At the Sunday farmer’s market behind the DMV on Claremont Avenue, Ross Chan is wearing an apron and parading around in front of his fresh juice stand like a ticket salesman at a circus. With a wide grin and a lot of goofy energy, the co-founder of Beet Generation poses with a tiny pumpkin in his hand then squirts drops of “blood” into paper Dixie cups for squealing children while practicing his Dracula cackle. The “blood” is actually beet juice – a Halloween-themed topping for Chan’s kid-friendly “spooky juice,” which is a non-threatening combination of apples, oranges and strawberries. As customers take their first sips of the juice, Chan yells, “Your cells are rejoicing!”
Chan’s fanatic love of fresh juice started a little over a year ago, when fatherhood sent him on a health binge. A self-proclaimed “closet vegetarian,” Chan decided to start eating less meat and more raw fruits and vegetables after he and his wife, Margaret Ng, adopted their daughter, Brooklyn, now 17 months.
“I started to think about the future and my baby girl’s future and I wanted our best lives together,” Chan said. “We started our family really late. So that’s what started me thinking about taking better care of myself.”
To add to his new raw food regimen, Chan began making fresh juice at home. Today, he swears the juice has worked wonders for his health.
“Not only do I feel better personally, I’m just a better person to be around,” Chan said. “I don’t have the skin issues I used to have and I have more energy now than I ever did – even when I was in my twenties.”
Chan, who works full-time in advertising for the TV channel CBS, was doing a TV campaign about local food scenes when he met Ron Parvini, the executive director of the Urban Village Farmer’s Market Association and fellow homemade juice maker. When a mutual friend suggested Chan and Parvini talk about setting up a juice business, the pair jumped at the opportunity to work together.
“We deliberately and specifically chose Oakland. The food scene in Oakland is really awesome. Just being a part of that community was really important to me and my partner,” Chan said.
They funded Beet Generation out of their own pockets, buying an industrial blender, a set of plastic bins for hand washing stations, pounds of produce, and aprons embroidered with a red beet logo, among other essentials.
But the nuts and bolts of running the small juice stand proved more daunting than Chan anticipated.
“People start out with a great idea and a lot of enthusiasm but actually starting and running your own business is a lot of nitty gritty details,” Chan said. “It’s hard – especially when it’s a second job.”
Administrative details like incorporating with the state of California, or understanding workers compensation and tax rules are a full-time job by themselves, he noted.
Since fresh juice is not considered a prepared food, it’s not regulated under regular Cottage Food Laws, which dictate the rules for small businesses that cook, can, or bottle food stuffs for sale. Instead, Beet Generation is considered a temporary food facility, which means it is subject to periodic inspections from county health officials.
“The health inspectors sort of come unannounced and make sure that you have your permit, that you have your hand washing system set up, make sure you’re handling your product, check for cross contamination, that whole thing,” said Chan.
Though running a weekly juice stand isn’t the most lucrative business model, Chan said it allows him to test drive the product before growing his business into the daily operation he hopes to run.
“It’s a great way to connect with customers and to get product feedback,” Chan said. “We get an immediate sense of what works and what doesn’t.”