Remember the Greenpoint Food Market? It shut down last summer, after a ten month existence as an incubator for unproven businesses to test the waters, and see if they were good enough to take their ideas to the next level. Despite the GFM’s demise, a few companies actually came out the other side unscathed and landed in success and legitimacy, P&H Soda Co. being one of them. (Anarchy in a Jar and Mombucha are a few others.)
Anton Nocito, founder and chef of P&H, wants to open up a soda fountain restaurant, and by the way he discloses his dream, you can tell he’s had it for a while. “I think it would be fun, and I used to really enjoy them as a kid,” Nocito said. In the fall of 2009, he started making his own natural soda and his wife talked him into selling some at the GFM. After a few stints at the market, stores started asking him about wholesaling to them, and from then on it was as easy as a slice of pie you might find at a vintage soda fountain shop—“it just sort of started rolling in from there.” In 2010, Nocito started an official business as an artisan soda syrup maker and he hasn’t come up for air bubbles since.
Nocito took all the proper first steps—he started selling at local stores like the Brooklyn Kitchen and moved into a kitchen space—until he came to a crossroads where he found he had to make a choice: keep his full-time job as an executive chef and make money now, or quit his job, grow the business and make money down the line. In November of last year, he chose option B and started working on soda syrups full-time. “It’s been good. It’s a small business, so it takes time to get it really going, but I’m finding that I have quite a niche because there really aren’t a lot of people doing this right now,” Nocito said.
Nocito primarily sells syrups, although he does also sell sodas, to specialty shops, restaurants and bars. He does the occasional market—he will be at New Amsterdam and probably Rockaway Beach this spring and summer—where 90 percent of the time he’ll sell bottled drinks (in addition to selling syrups). Right now, the flavors he has on deck are ginger, lime, hibiscus and cream (not counting the seasonal flavors he makes during the year), though he is hoping to add one or two more perma-flavors to that list before summertime. No matter the flavor, the idea when buying the syrup straight-up is to mix it with carbonated water, or like many restaurants that buy from Nocito do, use it as a mixer for cocktails.
The list of places to which Nocito sells his syrups and sodas, not to mention the catalog of press write-ups he has recently received, is lengthy and seems to be constantly growing. He has shared the stage with Martha Stewart, and scored mentions in mags like New York and Time Out. In Greenpoint, he sells syrups at Eastern District—where he also shares a kitchen space in the back with Laena McCarthy of Anarchy in a Jar—Kill Devil Hill, Brooklyn Standard and the Brooklyn Kitchen. The scope extends all the way to the other side of Brooklyn—with places such as Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain selling both syrups and drinks, and restaurant Brucie on Court Street, selling both too. P&H’s reach even stretches as far as the Modern (as in Museum of Modern Art, yes) and Kalustyan’s, one of Manhattan’s best-known specialty food stores.
As impressive as being on the shelves and in the kitchens of these highly regarded places is (and it is), the best thing about P&H is its naturalness. Statistics show that four out of five Americans drink commercial soda on a daily basis. To say that this is “a lot” or unacceptable would be a vast understatement. “When you think, maybe we can slow that down and consume less artificial stuff, and more natural stuff, it…makes [so much] sense,” Nocito said.
Nocito sources smartly. His spices and hibiscus come from Mountain Rose Herbs, a company that sells all organic products, and his ginger is organic and straight from tropical Hawaii. As opposed to the labels of most mass-produced sodas, which list a lot of artificial ingredients that most people can’t quite identify, Nocito’s bottles are easy to read and understand; and they’re comforting. “When you look at my label and it says fresh, organic ginger, organic spices, you know what it is. You know what’s in there. So, to me, that makes a little more sense. How much stuff can we consume that’s artificial? Eventually, it’s pretty much all artificial foods and it’s horrible,” Nocito said.
Next on Nocito’s plate, or in his bottle, is getting his products into more restaurants, bars and stores, and hopefully soon enough even being able to pay himself. And then, ideally, in a year or so, the soda fountain restaurant. “The ultimate goal is to have a restaurant, and keep this [the soda syrups] as the side business of the restaurant; and maybe both of them together in one location,” Nocito said. Until then, check out his Web site for all the places you can go to try P&H artisanal soda syrup: pnhsodaandsyrupinc.com.