Super Jugoso: Making Making Drinks Easy
On an industrial block in West Oakland stands a gray building with wooden panels marked by a “Kramer’s Machine Shop” sign. There are not many bars in the immediate vicinity, let alone high-end cocktail joints. Rather, there are unmarked warehouses, their chipped paint faded by the sun. Inside the building, formerly an equipment repair shop, there’s an absence of alcohol. Instead, the space is filled with commercial kitchen equipment, glass bottles and produce. It doesn’t scream “cocktails,” but that’s exactly why they are here.
Welcome to Super Jugoso, which is in the business of “making making drinks easy." The firm provides juice and syrups to bars in San Francisco and the East Bay, with daily delivery (and pickup of empty bottles). It was founded in August 2017 by Daniel Shoemaker and Sean Hoard, who co-own a sister company, the Commissary, in Portland, Oregon. Traditionally, bars that use fresh ingredients, such as juice, syrup and shrub, make them themselves. Whether they employ prep people to juice fruit, require bartenders or barbacks (the support position to the bartender, akin to a busser or backwaiter) to do this before a shift, or offload the responsibility to the kitchen, everything has typically been done in-house.
In the early days of the cocktail revival, especially when the canon for recipes and ingredients was still being established, many bars took pride in making their own ingredients. This type of prep gave the bar control over the quality of their offerings and provided work for their staff. Now that the canon exists, bartenders can focus on creativity and management of their staff.
This is where Super Jugoso comes in. Its portfolio includes 50 products, including four types of citrus and a myriad of syrups that are commonly used in bar programs across the city, like ginger syrup and orgeat. Fresh citrus is really only good for 24 hours, a principle on which Super Jugoso is based. Since freshness and quality rapidly decline after this period, Super Jugoso swaps out new juice for old juice (or empty bottles) each day. Squeezing fresh juice often falls to barbacks.
“People often see barbacks as free labor, but they’re not—that’s not their area of expertise,” Shoemaker says. “So does the prep fall on them? Does it fall on the lunch bartender who works slow shifts? Does it fall to the curious bartender who will take their recipes with them when they leave? Our job is to take all of the mind-numbing work off of them and make everyone’s lives easier. We’re the invisible barbacks.”
It also comes down to cost. Accounting for the precise price of ingredients is difficult to control. “Everyone thinks that they know how much an ounce of lime juice costs, but no one actually knows. There is no easy answer for it. We take a quantifiable factor that we can control for, so you know where it’s coming from, the quality, and it’s consistent,” Shoemaker says. This is an attractive asset for many bars that need to be cost effective in a competitive market.
When they first started visiting the Bay Area to talk to potential accounts, Shoemaker and Hoard were concerned that bar managers might be reluctant to employ Super Jugoso’s services because of the pride involved in making ingredients in-house. However, the response they got was quite the contrary.
“There’s a do-it-yourself culture in the Bay Area, so the fear on our behalf was that people wouldn’t embrace what we were doing. But [in the current climate of San Francisco] it’s now pretty difficult to staff bartenders, and they definitely don’t want to do prep. While people are still interested in the freshness of ingredients, that it’s made from scratch, and the agricultural tracings of it, they are no longer concerned with doing it themselves,” Shoemaker says.
Given that there is a shortage of labor with the proliferation of cocktail bars and the high cost of living in San Francisco, not only is doing prep tedious but it takes away from the time that bar staff can focus on creativity and service, two things that make a program successful. “The collection of people in the Bay Area appreciate food and drink at a world-class level,” Hoard says. “So, operators here
are forced to operate at a world-class level. We make classic ingredients that we all agree are delicious in drinks. We leave the crazy colorful projects to the bartenders.”
He cites Kevin Diedrich, the owner of PCH—and one of Super Jugoso's first accounts—as the inspiration for this. “We want Kevin to be able to make his miso-butter-washed eight-year rum for his Miso Old Fashioned cocktail, and we can supplement the rest,” Hoard remarks.
“Super Jugoso just makes it easy for us to make great cocktails,” Diedrich says. “The cost of running a business is becoming more and more difficult. The service of syrups and juices that are delivered daily has helped us cut out some labor pains and to build a bar program around their services. It’s helped our prep people to concentrate on other responsibilities around the bar, too. Instead of worrying about daily syrups and juicing, they can spend time assisting the bar team.”
It was relationships like these that allowed Super Jugoso to hit the ground running when it opened. In addition to PCH, it counted the Slanted Door Group, the Absinthe Group and the Mina Group, and the Proper Hotel as early customers. In fact, Shoemaker had lived in San Francisco for years before moving to Portland. “I’ve been friends with a number of people who started the cocktail renaissance here, before we had a glint in our eye about any of this. This is like a homecoming for me,” he says fondly. The bar community in the Bay Area is small and tight-knit, so these connections were incredibly important for Super Jugoso’s early success.
It was also these relationships that led Shoemaker and Hoard to their general manager, Sarah Shaw, who oversees day-to-day operations. Shaw had been the manager of the Future Bars Group’s internal commissary and had met the pair through a mutual friend. After several conversations with them, she joined the team.
“I like how excited they are about this business,” says Shaw. “They have systems. They are detail-oriented, precise, organized and very professional. I saw what they are doing as an asset for the bar community.”
Shaw also saw that this could be an opportunity to help the local community by creating jobs, particularly for those who are marginalized. She’s been working with the Center for Employment Opportunities to hire people who were formerly incarcerated and have refugee status. The organization has a training program with internal requirements that foster accountability for those enrolled.
“This is a great business for people who might otherwise have trouble getting a job,” Shaw says. “We don’t require a lot of experience but we invest in training and provide a lot of support. We are interested in people, not just profit.” Though Super Jugoso is a small business and implementing a program like this can be a lengthy process, it has had a lot of success with the first person it hired and are working to grow the program.
With all of the world-class bars and restaurants in the area, it was only a matter of time before a business like Super Jugoso would open here. It helps that Shoemaker and Hoard have the expertise, knowledge of the local cocktail community, interest in seasonality and commitment to developing programs for social and economic welfare.
“It was a no-brainer for us to operate in such an amazing city,” Hoard says. “The Bay Area has welcomed us faster and more thoroughly than we ever anticipated.” Shoemaker adds, “We hope we grow in a symbiotic way with a community who embraces us.”
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Super Jugoso: Making Making Drinks Easy originally published in the Winter issue © 2018 Edible San Francisco. Photos © Angela de Cenzo.