A Time for Juicing with Tomgirl Juice Co.
Gabrielle Kammerer is just 32 years old, but already her culinary curiosity has sent her from Chicago to Virginia, from studies at the French Pastry School to work as a creator of fancy cakes and chocolates.
During the years she meticulously crafted pastries, Kammerer found excitement in the “joyful side of food, the reward side,” yet always brought whole fruits and vegetables for her lunch, never a sandwich. One day, she had an epiphany: She didn’t really like sugar.
“The energy you get from fruits and vegetables is what’s vital,” Kammerer said. It’s with this mindset that she embarked on a photography project featuring fresh produce. Her diary entry sketches, which began in tandem with the photography, featured a food truck and the thousand other “what ifs” associated with a culinary business plan. Numerous concepts tumbled out of her imagination into her notebooks.
“It was a wild buildup of ideas and drawings,” Kammerer said. “There was no money for research and development, so I built a business plan with a pencil and paper and a vision for the future along with a menu of services. I became addicted to the idea.”
One of her first experiments took place in her own kitchen. She concocted a glass of aloe vera water.
“I suddenly created this drink that was sparkling and effervescent. Full of mint and cilantro and fresh-pressed organic lime juice.” It was delicious, but Kammerer found herself at a crossroads: Would her business become a sparkling water or juice company?
After visiting farmers’ markets and finding inspiration in the vivid colors of ripe tomatoes, the answer to that question as well as the name of said venture became blazingly apparent. She delighted in the brilliant hues of the lush, seed-filled fruit. With this revelation, came the conclusion that the juicy tomato would be the “Tom” to Gabrielle, the “girl.”
Kammerer came to Burlington on a whim. A good friend had regaled her with stories of Burlington’s bounty of apple orchards and berry-picking operations and it seemed like the ideal spot to execute her plan.
After her arrival, she began working a number of different jobs, including produce stocking at City Market, where she was introduced to local purveyors and learned how to clean produce in large quantities. Then, one evening, she was invited by a friend to sell her juices at an art opening in the South End of Burlington.
Given her high-volume production kitchen background, she quickly set to work making five gallons of each juice. The juices were placed in tall jars to inspire the creative impulse in people who approached her. Mixing and matching was encouraged so that each drink became that customer’s unique blend, or “Tomgirl.”
“Every menu item is a Tomgirl; everything can be personal because it’s a creative company, it’s all about you, your health, learning, education and finding your source of energy,” Kammerer said.
While Kammerer met with success at the event, she did have quite a bit of juice leftover, so she decided to load up an old Pepsi cooler and head to the Church Street Marketplace. She traversed the cobblestone block, asking people if they’d like to buy a homemade organic juice for $5. Afterward, she took the cooler by a yoga studio when a class was being released and, again, asked if people wanted to purchase a juice. This initial effort of simply hitting the streets to engage in self-marketing set the wheels of Tomgirl in motion.
Within a three-day span, Kammerer found and purchased a turquoise 1971 pickup truck, a juice cart and secured a spot to sell her juices on summer nights after 6pm behind the April Cornell building on Battery Street.
Now, Kammerer offers a number of services and products: fresh juice delivery (gifts, surprises, personal health); guided and custombuilt seasonal juice cleanses of many different varieties, each specific to the person; fresh juice catering; and outdoor events.
“I started the company alone and remain the primary owner-operator,” Kammerer said. “I do, however, have a creative director, best friend, designer and business partner: Jonathan Mikulak. He’s amazing. Other interns and barters have also been in the mix.”
The majority of her orders come from people seeking a three- to seven-day juice cleanse. The primary component of the regimen is a beverage consisting cayenne, lemon and maple syrup.
“It’s an effortless way to flood the system with nutrients,” Kammerer said. Individuals call or email with their orders and set an appointment for pickup or delivery. Kammerer works to customize the juices to diet specifications. She also takes the time to dialog with customers to make sure they are mentally and emotionally prepared to take on a cleanse.
Environmental consciousness permeates her business from her sole use of organic produce to the transformation of juice skins into teas. Many ingredients are bought one at a time and others are bought in bulk from local purveyors, such as Black River Produce, Diggers Mirth, Arethusa and Half Pint Farms.
Since Kammerer officially launched Tomgirl Juice Co. in Burlington in June 2012 and became a vendor at Summervale that July, her popularity has grown. She can often be seen delivering juices in a milk crate secured to the back of her bike (which she did even through the ice storms of December and January), donning her signature long floral dresses and cap.
Soon, aside from sampling Tomgirl juices at Summervale and in CSAs, lunch goers at the Innovation Center in Burlington will be able to sip a delicious juice when Kammerer begins sharing space with Bluebird Coffee Stop’s Lakeside Avenue location.
Kammerer’s advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business?
“Get really specific about what you want and have fun with it. Play imagination.”
It took two full years for Kammerer to really visualize her business and develop a timeline, but due to her unwavering determination, Tomgirl has taken off.
“I had to trust myself. When I was 29 and moved to Burlington with a one-way ticket and a vision of starting this business, I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, but knew it had to.”
Kammerer, naturally effusive, added, “I believe in dreams!”