On Thursdays and Saturdays, Luisa Alberto and Derek Castro stand behind a table at San Francisco’s famed Ferry Plaza Farmers Market behind piles of organic, fresh-from-the-farm produce, whipping up made-to-order juices. “It could be beets that were pulled out of the ground yesterday, and oranges that were just picked,” says Alberto, a 32-year-old New York transplant. “You’d be surprised how different juice tastes when you enjoy it that way versus out of a bottle.”
In its climb from fad to phenomenon, juice culture has been about many things—health, vitality, and (in some cases) cleansing. But rarely has it been about providing a truly sublime sipping experience—until now. SōW, an innovative San Francisco juice company, is trying to bring a coffee culture-esque experience to juicing, one custom concoction at a time.
A juice company embracing coffee culture
Alberto is a veteran foodie who moved out West roughly a decade ago for stints with Fair Trade Coffee and famed specialty roaster, Blue Bottle. But it wasn’t until 2009 that inspiration took hold. “I was at this little San Francisco restaurant having brunch, and they had a fresh-pressed juice option,” Alberto recalls. “It totally stuck out to me. I’d never really seen any option for a juice that could be as beautifully executed as a cappuccino. I thought, ‘Gosh, why is no one doing that?'”
Albert partnered up with Castro, a 26-year-old who’s spent years obsessively researching and brewing coffee (and training baristas at Blue Bottle), and in 2012, the duo took their concept for a spin, opening a couple of pop-up juice bars on Market Street, and the up-and-coming Dogpatch neighborhood.
“We offered beautifully-garnished glasses and juice tasting flights. We made this really special experience that was meant to be enjoyed in the moment, as if you were having an espresso,” Alberto says. “We were taking that coffee culture and translating it to an elevated juice experience.”
Super, super seasonal juices
Fast-forward to 2013, when every corner seems to have a juice bar, and even Starbucks stocks liquid greens. What sets SōW apart is not just the desire to create an experience around sipping juice that coffee has, Alberto says, it’s about ingredients and a culinary, made-to-order approach to using them.
“What we specialize in, and are known for, is sourcing the highest-quality, California, in season, produce, herbs, and flowers, and creating really unique, individually-crafted juices to order,” Alberto says.
And she means unique. Castro is the brains behind combos like the Monarch a blend of persimmon, orange, pomegranate, ginger, lemon, and citron currently on the menu. Like a true coffee connoisseur, he’s obsessive in his approach, and like a chef, he’s constantly sourcing from local farms. “It makes it really easy to chase a lot of things when they’re at their peak,” Alberto says. “We’ve gotten used to knowing what ingredients elevate a drink, lemon, peppercress….” Understandably, blends come and go based on available ingredients. And, for reasons of shared ethos, SōW’s Farmers Market stand counts a lot of chefs as customers.
A careful path forward
SōW has partnered with Good Eggs, the local online grocery company, so Californians who can’t get to its Ferry Building stand can still partake, buying up to 10 jars of a particular juice. A retail location is the logical next step, Alberto says, but they’re taking it slow. San Francisco is a notoriously expensive city, and the pair doesn’t “exactly have billions of dollars.”
So for now, the duo’s all about taking small steps forward, and representing with fresh ingredients, a juicer, and open, creative minds. “We kinda opened up under the radar,” Alberto says. “Making really smart decisions about how we grow, and protect our brand as we grow, is challenging and exciting.” —Randi Eichenbaum
For more information, visit www.sowsf.com