Last January I published a piece on Alex Gomberg. Now, larger news outlets are beginning to take notice:
Prince of Pop
A 25-year-old is bringing the fizz back to the seltzer business
By DOREE LEWAK
Posted: 11:01 PM, March 23, 2013
From the shtetl-icious beverage staple of the old country, to ’60s dime-store pharmacy mainstay, seltzer has been part of the American carbonated beverage landscape for centuries. And it mounted a mean comeback 30 years ago, when Perrier conferred cool status on buying overpriced bottled water.
Even Bruce Willis and James Gandolfini caught the last seltzer wave in the early ’80s. The actors-in-the-making delivered the fizzy stuff while trying to make it big in New York.
After running out of fizz over the past decade or so, seltzer is being given new life by a new company, the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys.
Launched by Alex Gomberg, 25, in September, the BSB is a delivery service that’s equal parts throwback and painfully hipster, making Gomberg the hot new whippersnapper on the seltzer delivery circuit. Make that the only whippersnapper on the circuit and, easily, the youngest seltzer man in the country — there are only a handful left.
The effervescent Gomberg has seltzer in his blood. Grandpa Pacey inherited his route in 1953 from great-grandpa Mo, who also founded and ran a seltzer filling station — the Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie, Brooklyn
Gomberg’s father, Kenny, 55, has run the seltzer plant for 30 years. It’s the last such business remaining in the city. He’s also one of Gomberg’s two partners, along with his uncle Irv.
In his modest office in the seltzer filling station that’s covered in loose parts — tops, washers and springs for his 3,000-strong bottle arsenal, some 50 years old — Gomberg pivots between two laptops and an iPhone. This seltzer man’s wheeling and dealing sure doesn’t look like his great-grandfather Mo’s business. “I don’t think they even had cell phones,” he muses. “Back then, seltzer men knew their customers. They knew the standing orders.”
But Gomberg sounds just as passionate about the trade as his forefathers: He wakes every morning at 4:30 with a mission: “To bring seltzer to the masses. To let people know that we’re still here, that we haven’t gone away.”
Alex, alone, makes the deliveries, with orders split between private homes — Gomberg’s marketing material taps into hipster sensibilities with buzzwords like healthy, sustainable, low-calorie, green — and commercial enterprises, including frou-frou eateries and bars and the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
“The yuppies are curious and want to know what it’s about.” New uptown hot spot and celeb magnet Arlington Club sells Gomberg’s seltzer for $12 a bottle.
Gomberg, who graduated last May from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a master’s in higher education, saw room to grow in the family business. His dad had been turning away potential clients who inquired about delivery.
“This was an opportunity I had to grab,” says the younger Gomberg, who claims he’d gladly grab a cold one (seltzer) over a brewski any day.
“Nobody pushed me to do it,” he says, adding that he dreams of opening up an egg cream stand at Barclays Center. His passion speaks for itself. “[Seltzer] was soda,” he says reverentially about its prominent place in American households during its ’50s and ’60s heyday. “We are bottling nostalgia,” he says as he counts his cases that sell for $35 for ten 26-ounce bottles with delivery.
“Customers are always telling me, ‘My grandmother always had a seltzer man!’ I’m just like the milkman,” he says with a shrug, before adding, “But we outlasted the milkman.”
Anne Wermiel/NY Post
Alex Gomberg, 25, co-founder of the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys.
He’s slowly building his client base, typically delivering several dozen cases a week. “It’s getting there,” says Gomberg, whose online marketing and social networking gambit nets him 80 per cent of his customers.
Barry Joseph, 34, a seltzer historian, from Forest Hills, who’s writing a definitive guide to all things seltzer, says he’s heartened by the so-called seltzer renaissance sweeping the country: A spate of posh restaurants are carbonating their own water and Eleven Madison Park has introduced an egg cream course, made with seltzer, to its tasting menu. The bubbles buff thinks the market is strong enough for new blood, as long as it’s not just the bubbes that Gomberg is schmoozing, but their grandkids too: “If his customers are older, he’s going to have a problem, but if they’re diversified — no one ethnicity — that will make it much more sustainable.”
So what is it about seltzer that’s so enduring?
“Good seltzer should hurt,” insists Alex. “You should feel it in the back of your throat — you shouldn’t be able to gulp it down. That tingly feeling is the bite.”
And no Passover seder is complete without the bubbly. “My mom always said the secret to good matzoh balls in seltzer — it makes them fluff,” Alex says. “The bubbles give it the lightness.”
With 60 pounds of pressure in each bottle, Gomberg regards the triple-filtered, CO2-infused carbonated drink in green, blue and clear glass bottles (with only metal caps) as works of art: “I’m a purist — metal’s the only way to do it; [they] look classier than the colored plastic ones.”
Gomberg has amassed an impressive personal vintage bottle collection from the world over, discussing antique siphons with the same excitement people have sharing a priceless baseball card collection.
Gomberg acquired 1,000 newly spruced-up bottles — a mix of American-made siphons from a mold and European-made ones in the thicker hand-blown tradition — to make up the 70-pound cases he routinely lugs three days a week, along a route that covers most of the boroughs.
And even though everyone from bubbes to their granddaughters would kill to take a spin with Alex in his truck, it’s too late — he’s getting married this spring, and he’s in luck: his future in-laws love seltzer. “I deliver it to her parents in New Jersey. I introduced them to old-fashioned seltzer. I said, ‘With me, you get seltzer for life.’ ”
So does he ever feel like he’s missing out on the glamorous banker and lawyer lifestyle of his friends? “Are you kidding? This is so unique — there’s no one else who does this! I feel proud to carry on this tradition,” he says before adding, “and it’s fun to squirt the bottles. That never gets old.”