Tomgirl Juice Co.
Words and Photos by Sarah Webb
Push through the wooden door on a still, cool morning, and you’re apt to find a coat of glowing condensation misting the windows: the buzzing energy inside heating the space from the inside, out. If you arrive early enough, you’ll hear NPR playing on the radio, an easy start to the morning before the switch is flipped to upbeat tunes to more energetically welcome the not-so-early-risers. But in the first hours of the morning, work is still on the quieter side at Tomgirl Juice Co. in Burlington, VT, as the team begins the daily rituals of supplying the Queen City with freshly made juices and raw foods.
Mornings had markedly changed over the past year for owner Gabrielle Kammerer. In 2009, Gabrielle set to creating her own company, one that started with a cart, cooler, carafes, bags of ice, and a rainbow umbrella pulled and spurred all across the city. With it, she brought the first organic, fresh-pressed juices to Vermont, and soon after created a delivery service via a trusty scooter.
While many raw food and juice-centered companies are built on our endless quest for a perfect frame or detoxification from “guilty” pleasures, Tomgirl began in an entirely different way: Gabrielle’s time as an exchange student in Mexico. As part of her Latin American art history studies, she spent time in Oaxaca and instantly fell head over heels for the culture’s aquas frescas — fresh juices. Immaculately displayed in culeros (oversized, beehive-shaped glass urns), the candy-like color spectrum of juices stood side-by-side, ready for tasting. “I was learning all the words for everything — sandía, ciruela, cerveza —and admiring this art form. I was 20 years old, I didn’t want to go out drinking, I just wanted scarves and watermelons!” exclaims Gabrielle.
Her exuberance was compounded by a daytrip with her exchange school partner, Mario. Each student in the English-speaking group was paired with a native Spanish-speaker. They would spend two hours together throughout the week, speaking one hour in English and one in Spanish. “Mario took me to the zocalo, the center of the city where everything meets and energizes,” Gabrielle explains. “We often drew pictures to communicate. He wanted to surprise me while we were there — a drink. We both took a sip, and I learned about the most amazing beverage, horchata. Horchata is a rice and almond milk with cinnamon, sugar, and occasionally melon. It was this cool, creamy, sweet, milky, crazy-awesome drink! Mario drew me the whole recipe. I was drinking something new, drawing it, and hearing about it all in this new language. I had aqua frescas at this point, but this was something new. This experience stuck with me forever.”
Through the evolution of many ideas and plans, Gabrielle realized she wanted to create a beverage-based company, but there were so many tantalizing options that it was difficult to hone in on exactly what she wanted to share with the world. A stroll in a farmers’ market sealed the deal: “I saw a table full of heirloom tomatoes, and I said to myself, ‘Why doesn’t tomato juice come in more colors?’” It wasn’t long thereafter that Gabrielle would braid together her memories of aguas frescas and appreciation of locally grown produce to create Tomgirl: a rainbow juice company dedicated the thoughtful consumption of color.
“Originally when I started Tomgirl,” Gabrielle remembers, “mornings were all about making a list of all the juices I needed to make, creating the order to make the juices, figuring out the quantities, handwriting all the labels, stamping on their “made on” date, washing the vegetables, and then I would start juicing. Now we have four people doing all of those jobs.” Mornings were full and breathless. As a promise to her ever-loyal customers, Gabrielle only delivered fresh juices to doorsteps and desks, and she kept to that promise by waking up before the sun and making juice from the first glint of dawn until it was ready to pack on the back of her scooter.
Gabrielle still delivers — albeit not always by scooter — but now with a team alongside her, she has had the mental space to think back to those early days of Tomgirl and recognize the purpose and intention that went into building something from the ground up. “Mornings in the beginning were very sacred,” Gabrielle describes. “I remember reading about mornings before even starting the company. I read to imagine what I would have to do to get Tomgirl off the ground, and I started role-playing in my mind.” Gabrielle knew early mornings, heavy lifting, and becoming the “ultimate morning person” would be the Tomgirl lifestyle. She took a position at a local food co-op to practice: “[The co-op] opens at 7AM, which meant I got there at 6AM, which meant waking up at 4:30AM. I woke up with the stars and traveled to work in the dark to have a place to be open for people who need a destination in morning. We all need a destination in the morning.”
With steady steps toward a brick and mortar, promptly open at 7AM for those who rise as early as Tomgirl, Gabrielle began willing the company into existence. “My dad is an artist,” Gabrielle explains, “and if I have learned anything from him it’s that practice makes perfect. So I adopted that idea in life. Not just drawing something a hundred times and you’ll get better at it, or make a croissant a thousands times to really know how to make a croissant, but wake up a thousand times early and then really know how to wake up. Put yourself in situations where you have to practice what you need. Being a business owner, I think you have to practice whatever it is you want your business to be before it becomes anything. You have to role-play and get into character. If you’re already the perfect person for your business, than you should already have your business. If you really want to create something, it means you and it are in the process of becoming.”
Tomgirl became the umbrella for all Gabrielle’s ideas and a channel to propel new ideas through. Her mornings may be quieter her now, with a team of creative, driven women alongside to also nurture Tomgirl and their customers, whom they all care for deeply. It is important to Gabrielle to not only create a company to house her own ideas, but to empower everyone who walks through the door: “There are a lot of“Skinny Chick” and “Slim Quick” and “Be Something You’re Not” and “Achieve Your Weight Loss Goals” companies, but there weren’t many “Be Yourself” companies. I made Tomgirl to be a “Be Yourself” company.