Ouzon Soda takes taste of Greece nationwide
Rochester couple markets an award-winning anise-flavored soda
It could just as easily have been a natural diaper service.
In 2009, not long after Phil and Anastasia Broikos moved from Queens to his hometown of Penfield, the couple decided to leave their jobs in law and marketing, respectively, and go into business for themselves. The nature of that business was less important than the chance to meld Phil’s creative savvy (he made their wedding rings by hand and fixes their computers) with Anastasia’s mind for details. “Basically, I’m in charge of anything that involves Excel,” she says. Anastasia was on maternity leave at the time, which is why diapers came to mind. But another local company beat them to that idea.
Instead, they shifted their attention to … ouzo-flavored soda. Ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif, is practically the national beverage of Greece, so it was a natural for the couple, who met at a Greek Orthodox youth ministry conference in Chicago in 2002. Thus was born Ouzon Soda (pronounced “OO-zone”), which won an award from Beverage World magazine in 2011 and is about to become available in Cost Plus World Market stores across the country.
Phil heads to the Finger Lakes town of Dundee a few times a year to make the syrup, which came together with a minimum of trial and error. “Without going into too much detail,” he explains, “we basically make a tea out of star anise and then use that as the basis for the syrup,” along with cane sugar and other natural flavorings. At that point, it’s just a matter of mixing the syrup in triple-filtered sparkling water.
Their initial test market was the 2010 Rochester Greek Festival; they arrived that June armed with 200 cases, the smallest order their bottler would accept, and an official name: OPA! Originals, Inc. At first, volume was confined to however many cases Phil could load into a van and bring to Greek and Mediterranean festivals around the country. But when a Pittsburgh, Pa. distributor of Greek foods called them to ask about distributing Ouzon, they began to think of a broader audience.
Ouzon is available in a dozen states, and with 263 stores across thirty states, Cost Plus World Market should increase that number considerably. Anastasia’s spreadsheets have earmarked Denver as a logical market to saturate next. “The Greek market is always going to be near and dear to us,” she says. “But once we got that award, it became clear that we could take this in another direction. I mean, we’ve had people say, ‘This goes great with tandoori chicken.’” They’ve also been clued in to various vodka combinations, but the Broikoses need to take such claims on face value. Despite basing their entire business on replicating an aperitif, neither of them drinks alcohol.
While business is picking up rapidly, Phil and Anastasia are still able to run OPA! Originals without hiring additional staff. Space, however, is becoming an issue: Parts of the garage, the family room, and the basement have been marked off to keep their two young daughters away from the merchandise. But their interest has been piqued nonetheless. “Our older daughter stood up at pre-K graduation,” Anastasia says, “and when they asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, ‘I want to be a soda executive.’”
Ouzon Soda is available at these locations.
Eric Grode writes about theater for the New York Times and teaches in Syracuse University’s Goldring Arts Journalism Program.