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“When I first started writing out the recipes, I pretty much looked at them like chemistry experiments,” he says. MacNeil still works from his home kitchen, which he shares with two roommates, one of whom does not like spicy food. He says, “It’s not that messy, but it makes the entire house smell like peppers and makes some people irritated. I don’t need a lot of tools, just a pot and a blender.” Kace, who also lives with roommates, named his company after his Jersey City apartment. SlantShack Jerky pays homage to the apartment’s uneven floor. Though now headquartered in Long Island City, BAO Kombucha was born two and a half years ago in the basement of a house on Jersey City’s Jewett Avenue. Says cofounder Mike Schwartz, “Our house has a full bar in the basement. Some people in the neighborhood think it used to be a speakeasy. It’s particularly suited for brewing.” BAO Kombucha offers seven flavors of kombucha, a fermented tea-based beverage; three flavors of fermented vegetables; raw hot sauce; and raw ketchup. All these products are “live,” which means they contain the probiotic bacteria culture, a natural preservative. According to NASFT, “functional beverages” – a beverage that has special nutritional benefits – is the fastest-growing specialty foods category. Schwartz, who has lived in Jersey City with his wife for eight years, has been a consultant for Paulus Hook restaurant Two Aprons and a now-defunct food truck. As a result, he has a very realistic take on what aspiring restaurant and food business owners battle when they try to open in Jersey City. Permitting processes can sometimes be arduous. Regardless, he remains optimistic about Jersey City’s growing consumer market.

Saucy Sara’s Salsa Fizzy Lizzy

SlantShack Jerky JC Hot Sauce

BAO Kombucha

“Eight years ago, I don’t think I could have sold my kombucha anywhere in Downtown Jersey City. Americans in general, specifically the under-40 crowd, have become much more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies, which I think is great,” Schwartz says. “But the people who really need the nutritional benefits of kombucha are the ones who are financially struggling. The hardest part is to get my product, which is costly to produce, to that crowd.” At the end of the work day – which sometimes happens in the middle of the night due to commercial kitchen scheduling constraints – these specialty foods entrepreneurs know that they wouldn’t exist without their consumers. Kace is always making improvements to satisfy customer needs and desires. “We recently got rid of the trace amounts of MSG and high fructose corn syrup in our marinades,” says Kace. “We’re also starting to sell a maple glaze option for the jerky. Maple glaze and garlic is a particularly big hit.” Producing and selling specialty foods in a city in the shadow of one that “never sleeps” requires a competitive spirit. Morrill admits that Fizzy Lizzy’s biggest competitor is a beverage brand called Izze, which is owned by PepsiCo and sold at Starbucks. While Fizzy Lizzy drinks contain pulp, Morrill describes Izze’s beverages as resembling little more than “colored water.” Without added sugars or preservatives and with an average of 60 percent juice per bottle, Fizzy Lizzy is a healthy alternative to soda, but Morrill finds it challenging to convince consumers that both quality and healthfulness have value. “People are fairly cynical about quality claims because they hear them all the time,” Morrill says. “It’s hard to get a lot of mileage on a quality claim. You can only make that meaningful after they’ve looked at the product and tasted it.” The competition may be humbling, but these entrepreneurs thrive on a good challenge. “I think Jersey City is a very difficult part of the country to live in. It’s not easy,” says Marshall-Schkade. “Here, nothing is handed to you. I think it takes a lot to survive.”

NEW Magazine: Winter 2011  
NEW Magazine: Winter 2011  

The Winter 2011 issue of NEW, Jersey City's magazine of arts, culture and lifestyle. Featuring stories on Filipino food & culture in Jersey...