I’ve had what some might call an unconventional career to-date. I started out as an engineer at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, worked for 2 years on a trading floor for a big bank, then, became head of growth and later chief-of-staff for an online personal styling service.
But I feel confident saying that these seemingly unrelated work experiences have been instrumental in my latest role as founder of Sanzo.
Sanzo celebrates traditional Asian flavors through modern food & beverage products, and our first and flagship offering is the 1st Asian-inspired sparkling water. How did I arrive at this?
In 2016, my roommates were getting married to each other, and well, it was time for me to move out. I moved to Long Island City, Queens because I wanted to explore this borough of amazingly diverse and welcoming cultures and cuisines. Queens is also where my parents immigrated to in the 80s from the Philippines, and I thought it could be a great way for me to connect to some of their experiences.
Taking the 7 or E trains out to Woodside, Jackson Heights, Flushing and everywhere else in between helped elevate my food knowledge and also started making me wonder whether I could do something valuable to participate in the conversation.
On a trip to a popular Asian supermarket in Koreatown, I noticed a clear delineation between the “American” beverage section with its many iconic and on-trend brands and the “Asian” section, which I felt primarily tapped into nostalgia.
Turning cans and bottles over to the side panels, the calorie and sugar contents were gawdy, and the ingredient lists read like my organic chemistry class from college.
While I think it’s important to respect history and honor tradition, ultimately I felt there was some room for innovation and exploration. As I started thinking of different concepts to pursue, one in particular was staring at my face everyday. My previous job was at an e-commerce startup and naturally, our fridge was stocked with sparkling water.
After some digging, I noticed that the sparkling water market, whether targeting a premium or budget customer, mostly contained the same basic flavors: lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange. And almost everyone used “natural flavors” or “essences”, not the real stuff.
Perhaps most importantly, I felt that no one really had a unique story to share because most of the “brands” were just labels created by large multinational corporations.
So that’s why I started Sanzo -- to share stories. To celebrate flavors that are traditionally Asian and bring them to the forefront. And to do this by subtraction. No added sugars, no “natural” flavors, no preservatives, concentrates or food colorings. I believed this was the best way to honor the beauty and deliciousness of these flavors.
So far, while early, it seems there’s a growing community of folks who agree with what we’re doing. In particular, earning a spot on the menu on one of Dave Chang’s Momofuku locations was gratifying because of how much he has influenced my journey as an eater, an Asian-American, and now a founder.
This journey admittedly requires a lot of energy. I’m almost religious about making sure I get enough sleep because I think it’s critical to good decision-making. But inevitably, I look to additional sources for energy or a midday “pick me up”.
I usually enjoy a hot cup of black coffee in the morning in my apartment as I generally don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But if I’m having a mentally or physically strenuous day (lugging cases of sparkling water around New York City during the summer is no joke!), the RISE Oat Milk Mocha Nitro Cold Brew is how I RISE. I'll also sometimes swing by the RISE cafe in the Lower East Side when I'm in the neighborhood to catch a cup from the draft before hitting the pavement again.
Their Mocha Nitro Cold Brew Latte reminds me of the Starbucks mocha frappuccinos I used to enjoy during college, but with many fewer calories and much less sugar, and yet it still provides more than enough of the energy boost I need.