Meet the Producer: Bruce Cost
Founder and CEO of BCGA Concept Corp., New York, NYuser rating
Bruce Cost’s affection for ginger blossomed in 1984, when he wrote Ginger East to West, an award-winning cookbook that traced the origins of ginger, its journey around the world and the beginning of ginger ale. Twenty years later, he’s the maker of Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale, made with only fresh ginger—no extracts or oils—and pure cane sugar. The unfiltered drink is the natural pale yellow-green color of fresh ginger. Originally, Cost served an herbal version of his ginger ale to patrons at his Monsoon restaurant in San Francisco. Later, minus the herbs, the ginger ale became a staple of Cost’s Ginger Island in Berkeley and Ginger Club in Palo Alto, Calif.
In 1995, Cost moved to Chicago to start the restaurants Big Bowl and Wow Bao with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and brought along his recipe for fresh ginger ale. Handmade on the premises in 11 restaurants, it became a signature item that has since sold an estimated 3 million drinks. Now this spicy, refreshing specialty drink is widely available at retail, in three vibrant flavors: Original Ginger, Jasmine Green Tea and Pomegranate. —Denise Shoukas
Cost shared more of his story with us:
What was your inspiration for writing Ginger East to West?
My field is Asian food (primarily Chinese), and ginger is the ultimate herb/medicinal/ culinary ingredient. Plus, it has a great story as it went from cuisine to cuisine around the world—the spice trade was almost like today’s oil market—and was a great vehicle for a cookbook with history.
After so many years of serving your ginger ale in your restaurants, why did you decide to bottle it for retail?
I’ve wanted to for years. The timing was right and my partner in the venture, Terry Tang, has the manufacturing means to do it in his Brooklyn factory.
What is the most challenging or satisfying part of your job?
With no experience in the field, the most challenging part has been introducing a product that is unfiltered, has sediment and sells for a retail price about 50 percent higher than others—in a market that sees around 300 new entries each year. The most satisfying part is that it’s been recognized on “The Today Show,” and in Food & Wine, and The New York Times, and it’s spreading rapidly, especially among a younger customer base.
If someone could shadow you for one day at your job, what would surprise that person most?
That there are only two of us who run this company full time (Jenny Chen and I), and that we’re all new to this, but we have a great time.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I can tell you it wasn’t “Chinese food authority!”
Aside from your products, what three food items can you always find in your kitchen?
Various chilies (I use them fresh and dry them), Kadoya sesame oil and 3 Crabs Fish Sauce.