Jason Poole hunches over the computer in his cramped office, his face turning flush like the color of a nearly ripe tomato. It hasn’t been a good morning.
Poole imagined that his Preservation & Co. near the corner of 19th and Q streets would open in the summer of 2013. The business is fashioned as a production center for his award-winning Bloody Mary mix, along with a line of pickled vegetables and other preserved goods using Sacramento-grown ingredients. It’s a retail storefront and commercial kitchen that he foresees as a production hub for Sacramento’s culinary scene.
But now, this: Poole’s just learned the walk-in cooler that cost him $13,000 might not be compliant with city code. Though he held a grand opening party on June 22 to show off the 3,000-square-foot space, it’s not officially open until the city Powers That Be issue all the proper permits. And with the walk-in issues, Poole’s not exactly sure when Preservation & Co. can open to the public – maybe by the end of July.
Preservation & Co.’s commercial kitchen, meanwhile, looks like a mini Home Depot, with stacks of cardboard boxes, assorted toolboxes and contractors darting in and out to ask Poole questions about air-flow issues.
“It’s like a war zone in here,” said Poole, who’s been at the shop since 6 a.m. and looks like he could sure go for a Bloody Mary to relax.
Poole, 30, knew that opening his first business wouldn’t be easy. But he didn’t expect the onslaught of curveballs, with unforeseen construction issues and unexpected expenses.
Preservation & Co., situated in a former auto shop, needed new sewer lines to satisfy city code. Poole raised more than $35,000 through two Kickstarter campaigns and the pockets of investors to pay for construction costs and equipment.
“I know this sounds foolish looking back now, but we were hoping to get open in six to eight months,” said Poole. “Then it took 10 months just to get the permits. Luckily enough, the landlord was incredibly understanding and gave me a very reasonable lease. If I was having to pay rent that whole time, we never would’ve opened the doors.”
Poole established the Preservation & Co. brand in 2011 while he served as general manager for midtown’s Pour House, which is just around the corner. Then he won a statewide Bloody Mary competition sponsored by Absolut Vodka and earned runner-up in the national finals, using his house-made mix.
Making enough of the mix, especially when he decided to sell it retail, meant pulling all-nighters in the Pour House kitchen. Poole knew he’d need his own dedicated commercial kitchen, not just one borrowed once the crowds had gone for the night.
Preservation & Co.’s Bloody Mary mix was later picked up by Southern Wine and Spirits in October, a leading distributor. This Sacramento-made mix can now be found in 120 California locations, including Total Wine & More and select Raley’s and Nugget Market locations.
By then Poole had learned the hard way about the importance of proper packaging. Thirty percent of his Bloody Mary mix jars had broken while being shipped as thank-you gifts to Kickstarter campaign backers. That meant an unplanned investment in customized cardboard containers.
“In my past of shipping household stuff, if you bubble-wrap it and throw the (packing) noodles in there, it gets there,” said Poole. “But when you’re dealing with heavy liquid product in a glass jar, it’s just not ample. ... I’d get a photo of a box still dripping.”
Despite broken jars and construction challenges, Poole remains optimistic for Preservation & Co. and its emphasis on local specialty foods. He has expanded the product line to balsamic beets, hot sauces, pickles, Sriracha salt and more. These and similar goods from boutique Northern California companies will be available at Preservation & Co.’s rustic retail shop.
“I had $108 in my business bank account when this all started,” said Poole. “I’m frightened pretty frequently. But what’s really got me through those tough days of being down and stressed out are the people around here. We’re always making a bit of progress, but it’s just been slower than we’d hoped.”
Poole plans for his kitchen to be used by local chefs and bartenders who will re-create their signature sauces, mixers and other products in batches large enough for retail sales. He’s also aiming to hold pickling classes and invite other local culinary professionals to teach seminars.
With final hurdles overcome, Poole hopes that the kitchen will open soon. Jars of balsamic beets and Bloody Mary mix await.