Food Artisans: Checking in on P&H Soda
One area of the greatest growth has been P&H's restaurant business, which Nocito believes reflects well on his products. "Retail is such a weird animal. Sometimes people will stock the syrups because they love the labels, and they never taste them," he says, "Restaurant people don't care what it looks like, just what it tastes like." There's a full list on their site, but Nocito confesses to a favorite: "The Modern is just killing it with a hibiscus cocktail they have."
The company has been working with a distributor for its northeast retail business, which requires producing large volumes of product and adjusting to a tighter margin, since they're now selling to someone who has to make their own profit on the product. And if the distributor goes out of business, you can lose a lot. When this happened to P&H, they lost some product; friends who used the same distributor lost more than $40,000.
Nocito is still doing all of the production himself, despite the increased volume. "Once you go to a co-packer, the quality really goes down," he explains. Plus, soda syrup is pretty easy to scale up as recipes go. "If you were using three pounds of hibiscus, you'll be using 30 pounds," he says, "And a bigger kettle."
The product line itself has remained pretty much the same since 2011—sarsparilla, cream, hibiscus, lime, ginger, and, the one new kid, Cel-Ray-esque lovage—though Nocito is looking to shake things up a little. Once his recipe for grapefruit syrup is approved by the Cornell Food Safety Lab, he'll swap lime out for that one.
Anyone who'd like more flavors, though, would do well to get their hands on Nocito's first book, Make Your Own Soda (Clarkson Potter, May). With recipes for his regular line, plus syrups Nocito wouldn't bottle for one reason or another—sour cherry would be too expensive—and recipes to use them, the book is, he says, "a short version of what I'd carry if I had a soda fountain."
Those who'd just like to taste the sodas can find Nocito slinging this regular flavors and limited edition seasonal ones like Concord Grape or Chocolate Maple at New Amsterdam Market.
Nocito is looking to open a brick and mortar restaurant this year (investors welcome!), but mostly, he says, the plan is to just keep going. "I want to make something my new little son can be proud of," he says, "We're still small, but we're still taking over the world."
About the author: Stephanie Klose likes all things sarsparilla. You can follow her on twitter at @sklose.