THE GINJAN DIGEST

A Blog for modern beverage adventures

Ginjan x WeWork

We’ve become big fans of working with WeWork.  Let’s quickly consider what that looks like.  In case you didn’t know, WeWork is a shared office concept that has hundreds of buildings worldwide, each with roughly 400-800 members.  What’s remarkable (and perhaps up for debate) is that these are possibly the most ideal demographic to sell to.  They’re those young, upwardly mobile millennial ‘techies’.  What’s perhaps more remarkable, is how easy the relevant WeWork community teams make it to connect with them.  Quite simply, every single time we connected with community leads at each respective building, we were met astoundingly friendly, courteous and helpful folks who made the process of setting up a demo hour and marketing it a cinch.

This is one of the most under explored marketing tools out there.  Take note.

We offered members a taste of Ginjan and at WeWork State Street in Chicago we hosted a happy hour with Hendrick’s Gin, serving up the African Spy cocktail.

 

Ginjan x James Beard Awards 2018 Chicago

I’ve personally wanted to go to the James Beard Awards for several years now.  The #oscars of food, I mean, it’s the best of ALL worlds, and the whole 2018 experience really didn’t disappoint.  We were very fortunate that we got to experience more than just the Gala night.  With tickets (and conviction) in hand we called the biggest mofo Uber car on offer (sadly, Uber Copter is not yet available in Chicago) and headed to #chefsnightout on Sunday, May 6 at Theater on the Lake – with views of the Chicago skyline that inspired awe, and an appetite rather quickly.  Fortunately, with about 15 or so spirit and food tables peppered throughout the event, we were set.

 

After months of preparation, we made it, so at the very least deserved a heavy handed and stiff drink.  At least so I thought, the idea of having a nice drink, yummy bite and kicking back a bit sounded like a warmly welcoming concept.  Personally, I could have happily died on Chef’s Night Out, if only having learned the magic of duck champagne.  (I’ll tell you the story privately, feel free to email 🙈) It was a night of beautiful views, gracious people and stupendous food. In retrospect, it was the perfect primer for the next day (and the hard work it will require) of the Gala Night at the Lyric Opera – perhaps the jewel in the James Beard Crown, as it were.

 

We Gala, They Gala, One must Gala.

Officially, we were a sponsor in the spirit and beverage category, but were the only non-alcoholic drink there (other than water) and with tongue firmly wedged in cheek, the only one of our kind.  We served Ginjan as itself, but also we’re offered an opportunity to collaborate with Hendrick’s Gin and we took it since Rahim and I both have long been fans of this high quality spirit.  Their generosity and willingness to work with us are both notable.  #WeLoveHendricks.

 

 

  • So we made a cocktail called the African Spy (you see that #OfficialDrinkofWakanda and Wakanda WarDogs mood completely unable to leave us???) with Hendricks, Ginjan, shaken and infused with fresh Rosemary.   In case you still haven’t heard, Ginjan brings life to cocktails unlike anything else and works with almost every spirit, including wines and champagnes.  Recipe starved?  Check out our cocktail recipes here.

Food is the new Fashion.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone as this has been on track since at least 2010.  The explosion of food shows, festivals and special tasting events are notable and set against a backdrop of a wilderness of food celebrities.  James Beard, however – even as prestigious as it is – reminds you of why you are really there: to take a breath and appreciate the recognition of the people working unimaginably hard in bringing art to food, rather than jumping on the glamor train so often found [and annoyingly so] in clickbait backstreet food blogs and instagram stories.

 

It wasn’t hard to see that James Beard is about enduring excellence.  However fast, loose and messy things are in the kitchen, food is a vocation, not a fad and The James Beard Foundation seem convincingly devoted to this.  Beyond the awards and reverie, their community outreach and industry engagement programs are all inspirational, and important.

While the gala reception had great food and drinks throughout the gilded halls of the Lyric Opera, during the Gala Awards however, a more exalted, tempered and respectul tone encouraged focus on the progress and achievements of the creators crafting in cavernous kitchens throughout the land.

And I liked this, because to me, it makes it clear that the James Beard tradition won’t succumb to flash in the pan trends.  In many ways, it is the trend. The Gala Night also taught me a thing or two about presentation.  #AddedtoEvernote

 

“Special mention should go to our meeting of perhaps the whitest boy alive (other than possibly, myself), incidentally the owner of HeavenSake – another sponsor on the night – who came over to declare his love for, and his experiences in Conakry and drinking Ginjan the vintage way, from a bag.  Stunned, but inspired we handed him a Ginjan.  He wasted no time in declaring that ours was a superior version to what he had experienced in Guinea. We’ll take it from the white boy.”

 

Check out our James Beard Awards Supercut video below:

 

In being a James Beards Awards Sponsor

Being a sponsor was a special, and memorable experience.  Not just for the superbly efficient, helpful and professional treatment we got from the entire production crew, but also the reverie amongst the sponsors at large.  Many came over to our table and we in turn, visited theirs.  A spirit of ‘were in this together’ was refreshing and the interactions were largely devoid of ego.

 

When needed, I got sparkling water from San Pellegrino, cookies from another stand and when my salt urge/vice kicked it, an amazing Chef lovingly fed me because she said I looked like I was going to faint/looked thin. I didn’t want to point out that I was indeed on the 45 year fasting diet (see:#whiteguilt), but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  I’m also really glad that I hadn’t, because her venison (sous vide to perfection) with fennel aioli whatever it was, was surely one of the better things I had tasted in over a decade.  Naturally, it took little imagination to see why she was there.  She was peculiar, notable, and talented.  I regret not taking her card; all that I could remember was a first name of Veronica.  Wherever she may be now, she is to be endlessly thanked for saving me.

 

Story continued below image slide

 

The great thing about being a sponsor on the Gala Night is that the over 700 guests approach the tasting reception with a keen openness.  It also doesn’t hurt that a large portion of them work in the epicurean world, so their receptivity should perhaps not be such a big surprise.  But I mention this because in our overly advertising saturated world, we have quite often found it hard to overcome people’s cynicism and apprehension in tasting something “African”, which, let’s face it is truly the most foreign thing to most people and understandably so, since there is so little US market exposure of African products*.

 

Conversely, at the James Beard Awards, people were mobbing just about every table they visited.  The enthusiasm and curiosity was rather seductive, but very welcoming after all the hard work we put into the preparation for the event. It was also, admittedly, somewhat of a relief, as we – a small fish swimming amongst the food world sharks on their turf – had no idea how we may have been received or perceived.  It’s perhaps a good thing that our drink tastes so fucking amazing, considering.  If you’re in the food world and can spring the funds (it’s not as much as you may fear, and less than you may hope) to go to the James Beard Awards, we highly recommend it.  The gain is commensurate to the investment.  You’ll make many friends (and notable business contacts if you’re prepared) and you’ll have the time of your life.

 

The James Beard Awards humbled/inspired us, but it affirmed so many other things for us, also. Mostly, that we continue to draw immense joy in every Ginjan event we do – no matter how short the sleep nights or long the toiling days – but more importantly, that we’re doing the right thing, a good thing, a new thing, an inspiring thing, a real thing.

 

*Besides making superior and high quality, organic beverages of an African inspiration, the Ginjan Bros (see: Mohamed and Rahim) are actually on a diabolical & fanatical journey to make superb quality and authentically African products as commonplace, as, say, sesame chicken on a rainy tuesday night. 

 

Ginjan x Detroit

Much has been said about the ‘destruction’ of Detroit – a dilution of the local economy – the resulting housing crises and the hollowing out of entire neighborhoods.  Sure, that’s an open secret and no less depressing.  It’s an in your face reality and it’s hard to escape.  But, as we’ve seen with a number of “flyer-over” cities and midwest urban areas, a lot of creativity seems to seep through the cracks – ableit slowly – but with a keen eye on creating some new development.  As with cities like Louisville, Nashville, Pittsburg and Detroit, locals have decided to stay and imports to make a new home, opening up retail spots with a flavor torn out of the Brooklyn playbook.  Make no mistake, in Detroit we’ve driven on roads and seen entire neighborhoods abandoned, hollowed shells of buildings and empty streets, but you can also see the possibility, and it’s inspiringly seductive.

Michigan Avenue – Corktown

 

Michigan Avenue – Corktown

 

Abandoned Building – Corktown

 

Michigan Avenue toward Downtown

Just a few streets away from an entire abandoned ‘superblock’, a coffee shop grows like a tree, full of hope and well, some great coffee, cheer and a dedicated weekend morning ‘shredding playlist’.

 

Astro Cafe

 

Astro Cafe – African Chocolates!

Check out Astro Coffee Detroit on Michigan Avenue and how they’re creating a haven for coffee culture.  Next Door, Sugar House, serves up some mean drinks with a smooth set of culturati chatting the night away. Down the road, we grabbed dinner and shred some Nebbiolo at Ottava Via – be sure to stop in and sit at the bar.  The pizzas are worth a mention and so is the female bartender. (we didn’t take names)

 

Downtown Broadway

 

The Belt Alley Entrance

 

The Belt Alley

 

The Belt Alley

In Downtown, we enjoyed a few drinks along “The Belt Alley” at Stand By, again, refreshingly exposed to a new creative set of people.  Down Woodward Avenue a new retail and workspace strip has taken hold.  We stopped by WeWork Campus Martius for one of our on-going WeWork Tastings Hours – this time with Tito’s Vodka and got to meet with some of the local creatives starting professional fires in the city.

 

WeWork Campus Martius

 

WeWork Campus Martius

 

We can say that the overall impression of a fluid Detroit has been an inspirational one. Sure, the progress is mercurial and sporadic, but the quality of the execution betrays an understanding of the new millennial – and may we dare to say ‘hipster’ – aesthetic, and customer experience expectations.  Yet, everywhere, you’d be amiss not to acknowledge the cranes, shop fitting and renovations going on. Flame on, Motor City, flame on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ginjan Becomes The Gourmet’s Choice at the James Beard Awards Gala 2018

Yes, we’re going to Chicago.

On May 7th, Ginjan will showcase at the annual James Beard Awards at the Lyric Opera Chicago – “the Oscars of the food world” (Time Magazine) – and will be the first African beverage to do so.  We’ve always been “in the closet foodies” but we’re slowly emerging to immerse ourselves in the fascinating world of American Epicurean culture and the James Beard Awards is an apt opportunity to do this.  We’re bringing some African flavor to the awards this year with our booth installation (wait for the surprise).  This year, we’re teaming up with Hendrick’s Gin to make a few cocktails alongside the Ginjan we’ll be serving the over 1000 guests at the awards.

A Food World Legend

Anointed the “Dean of American cookery” by the New York Times in 1954, James Beard laid the groundwork for the food revolution that has put America at the forefront of global gastronomy. He was a pioneer foodie, host of the first food program on the fledgling medium of television in 1946, the first to suspect that classic American culinary traditions might cohere into a national cuisine, and an early champion of local products and markets. Beard nurtured a generation of American chefs and cookbook authors who have changed the way we eat.

James Andrew Beard was born on May 5, 1903 in Portland, Oregon, to Elizabeth and John Beard. His mother, an independent English woman passionate about food, ran a boarding house. His father worked at Portland’s Customs House. The family spent summers at the beach at Gearhart, Oregon, fishing, gathering shellfish and wild berries, and cooking meals with whatever was caught.

He studied briefly at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1923, but was expelled. Reed claimed it was due to poor scholastic performance, but Beard maintained it was due to his homosexuality. Beard then went on the road with a theatrical troupe. He lived abroad for several years studying voice and theater, but returned to the United States for good in 1927. Although he kept trying to break into the theater and movies, by 1935 he needed to supplement what was a very non-lucrative career and began a catering business. With the opening of a small food shop called Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc., in 1937, Beard finally realized that his future lay in the world of food and cooking.

In 1955, Beard established the James Beard Cooking School. He continued to teach cooking to men and women for the next 30 years, both at his own schools (in New York City and Seaside, Oregon), and around the country at women’s clubs, other cooking schools, and civic groups. He was a tireless traveler, bringing his message of good food, honestly prepared with fresh, wholesome, American ingredients, to a country just becoming aware of its own culinary heritage. Beard also continued to write cookbooks, most of which became classics and many of which are still in print.

but, we’re also sharing the Ginjan love with Detroit and Philadelphia

We thought we’d make a road trip out of it and we’re stopping by at WeWork locations along the way.  Basically, we’ll be doing tastings at 7 weworks in Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia – sharing the ginjan love along the way.

 

WeWork Detroit

 

WeWork Chicago

 

WeWork Philadelphia

 

As we continue to try and increase our online sales, we felt that doing roadtrips like these helps us expose non NYC people to the magic of Ginjan.  We’ll be shooting a video of of the entire trip and will be sharing stories on instagram along the way!

Like, want free Ginjan?

We’re feeling generous.  For your chance to win a case delivered to your home, do one of the following.

 

  1. post your best Ginjan picture and use the #ginjan tag and tag us @ginjanbros on instagram.
  2. write an ode to Ginjan on facebook and tag us – facebook.com/ginjanbros
  3. give us a cocktail recipe using ginjan to blow our minds (and add a pic) – facebook.com/ginjanbros – or on instagram @ginjanbros

 

Let’s go!  We’ll pick a winner in about a week.

How We’re Building This – Part 2: Ideation

 Ideas are cheap. You’ve probably heard that at nauseam, especially with the startup crazed environment we live in. Well, ideas may be cheap, due to the low barrier to entry (a somewhat functional brain). But, pursuing an idea is very dear. Today, we’ll discuss ideas in general, and out of all the problems the world faces, why we decided to focus our energies on “solving” the lack of representation of traditional African food products in the global marketplace.
What makes a good idea?
No one really cares.
Typically, when people ask this question, they don’t really mean “good” based on the merit of the idea; they often mean to ask “which idea makes money?”. In that case, a good idea is one that provides a need or desire to enough people, for it to be worth the effort required to make it happen.
Typically, we think of ideas as this one and done process. As if after you get the idea, pretty much nothing else is required of your person. But intuitively, we all know this to be false. It requires tremendous effort to get off your ass day in and day out to chase something that may not even be there. For most of us, it goes something like this: Out of the blue, sometimes after an experience but not always, your brain effortlessly connects dots that make you exclaim to the poor soul nearest to you, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could rent a room from anyone’s house anywhere in the world, instead of a hotel!?”… then five years later, you hear some startup just raised a billion dollars on this very premise. Dang it! That was your idea! 😃
In reality, the initial idea is like JFK’s declaration of a moon landing. Very easy to think and say, much harder to do. There are no physical laws that make it impossible, but you’ll have to test and refute a lot of sub-ideas (we’ll touch on this later) before you can make the landing (your exit or liquidation event). Everyone of those tests require time and money. The same is true for a startup, with one caveat. Unlike the moon landing, where the laws of physics do not change, in the startup world, the rules change and the market shifts; so you have zero guarantee of success. You can end up spending years and millions of dollars and have absolutely nothing to show for it. The lesson, startups are more brutal than Physics.
Early on, you’ll mostly need time if you’re scrappy, but as you start to gain traction, lots of money. People are fond of saying you don’t need money to launch a business, those people are lying to you.

Why do you need money?

This is where this concept of sub-ideas come in. When you thought of your room rental business above; you gave zero thought to what it reaaally takes to make that happen. Then you invest a little brain power into the original clean and neat idea; out of nowhere, it starts to spawn a million unruly questions that will, if you’re doing it right, start giving you new ideas on how to answer them. You start asking yourself: Who will use this? How will they find it? What does it look like to the user? What tech stack should we use? Should we prioritize web or mobile with our limited resources? What kind of regulatory issues will we have? and on and on… Answering any one of those questions, requires new ideas. So, if you are to ever move from the first grand idea to product to market to success; you’ll have to come up with a lot of ideas. The lesson here, seeing the solution is easy, but getting to it is like those heist movies with a massive room and a Cullinan diamond in the middle; protected by invisible lasers and motion sensitive 0.50 caliber turrets hidden inside the walls. You can get to it, but it won’t be easy.
With that highly encouraging prelude out of the way, let’s talk about Ginjan.
The idea for the concept that gave birth to Ginjan Bros, the company, has been more of a journey than a “eureka” moment. As you might have noted above, we don’t believe much in the “eureka” stuff.
The journey went as follows: Two brothers grow up in Guinea (West Africa) eating and drinking delicious West African stuff. Then, they come to America, woohoo, and find a lot of other Africans. In fact, they find people from all over the world, eating foods from all over the world, except Africa. What the hell man!? How come only the Africans are eating African stuff? It’s delicious, and if they tried it, they’d love it!
But at this point, the brothers are too young and disoriented to know what to do about this. Plus, they’re in their early to mid-teens, they have more pressing matters on their minds. Like how to be cool at all time.
Time goes on, and this question lingers. Now, they’ve learned American stuff, they can quote Seinfeld and know what a wedgie is. Awesome; but the mainstream still don’t know delicious African stuff. Shame. Most importantly, it is impossible to get a premium quality of the most iconic beverage of their childhood, a delicious homemade ginger elixir called Ginjan. Fed up with this reality they’ve been observing and complaining about for some 15 years, and having mastered the art of being cool at all time, they decide to be the ones to make traditional African foods and beverages a thing in America, and everywhere. But there are tons of those products to chose from; so instead of taking them all on, they decide to start with the one product they miss the most. Ginjan. Build a brand around that, and introduce the rest.

OK, we now have an idea. What next?

The very first thing we did was to make a powerpoint. We were having friends over – mostly from Africa that day – for dinner and thought, we should pitch them on the idea and see how they react. Although we could’ve done this verbally, we knew that with a powerpoint, they’d take it more seriously, it would make it real for them. We knew they’d love it, because we were preaching to the choir. What we were really after was pushback on why it’s a bad idea. Oddly enough, the most important outcome of that pitch wasn’t the feedback, it was the name of our company. You see, after that event, our friends started calling us “The Ginjan Bros”, so as we toyed around with company names, that stuck.

Great, we have a name, good for us. Now what?

Our next step was to figure out how to make the product, understand the market, brand the company, design a go-to-market strategy, and figure out how we’ll get any money to get started. We had none. Not “I only have a couple of grands” none, more like “I might not make rent this month” none.
In the next installment, we’ll talk about how we got our recipe together and the market research we did to get a sense of what we’re going into, how big it could be, and what it would really take to make it big. Hint: We’re still figuring most of this out. See you next time 😃

Motherland Anywhere

I spent the weekend discussing some new information on my wife’s ancestry. Last year we both sent in a vial of saliva to the leading DNA research company 23andMe. We chose 23andMe for a variety of reasons, mostly because their database is the largest available and because they allow integration with many different specialist DNA research companies such as DNAFit and Athletigen, both of whom offer to take your 23andMe personal DNA report and analyze it to help customers “understand how their DNA affects their response to exercise and nutrition changes, to change the way we train and eat.”

My own DNA report really wasn’t much of a surprise: I’m 97% European. Breaking that down further, my ancestry is 51.4% British/Irish and 32.9% Broadly Northwestern European. No surprises there. In fact the only surprise, which has been a constant source of fun ever since, is that I have more Neanderthal gene variants than 95% of other 23andMe customers.

However, 23andMe’s ancestry report was frustratingly vague when it came to my wife, who is African-American. While it was quite definitive that she has 100% fewer Neanderthal gene variants than other 23andMe customers (not surprising – Neanderthals weren’t in Africa), so far as her African ancestry is concerned all that she discovered was that she’s 83% West African.

23andMe Ancestry composition report

 

A first cousin had spent some time researching family history and traced at least one ancestor back to Senegal; later research led to Ghana, but her search for something definitive as to her roots was still pending. As an aside, my father in law’s 23andMe report generated much excitement as he was found to have an ancient Y chromosome that’s supposedly 340,000 years old (see this story about another African American man with this Y chromosome).

Luckily, however, the DNA analysis business is vibrant and several new players have emerged, including DNA Land, a non-profit run by academics affiliated with Columbia University and the NY Genome Center. My wife shared her 23andMe data with DNA Land and eagerly awaited the new report. She received it over the weekend; it contained much more detail and quite a few surprises (yes, she’s part pygmy). The report agreed with 23andMe that she is genetically 83% African, but DNA Land only associates her with West Africa 70% (East Africa 9.2%, Aka 3.7%).  The biggest surprise was that her DNA suggests most of her ancestors lived in what is now modern-day Nigeria (Lower Niger Valley). You can see the chart below.

 

DNA Land Ancestry composition report

 

The discussion flowed over from the weekend into Ginjan Bros weekly staff meeting where we started discussing the origins of Ginjan. Mohammed and Rahim Diallo, the company founders (the brothers in Ginjan Bros.) grew up in Guinea where ginger was a staple in their diet, often in the form of the traditional ginger juice common in Guinea, locally known as “Ginjan” (spelling varies – Ginjan is our proprietary version). Ginger drinks weren’t (and still aren’t) something you’d go to the shops to purchase; rather they were made at home and in restaurants with each family hewing to a traditional formulation handed down as part of an oral tradition over many generations. Because of this, the taste of ginger juice varies widely from village to village and house to house. So far as Mohammed and Rahim were concerned, though, their mom’s juice was by far the best and it’s her formula that formed the basis of our company’s flagship product today, GINJAN.

While Guineans may think that ginger juice is original to their country, in actual fact there are many variations throughout West Africa, where ginger root is widely cultivated and is a dominant spice in local cuisine. Ginger juice can be found throughout villages and cities in creatively recycled vegetable-oil bottles. It’s often called ginger beer, but it’s non-alcoholic.

West African ginger is extra strong, so some formulations will have your eyes watering, while others go very heavy on the sugar. Ultimately it’s a matter of taste and that varies from country to country, village to village, and in all honesty person to person. One thing we’ve found, though, is that Ginjan Bros. GINJAN is consistently popular with people from countries with a strong tradition of ginger consumption (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean) as well as those from countries where ginger is imported (Europe, North America).

How We’re Building Ginjan – Building From Scratch: Part 1 – Intro

In many ways, the idea that became the basis of Ginjan Bros, the company, had been years in the making.

Long before we knew what our first product would be. Long before we had a logo, a website, a legal entity or, extremely supportive customers that fuel us day-in and day-out, by shelling out monies they worked extremely hard to earn, just to support what we’re doing. The whole process has been humbling in ways we could never truly communicate through words. But, one of the greatest experiences we’ve been having has little to do with the product(s) we sell; you see, once we put our product on the market, and started showing some signs of gaining traction, however small, folks started reaching out to us with questions. Lots of questions!

Questions about how we got started; how we chose our legal entity; how we secured a distributor; How we got into Whole Foods; how we won the FedEx Grant & American Entrepreneurship Award; how we… You get the idea.

These questions come from folks looking to enter the food and beverage space we operate in, and as many other industries as you can imagine. Because in many ways, we all have a million dollar idea. But either life’s circumstances, or fear of the unknown keeps many of us from throwing “caution” out the window and going for it. So when we started to think about the type of material we want to share with you, we wanted it to not only be about the values our company and products espouse, but also about something practical to you. Hopefully you find it useful, or at least entertaining.

So, this series will be about every aspect of building a business, to the best of our knowledge. We’re learning as we go, and we’ll share those learnings with you. If you find flaws in our thinking, or have a better take on what we share, we’ll be very eager to hear from you. We’ll talk about business from ideation to exit/legacy.

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Grand Ideation Phase.

To start you off, we’ll be covering everything Brand and Design, click below to read.

 

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