the first in their niche, they have competitors in...like you guys have many beverage competitors but they're trying to do something really different. What advice would you give to them?<\p>

Phil: I think I would focus on...it's kind of counterintuitive but you absolutely need to focus on the business side of it. At the end of the day you're...again, it's selling widgets.<\p>

Anastasia: Make sure you're adequately funded because if you have no real competitors, you're blazing a trail, so you don't really know what kind of mistakes are you going to make along... What are the lessons you're going to learn along the way? They're going to be different than what everybody else is doing. So you need to make sure that you can sustain your efforts long enough to hit on your marketing formula that will be successful for you.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so when you're starting a company, like, you can't always do it alone and there have been people along the way that have helped you make these small baby steps or grow to where you are today or you have each other, you have your parents, you had the initial bottlers, the craft fairs that you were selling at. So are there any specific people, companies, beverage associations, trade journal groups that you felt were really helpful to your success and you want to thank?<\p>

Anastasia: I think mister Similis in Pittsburg who, I think, was the very first distributor who picked us up. He's got a family owned business and he understands and supports people like us. I think John Neese at Galco's has been just incredible.<\p>

Phil: Obviously, I'm a big fan of Beverage World Magazine. You know, unlike maybe a lot of other publications, we just sent them a bottle and we won a bronze award.<\p>

Anastasia: Bev Star award, yeah.<\p>

Phil: That's pretty cool, when you can just...<\p>

Anastasia: We didn't have to prove anything to them. I mean, their process is very democratic. It's not a popularity contest, they don't have...some of these trade associations, like, it's all about getting the word out to your vendors and your customers and having them go and vote. That wasn't like it at all and that gave use, very early on, some positive industry authority. We felt very validated and that was a great experience.<\p>

Phil: I would say being in Wegmans, the Wegmans family.<\p>

Anastasia: The Wegmans people and everybody at Wegmans, everybody that you deal with from the people who change the garbage cans at your demo on up, have been...there's a chef there named Debra who...every time I see her...we've got a food festival here at the public market and every time I see Wegmans people, they come right over to me and they say "I'm a big fan of your product." And it feels so good.<\p>

The city of Rochester has been amazing because we've been very embraced by the local media, the Democrat and Chronicle, city newspaper, the Penfield Post, WROC, like they've been...and the local restaurants and stores. The people of Rochester...when I'm demoing and I say, "This is handcrafter locally. We're a Penfield company." People get really excited because there's a lot of local pride here about Rochester and about upstate New York and western New York in general.<\p>

Phil: We also have a beverage guru who we'd like to thank but we can't mention his name.<\p>

Anastasia: We can't. We're not supposed to mention his name.<\p>

Phil: Because he works for another beverage company.<\p>

Anastasia: Ix-nay on the uru-gay.<\p>

Javier: Well, it's interesting because maybe someone who's starting out might now know that they need to reach out to other beverage people and other companies for advice.<\p>

Anastasia: I think people are incredibly...people, even competitors...I mean, competitive industries have been really forthcoming and everybody just wants to give everybody else a hand up. I can't say...actually, there are a few people who haven't been helpful. I'll tell you who they are after the interview [inaudible 02:21:01]<\p>

Phil: Ginseng Up is not one of them.<\p>

Anastasia: No, we love them. We love them.<\p>

Phil: They've been very, very cool.<\p>

Anastasia: No, we wouldn't be with them today if we didn't adore them.<\p>

Phil: I don't think we would be around if they didn't help us out.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah, that's absolutely true.<\p>

Phil: They could've easily said, "You know what? You guys aren't producing enough. Take a hike." Which has happened to us.<\p>

Anastasia: Yes. Yes, it has.<\p>

Phil: So they've been very cool.<\p>

Javier: And so the mission of this Specialty Sodas Podcast is to share the real stories of entrepreneurs and leaders in the beverage industry because there's really great value in hearing and learning from each other just as you shared your story, but there's also in hearing everybody's story. So is there someone that you know or admire in the industry that you would like to see as a future guest? You already mentioned Ginseng Up, you mentioned John Neese. Is there any other company who's doing something similar to you in another region that you feel is going really well or just any other company that you think might be a good fit to hear their story?<\p>

Phil: I've got maybe somebody in mind but I think I'd like to tell you off the record.<\p>

Javier: Oh, okay. Okay.<\p>

Anastasia: We're very secretive that way.<\p>

Javier: Oh, okay. Well, yeah. So yeah. Pretty much the companies that you did mention. I'm reaching out to those people to share their stories, everyone who we did talk about, and then there's some that we haven't talked about. So now, if anyone wants to reach...<\p>

Anastasia: He should… How about Herb Kulie at...<\p>

Phil: He's not there anymore.<\p>

Anastasia: Oh, okay. Nevermind. Sorry.<\p>

Javier: Oh, okay. Well, maybe Herb is doing something else that might be interesting but... So if anyone wants to reach out to you, how can they do that and what do you want to provide people who reach out to you?<\p>

Anastasia: They can contact us through our website or our Facebook page and you know, I think I speak for both of us when I say that we would be happy to give advice, encouragement, you know, commiseration with any other...anyone out there who's interested in starting their own business whether it's beverage or...what, what, what, what?<\p>

Phil: I just thought of a perfect match maybe.<\p>

Anastasia: Ooh, what?<\p>

Phil: This is a small company out of...around Ithaca, New York and they've got a beverage called That Indian Drink. It's called That Indian Drink.<\p>

Anastasia: He picked it up in the store the other day and he is addicted.<\p>

Phil: Yeah, great stuff. So I'll email you their contact info.<\p>

Javier: Okay, all right. Thank you, and so yeah. people can check you out at your website and your social media pages and I'll provide links to that. So finally, is there a one last thing you want people to know and remember about OPA! Originals and Ouzon Soda?<\p>

Anastasia: That it's great, that's it's made with love and we have two kids to put through college so keep that in mind. Buy early and often.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, and so...<\p>

Phil: I was just thinking...if anybody is interested in it, I hope you give it a shot and enjoy it really. I mean, I've seen people get pretty excited over it and that always, you know, makes me happy.<\p>

Anastasia: Yeah.<\p>

Javier: Yeah, all right. So once again, this is Philip Broikos and Anastasia Broikos. They're the founders of OPA! Originals Incorporated, based out of New York. They founded it back in...a few years ago, 2009, 2010. It's a husband and wife team and they produce Ouzon Premium Soda. This is the first and only ouzo flavored soda in the world and, as you heard their story, it's really inspiring and I hope that if you heard it, please reach out to them and please say thank you for sharing their story because they just told you how to start a beverage company and what they've gone through. Please purchase their drinks, try it out. It is a really cool flavor and so...<\p>

Now, for you guys, if you enjoyed this conversation, please feel free to like and share this episode with everyone you know. You can subscribe to the Specialty Sodas Podcast in iTunes, Google Play or you can join the email list to stay connected or communicate in social media. Please leave a review and join the discussion either in the comment box or email Phil and Anastasia directly. We look forward to you, we look forward to hearing you with questions or comments to continue this conversation.<\p>

So thank you Phil and Anastasia for being here and thank you everyone for being a part of this Specialty Sodas Podcast. See you next time.<\p>

Phil: Thanks for the opportunity. I think you're doing a great thing. It's really awesome. I wish this kind of program was around when we started.<\p>

Anastasia: Thank you so much.<\p>

Javier: Okay. See you guys next time.<\p>

Phil: Okay.<\p>

Anastasia: Okay.<\p>

The Specialty Sodas Podcast

September 2, 2016
Episode #8
Hi! I'm Javier. I interview entrepreneurs, corporate executives & thought leaders so you can learn how to start, grow and scale your business. I want to share valuable insights with you and actionable steps that you can implement in your business today.