New Thursday Vendor: Sow

March 29, 2013

For Luisa Alberto and Derek Castro, setting up their Sow juice stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is like a homecoming. Years ago, they got their start as baristas for Blue Bottle Coffee Co., slinging macchiatos and mochas, and now they’re back in the market on Thursdays, artfully preparing a very different kind of brew: freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juice.

The move from the dark and caffeinated to the fresh and cleansing was more natural than you might think for these children of the third-wave coffee movement, who came of age with a passion for meticulous sourcing, attention to craft, and high-touch customer service. They wanted to bring that ethos and culture to the world of juice, using fresh ingredients from their local farmers market.

“There weren’t a ton of juice bars or places in San Francisco where you could sit down and enjoy juice like you would a beautiful cup of coffee,” Luisa observed. And thus the seeds of their newest project were sown.

Breaking Ground

Early last year, Derek and Luisa launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a made-to-order pop-up juice bar. They successfully completed the campaign, and Sow opened at Pause Wine Bar in Hayes Valley in May 2012. “We both had other jobs,” says Luisa. “We started Sow because we thought it would be fun and we were passionate about it, but it started gaining traction very quickly.”

Chris Tavelli, owner and wine director of Pause, says the partnership with Sow has become the perfect marriage, providing a daytime use for the bar that complements its focus on sustainable and organic wines and seasonal, local vegetarian food. “It makes me happy because the space is being utilized during the day, and the juice is clean, fresh, and healthy too,” he says. “Plus, it’s like having a natural air freshener.”

Tavelli’s wine-drinking clientele took to Sow as well. “People saddle up to the bar and tell us their problems as if it were a wine bar,” says Luisa. The budding business eventually moved to Yield, Pause’s sister location in the Dogpatch, where Luisa and Derek could press juice five days a week. They also began selling their juices through Good Eggs, an online local grocery delivery service. Sow became a full-time operation, with Luisa handling the sales and marketing and Derek on menu creation, sourcing, and production.

Juicing for Joy

Although juice is sometimes associated with health regimens like fasts and cleanses, Luisa and Derek see it differently. “With cleansing, there can be a sense of a lack of something,” says Luisa. “We like coming at it from a more positive, fulfilling standpoint, which is more satisfying than, ‘I’m going to deprive my body of food, so I can drink juice.’ Drink juice because it’s delicious!”

They also hope to elevate juice drinking to include an attention to varietals, terroir, and peak ripeness. Direct sourcing has been important to Sow’s business philosophy not only for cost and relationship-building reasons; it also ensures that “we know where our product is from and that it hasn’t been sitting in a warehouse for a long time,” says Derek.

“In coffee, if there’s one bad bean, it can mess up the flavor profile,” says Luisa. “It’s the same thing with juice. One bad kale leaf can screw up the entire drink.” Unlike mass-marketed brands that are pasteurized to withstand travel and a couple weeks on the shelf, Sow’s juice is pressed to order and best consumed within 24 hours, so freshness is key.

Farm to Glass

The name Sow (pronounced “so”) pays homage to the juice bar’s agricultural inspiration. In creating Sow’s recipes, Derek draws from the seasonal bounty of the farmers market, experimenting with heirloom fruits, vegetables, and herbs—even edible flowers, like calendula. “How could I not be inspired?” he says. “Being in California there’s so much abundance and variety. Everything grows so well here.”

As a former quality assurance trainer at Blue Bottle, he appreciates that he can now meet farmers face-to-face, talk to them about their practices, and even visit their farms. “You have to fly to a different country to see where coffee is grown, but you can see where your carrots are grown just an hour away,” he says.

Sow gets the bulk of their ingredients from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and on their current menu you’ll find sweet and savory concoctions like the “The Agrarian” and “The Hare,” which rely heavily on cool-weather crops like root veggies, greens, and citrus. A customer favorite, “The Prescription” blends K & J Orchards apples, Hamada Farms oranges, Catalan Family Farms celery and kale, Heirloom Organic Gardens parsley, and mint from Marin Roots Farm.

Derek is looking forward to introducing spring flavors as strawberries and stone fruit return to the market, but mostly he’s just happy to be back outside, rubbing elbows with the farmers market community. “We’re excited to be able to share our juice with the people we get our ingredients from,” he says.

Luisa bubbles with the same enthusiasm. “It feels good to be setting up our own stand right next to our Blue Bottle family. We’re just grateful and proud to be here.”

Find Sow at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursdays.

Juices photo courtesy of Sow.

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