An experiment to create the perfect ginger beer quickly developed into a full-fledged business for Brooklyn Soda Works. Founders Caroline Mak and Antonio Ramos make carbonated juices kicked up with fresh herbs and spices. The seasonal flavors range from creative classics like apple ginger to the deliciously adventurous raspberry and green peppercorn. The couple began mixing, testing and tasting in 2010, using space in a friend’s restaurant kitchen and selling at New York–area markets like Brooklyn Flea. On their very first day at the flea, they sold out long before the end of the day.
Artist Mak and chemist Ramos eventually moved out of their friend’s restaurant and into an old Pfizer plant in Brooklyn that is home to some of Brooklyn’s other marquee food startups like McClure’s Pickles and Steve’s Ice Cream. The couple’s creations are carried on tap—yep, just like a beer—at more than 15 New York state bars and restaurants including the has-won-just-about-every-prize-there-is Blue Hill.
Expanding in size has also meant that Mak and Ramos are spending much more of their lives dedicated to the business. Both now work full-time (though Mak still makes art on the side) and they’ve even brought on three regular employees. I caught up with Caroline Mak over email to chat about what it’s like to be business partners with someone you love.
DIYBA: How did you decide to divide responsibilities between the two of you?
Caroline Mak: When we launched Brooklyn Soda Works, we both had different amounts of time that we could dedicate to the business. Antonio was working full-time as a chemist and I had a more flexible freelance schedule, so that played a large role in deciding how responsibilities would be allocated.
As the business developed, there has been a more formal division of work. Antonio is in charge of the technical components—assembling our carbonation system, and maximizing efficiency and output. I source ingredients and work on the day-to-day management.
However, as we are a couple, we often end up working together on a vast number of issues and always run things by one another.
How do you navigate being business partners and a couple? Is it all Brooklyn Soda Works all the time?
Hah! It’s something we ask ourselves quite regularly. It is Brooklyn Soda Works all the time, but we do try to have one day off a week where we do non-business related things. It particularly helps me, as I need to be able to step away more to give my brain time to reset.
But working together has worked out well because we inherently trust that the other person is putting one hundred percent in, and that his or her decisions are made with our best interests at heart. When disagreements happen, which they do, we do our best not to involve personal issues.
When things got really busy and we only had Monday afternoons off, we decided to use that time to take up bouldering at Brooklyn Boulders. We only go about once every four weeks, but it’s a nice break from thinking about the business.
How did the decision to bring on staff change the way you work?
Bringing on staff has been great for several reasons. First, it demonstrates that we are a growing, expanding and sustainable business. On a practical level, it has forced us to address concerns such as efficiency, time-management, and to define which aspects of the business we value most and which aspects we feel you can hand off to other people.
We firmly believe that most aspects of a business should be able to be handed-off to capable staff members. From the production to the wholesale accounts, we are lucky to work with good people. It also leaves us with time to make decisions about the business and where it is heading rather than worrying about who is going to make a delivery or update a blog post.
Eleanor Whitney is a Brooklyn-based writer, rock musician, educator and arts administrator raised in Maine. She blogs at killerfemme.com and is the author of Grow: How to take your DIY project and passion to the next level and quit your job, which will be released in 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.
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