Faces Behind the Food: Caroline Mak of Brooklyn Soda Works
Incorporating elements of the emerging microbrewery scene in New York City and drink traditions from Hong Kong, Brooklyn Soda Works has revolutionized the conventional soda. In this week's installment of Faces Behind the Food, co-owner Caroline Mak tells us about her internationally-inspired flavors like the popular lemongrass and lime. Caroline also shares how working as an installation artist has informed her new food career in helpful ways. For hours and locations of all of our vendors, see High Line Food.
Tell us about yourself and your passion for food and drink, including any fun or unusual facts that we might not know. (Any secret talents, perhaps?)
I’m from Hong Kong, a city with endless food offerings that have inevitably informed my own palette choices. In Hong Kong, many people brine lemons, which gives them a distinct taste. In diners, it's common to get a wedge of brined lemon in your soda. Inspired by this Hong Kong custom, we brine our own lemons every winter, and every spring, we have a salted lemon & ginger sparkling soda. We brew the brined lemons with fresh ginger juice. The result is a salty, gingery, fizzy drink with a hint of sugar.
I started the company with my partner, Antonio, three years ago. We were trying to create the perfect dark and stormy. We were really excited about the emerging microbrewery and cocktail scene. We wanted to do something exciting with non-alcoholic drinks that also make great mixers for cocktails. There was no point in making soda the conventional way; the idea has always been to make soda with fresh ingredients. Most of our sparkling juices have over 80% fresh juices, for instance.
Antonio, a research chemist by practice, has done a lot of research in botanicals. He is currently working on how best to extract flavors. As an installation artist, I am used to working on large-scale projects with short deadlines. These skills prove useful as a small food business entrepreneur. Both of our professional lives have and continue to involve figuring out how to make things; working in a huge commercial kitchen is not a huge leap.
What do you love about your location on the High Line at West 16th Street?
Staying in touch with the seasons is our main inspiration for our drinks and this complements the dynamic of a park that changes with the seasons, too. On the High Line, we have red currant & tarragon; apple & ginger; and lemongrass & lime. In the summer, there is a massive bounty of ingredients to work with. Red Jacket Orchards farm provides us with fresh, beautiful apples, blueberries, black currants, and tart cherries. A very popular drink this summer is the watermelon & mint. The watermelon comes from a local farm in Formisano, NJ. All of our drinks are served from a keg, which is the best way of ensuring freshness.
It’s fantastic to be around other food vendors, too. We have a fun food-swapping system going on. I swap a cup of our soda for a deliciously smoked brisket sandwich. Blue Bottle Coffee folks give me a coffee for a fresh cup of juice. We’re lucky to have this community.
You interact with hundreds of customers each day. Share your favorite memory with us.
After the second year, I realized this is my career – it’s no longer a side passion. A very important aspect for me is making sure I remain connected to my audience. I do this by trying to get out into the front lines when I can. I love handing over a drink and watching customers’ immediate reactions. The High Line has the most number of international visitors than any of our other locations. There are some fruits that resonate with certain countries. Like red and black currants—from Wilklow Orchards in upstate NY—that our visitors from France adore. People get excited when they see we have adapted drinks, customs, and ingredients from their countries. I love that I can get that kind of reaction from my customers.
Brooklyn Soda Works is located on the High Line at West 16th Street. Through September, it will be open daily from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM.