When Shari Stein Curry and Traci Hunt conceived the idea for The Living Apothecary in 2011 – an Oakland-based fresh juice, nut milk and kefir tonic business – they were right that there would be a demand for such products. But they couldn’t have predicted how quickly their business would take off. And now, just over a year after their launch, the startup is opening its first brick-and-mortar location.
After selling their products mostly through delivery services and at farmers markets, Living Apothecary has an outpost at Pilates ProWorks Oakland Lakeshore. A grand opening, that will include tastings, is scheduled for Oct. 20, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
“We’ve grown just as much as we can handle every month,” said Curry. “It hasn’t been a super-stressful growth.” There are now four full-time employees, and in addition to being sold by such outlets as Good Eggs and Three Stone Hearth, they are now in San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, which has opened the door to other markets as well. But there’s a limit to how much they can sell in retail outlets, because the shelf life of their products is so short. They are also at the Temescal farmers market, and are hoping to get into the Berkeley market on Tuesday.
The company was started by the pair in the summer of 2012, when they began renting space at Kitchener Oakland and launching their first line of juices at the Lafayette farmers market.
Before that, Curry was resident mixologist at Berkeley’s Rivoli, where she was known for her cocktail menu that, just like the restaurant menu, changed every few weeks, according to what was in season.
One specialty of hers was a strawberry mint vodka cocktail, with coconut-infused sake and lemon juice.
“They were really about the produce,” she said.
Over time, she became friendly with Tracy Hunt, who was a server on staff there. Hunt was a raw foods and juicing enthusiast, and the two decided to start a business using their shared passion for fresh, local, organic produce, parlaying it into a successful Oakland-based business.
“People are shopping more at local farmers markets and making things for themselves,” said Curry, by way of explanation.
But the thing they hear again and again from avid juicers is “The juice I make at home doesn’t taste like this.”
“People also understand the true benefits of leafy greens and eating them raw, not that there’s anything wrong with cooking them,” she added.
Their juices stand out, she said, because “we make our juices more intricate. Some of them have eight different things in them, while a lot of companies stick to three to five. We like to get creative and throw as many nutrients in as we can, while combining things that others haven’t thought of.”
For example, a popular summer blend features kale, romaine, collards, cucumber, pear, blueberry, basil and pear.
And a seasonal one I tasted recently was made of pumpkin and orange, with a bit of nutmeg and other spices. While I wasn’t sure I would enjoy drinking something resembling a liquid pumpkin pie, it was perfectly refreshing.
The women rely on a Norwalk juicer, another reason why their product outclasses home juicers. The Norwalk retails for about $2,800 and requires both women to lift it.
The machine uses a levered press to apply thousands of pounds of pressure to the produce, with no heat introduced, so “you’re getting a really clean, well-filtered juice,” she said. “What’s leftover is inedible, a horse wouldn’t even eat it.”
Home juicers tend to introduce oxygen, which affects the taste, said Curry, while the Norwalk creates a product that’s “a whole other level in terms of your palate, it just tastes really good.”
While Curry can talk forever about their juice blends, she wanted to emphasize that their nut milks and kefir tonics are also selling briskly.
Their almond milk comes in four flavors: regular, cacao rose, turmeric and ginger vanilla bean. They are sweetened only with dates. “People are floored by our flavors, and they have so many nutritional benefits.” Curry explained that with almond milk, you get all of the nutrients, but without the high fat content, and they’re also a rich source of vitamin E.
As for their kefir tonics, which come in flavors like raspberry leaf ginger and white peony lavender, Curry said you can’t argue with a product that’s been around for 3,000 years.
“Pro-biotics are so good for you in terms of balancing out your stomach,” she said.
As for the future, Curry hopes the business continues to grow as organically as it started.
In addition to more wholesale accounts, they hope to branch out into more gyms, and places like Pilates ProWorks and integrative health coaches and practitioners.
The next step is finding their own bottling facility, as there’s a limit to how much they can produce at Kitchener Oakland. “They are amazing, but eventually we’ll need a space where we can streamline our process,” she said.
They have some contacts in Los Angeles, and are looking into ways of offering their product there. “We’re figuring out a way to get our products down there,” she said. “We can’t sell on a national level because it’s so expensive to ship glass.”
The Living Apothecary Juice Bar’s grand opening at Pilates ProWorks is Sunday, October 20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pilates ProWorks is at 3303 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland.
Alix Wall is a freelance writer and personal chef in Oakland.
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