I was swinging an empty coffee urn in each hand and scanning the display booths for smoked fish or chocolate samples as I strolled down one of the American product aisles of New York City’s Fancy Food Show, when I noticed a young man slumped on a stool behind a bar-height table. Probably the smallest individual exhibition space available in the convention center, the surface was covered with a bright red tablecloth and there were five handsomely labeled single liter bottles filled with something red and a stack of paper tasting cups lined up across the front edge. Flanked on either side by large displays manned by noisy crews of fellow exhibitors busily preparing for a night on the town, the solitary young man looked drained, leaning heavily on his folded arms.
His eyes caught mine as I came closer, and when I returned his gaze in the universal trade-show signal of willingness to engage, he wearily offered me a taste of his product. He told me a little about the inadvertent development of what I took to be some kind of vegetable juice, it’s wildly popular initial reception in his hometown, and the subsequent start of the business. Growing more animated, he described it as “a tomato-based mélange of fruits and vegetables” that could be used in many kinds of sauces, “And,” he added, now with a salesman’s twinkle in his eye, “it makes a mean Bloody Mary!” When I asked him if he was having a “good show”, he gave half-hearted thumbs up.
The concoction was delicious, and for me a refreshing contrast to what seemed like the thousands of samples of salted caramels and stuffed olives that I had consumed over the previous seven hours. I took a card, vowing to track it down and use it to wow my husband with the world’s best gazpacho. As I took my leave, I offered to bring him some Mokk-a® coffee on my next trip to the washing up station, since being alone, he clearly couldn’t leave his post. Nodding, he said, “Thanks, I need it!” When I passed his aisle again, my pal was busy with what looked like possible customers, but gratefully acknowledged the two little cups of Café Holland that I balanced on top of a suitcase at the back of his space.
Mokk-a® had an excellent show; the fith we’ve been in. We served hundreds of cups of coffee to people (and one bear – see photo) from every corner of the fine food industry. Restaurant owners, supermarket magnates, chefs, graphic designers, social media specialists, bakery, delicatessen, chocolate and gourmet shop owners, inventory management software salespeople and Culinary Institute students all sipped and strolled through our space, giving the coffee rave reviews. Karen (see photo – not bear) listened to salespeople and distributors who all expressed ideas for the Mokk-a® brand, from an artisanal gelato maker who wants to turn it into a signature dessert, to a former Swedish model who wants to import Café Svenska back into Sweden to distribute through her chain of gourmet grocery stores.
On the last afternoon of the show I saw the tomato juice man again. He hailed me cheerfully, thanked me for the coffee the day before (“I was nearly dead when you found me!”) and politely asked if Mokk-a® had had a successful show. I said we had, and he told me that the day before, he’d met with a distributor to supermarkets for the mid-west, and how suddenly optimistic he was about his fledgling brand’s future.
“Yesterday, I was beginning to think that I ought to have done pre-med the way my grandmother wanted me to, but if this deal comes through, I’ll really be in business!”
I congratulated him, and he speculated, “Since I drank those two little cups of coffee, everything is going great! I think the Mokk-a® was the turning point.”