Charming Good Lucks
Nestled on the campus of a Korean American church in Granada Hills, there’s a neighborhood cafe that’s open to the public on weekends. Walking in, you’d think you were in an effort-filled designed space run by dreamy upstarts. Espresso machine, pour over set ups, a coffee roaster, and handmade mugs are at the ready. It’s fresh and pretty with views of single family homes and the valley beyond. The coffee is brewed pour-over style with professional barista skills. It’s where the folks at closely located House Roots Coffee got their start and it’s the exact spot that the duo of high school friends, Chris Hahn and Annie Seo, “brew” their line of handmade beverages called Good Luck Soda.
Their line is unlike the corporate tooth-rotting, corn syrup concoctions whom have somehow existed for over century. But as Coca-Cola stock nudges higher and our nations waistline upticks at the same pace, it’s refreshing to hear about new “third wave” flavors that capture the “need for natural” of discerning food mavens. Grapefruit Rosemary, Lavender Lemonade, Cold Brewed Hibiscus, and Apple Ginger are just some of the concoctions you’ll see on the Good Luck Soda website.
By Eric Nakamura
Photos by George Ko
Both Korean American and raised in “The Valley,” Chris and Annie didn’t grow up with soda. Annie relates, “My household didn’t have that many to begin with. My early experience was with Jones. It was the beginning of artisanal soda.” Remember Jones? It’s the brand that sometimes printed people’s photography on the label and if there’s such thing as a soda timeline, they’re the “second wave” post Coke, Dr Pepper, and the many who didn’t make it. Jones Soda boasts fun flavor names, yet the drink colors are unnerving and unnatural and resembles wiper fluid and Ectoplasm.
For Chris, his entry into soda came via an exciting path from college at the California Institute of the Arts in Southern California. He ran a home-brew beer speakeasy out of his studio. In fact, he spent every dollar on home brew equipment to get his quality up, and his photography major sounded more like a minor. Yet Chris explains that it’s not only about the process of making, there’s an element of sharing that transcends the final product. He mentions “social practice” and “sharing a pint of beer with someone.” This led him to the path of wanting to open a craft brewery. Yet expenses were too high and he couldn’t continue the lawless practice of running a speakeasy so he turned his passion into soda. It’s similar to beer in some ways and he was able to use the same gear. “Fruit juice acts as the malt, and rosemary acts as the hops. I was looking up to Mikkelar in Denmark and Stillwater, a gypsy brewer and the weird things they add to beer.”
For a special event at House Roots Coffee, their friend and owner Jimmy invited them to debut a new product, which prompted Chris to team up Annie, a Parsons School of Design Illustration grad: their team and brand was born. The responses were overwhelmingly positive and valuable - especially from their barista friends and cafe owners who asked to offer their products on their own menus.
When holding a bottle of Good Luck, it’s evident that there’s natural elements. Fruit zest might be at the bottom and there’s an expiration date. During our visit, we catch them making Orange Cream soda, which uses real vanilla beans and of course real oranges. Annie works on the vanilla beans from Mexican vanilla pods which has a “smokier flavor” according to Chris, while a Tahitian vanilla bean will be a lot more “floral.” The specks at the bottom of a bottle of Orange Cream? Chris says, “black dots mean they’re the vanilla seeds we scrape ourselves.”
The duo prides themselves with local farm fruit sourcing, mixing, and bottling by hand. We witness their work flow from the squashing of fruit which gives them “buff arms” to the boiling and extraction of herbs which can take anywhere from 2 to 48 hours. They boast no artificial flavors or fruit extracts and only 100% real fruit.
Making new flavors is like a beer making process according to Chris. They start with the fruit and then they add its “adjunct,” which is the grain in beer. Annie compares, “It’s similar to coffee, what are we tasting here. What’s the body and what are the notes?” Then Chris carefully explains, “The experience of drinking it should have “fluctuations like a wave.” He adds, “The initial flavor to the journey to the body to the finish. It shouldn’t be just one linear flavor.”
Both add that having a Korean American upbringing meant a mix of flavors and foods that led to their “delicate” soda flavors. Annie tells, “We grew up trying different foods on the table, not just one bowl of rice, or one meat plate. As a Korean, there’s so much panchan (side dishes)." She adds, “We want to experiment and experience everything all together at once, not just one thing.”
Yet things can go awry with natural elements and mixing them. On a previous soda build, they worked with honeydew which changed from that nice pretty light green to a brown. The Cantaloupe Thai Basil didn’t make it to a second taste. Once, their lavender didn’t give off the right look for their “Lavender Lemonade”; it was a batch that got donated. “The main part of why we’re proud of this product is the lavender naturally dyes it to be pink.” says Annie. Instead it ended up a “weird yellow,” and the batch was ruined. Their attention to detail also runs into their packaging which is all designed by Annie and matches the natural flavors. They also do this by hand.
Batches can also change from the previous and customers taste and notice different elements. It can get brighter than the previous, meaning a sharper flavor, and that’s how handcrafting a drink can work. They’re also the ones delivering the drinks to their vendors - another great touch that enriches and endears their brand.
Upcoming flavors might someday include Cola which is the “holy grail” according to Chris and how that’ll take a lot of work and something that can’t be “half assed,” according to Annie. They talk Sarsaparilla, and many other fruits in the future.
After speaking with them and watching them work, it’s evident that this project is more than just soda: it’s a path that’s not easily traveled. The duo work with satisfaction and “hope” for a wave as strong as coffee, although the word “hope” is said was a grin and laughter. Annie is more realistic and says “it’s more like carbonated juice” and if compared to coffee it won’t be as huge. However Good Luck does have a relation to the wave of juices. Chris echoes that they’re “the weird cousins” to the juices. “We can act as the guilty pleasure of the health nut who drinks the cold press juice, but this can satisfy their sweet tooth.”
When asked if Asian Americaness seeps into their sodas, the duo mentions “hospitality” more than once. This includes speaking with shop owners, explaining, hand making, and simply caring perhaps just a little bit more. “You have to break your back at times to do what you do for the greater good.” says Chris. The duo adds their personal stories to their products and it’s even in their title.
It turns out that the naming of Good Luck is a story on its own. While searching for names, they came up with ideas that stemmed from Annie’s idea of wanting to use a “human hand” in the design. This led them searching through emojis and they liked the idea of crossed fingers which soon led them to Good Luck and ironically, Chris’s long abandoned beer name was “Bad Luck Brewery.”
Checkout their soda's here.