David Gin started making his Real Früt juice drinks in college. Growing up in Indiana, he went to a lot of county fairs and always sought out fresh-squeezed lemonade. It was sweet, refreshing and delicious, but the junior marketing and finance major at Indiana Wesleyan University thought he could do it better. So he and some friends began experimenting with organic sugar mixes and flavor combinations. Their small, Christian evangelical campus in Marion was dry, so they sold strawberry lemonade shake-ups at parties and became a hit.
But when he graduated in 2008, Gin traded his almost-startup for a gig at J.C. Penney. His juice business sat on ice for three years, but Gin never really squeezed the entrepreneurial urges out of his head. By 2011, he was living in Cleveland and ready to make it work. So he bought a tent and took his lemonade and berry fruit drinks to festivals and fairs, where he caught the attention of the North Union Farmers Market. Last year he did two markets. This year? Eight.
That's where I met Gin — on opening day of the Kamm's Corners Farmers Market in June. (His shake-up performance was hard to miss.) Now in its seventh year, the Kamm's market is also where I discovered Gray House Pies and Mason's Creamery. All three are among this year's Best of Cleveland winners. And that's significant: The customer interaction, immediate feedback and low overhead at farmers markets make them great places for entrepreneurs to innovate and launch a business.
Gin noticed the difference in farmers market customers very early on. "Not only do they respect where their food comes from, but they're willing to try things," he says. "They're willing to support a lot of local companies."
Those same qualities helped fuel the rise of the gloriously eclectic Cleveland Flea (also a Best of Cleveland winner). Like many entrepreneurs there, Gin hopes to open a storefront. Yet he has no plans to abandon the markets. It's a part of his youthful company's DNA. "It's just a good connecting point," he says.
In the same way, creativity, craftsmanship and mutual support are growing parts of our city's culture. "People in Cleveland, not only do they have the vision," says Gin, "but they're willing to put in the work and go after it."