Reuben Canada's Jin-Ja ginger beer (ginger, cayenne, lemon, mint, green tea, sugar, non-carbonated, non-alcoholic), brewed at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center down in Bridgeton, retails for $16 a .75-liter bottle, $9 for .375L, which is about three times as expensive as the wines I buy.
"It's a high price. We struggled. The first week, nobody bought it," says Ezekiel Ferguson, a manager at Di Bruno's on Ninth Street.
"But then we got him out here and did some samplings. And when people noticed the taste, all the strong flavors, we sold a ton of it. He sold three cases that Saturday. Then two and a half cases that Sunday." That was in May.
Canada is also moving product through Essene, the Swarthmore Co-op, Pumpkin Market, Martindale's, Bacchus Market, Food and Friends, Aunt El's, and, soon, the Whole Foods up in Princeton, among other sites. Sales are "encouraging," he told me. "We are on pace to outgrow the production capacity of our current facility" -- 10,000 cases a year -- "by the third quarter."
He employs 8 production worker and has built a staff of five salespeople, plus himself.
Canada tells me he funded the business through his own savings. His friends say he studied engineering at Swarthmore and worked awhile as a patent lawyer at Woodcock Washburn. "Patent lawyers are paper-pushers. But Reuben is very bright, he's eccentric, he's creative," and it's not surprising he's gone into a retail business, says Nolan G. Shenai, a lawyer at Thorp Reed & Armstrong who's been advising Jin-Ja.
Canada says he's financed Jin-Ja from his own savings, from a couple of years of frugal living (no cable TV), and from timely investments in Sirius XM radio and Lululemon, the yoga-pants maker: "I maxed out my 401(k)."