Q+A W/ Founder, Sandro Rocco
Say bye-bye to basic; there is a new bubbly bev in town!
To our sip-prize, Sanzo didn’t offer your average flavors but rather Asian-inspired flavors. No shade to other sparkling waters, but Sanzo’s unique flavor profiles stand out from every other basic flavor on the market. With options like Lycée, Calamansi, and Mango, Sanzo is breaking the sparkling water flavor status quo.
Sanzo’s authenticity doesn’t stop at its Asian-inspired flavors. Committed to delivering real taste, Sanzo uses real fruit. It’s a win for your taste buds and your body. Bottoms up!
by CHLOE.: Hi Sandro! Thanks for chatting with us. Please introduce yourself.
Sandro Roco: I’m Sandro, founder of Sanzo. I was born in Flushing, Queens to Filipino immigrant parents, raised in Jersey and after a 7-year stint in the Philadelphia area for college and work, happily reside in New York City. Professionally, I’ve had what some might consider an unconventional career to-date. I started out as an engineer at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, worked for 2 years on a trading floor for a big bank, then became head of growth and later chief-of-staff for an online personal styling service.
bC: Tell us how it all began? With so many bubbly drinks on the market, what inspired you to join the battle of the bubbly with Asian-inspired flavors?
SR: It started on a trip to a popular Asian supermarket in Manhattan. Right when you walk in, you’re greeted by a large beverage shelf with many modern, clean-label “American” brands. And then, almost as if someone drew a line down the center, you get to the “Asian” beverage section that I felt, while great in their own right, were much more legacy and tapped into nostalgia.
I wanted to see if I could do something to plug that gap. And after a summer of tinkering in my kitchen, sparkling water felt like the best way to deliver a modern brand, while still respecting the heritage of these flavors.
bC: How would you describe Sanzo’s mission? What sets your brand apart from other sparkling water companies?
SR: Our mission is simple: to celebrate traditional Asian flavors through modern food & beverage products. Sparkling water is how we’re currently doing that, but our mission is so much more emotional and personal for me. For so long, so many of the flavors I’ve known and grown up with had been relegated to the ethnic aisle. Fortunately, Dave Chang, Anthony Bourdain and a slew of other chef/restaurateurs, food journalists and other industry folks have allowed Asian cuisine and culture to get its proper due.
And I just want to do my part in pushing the ball forward.
So we won’t ever develop a traditional lemon, lime or grapefruit flavor. We’re minority-owned, which I’m starting to see is an even bigger rarity in food & beverage than in tech. And I think that gives us an advantage because we can offer a different perspective on food and bring a different voice to the audiences we’re trying to attract.
bC: Sanzo uses “real fruit to produce real flavor.” Tell us about your decision to keep it real?
SR: I have several thoughts on this matter, but I’ll keep it to two haha.
One– I never understood how New Yorkers were willing to spend $15 on a lunch salad where they needed to know the name of the farm the lettuce came from, and then turn around and drink a beverage that was flavored with “essence” or lab-concocted sweeteners that are there to just game the nutritional label.
Two — I think a major reason a lot of Asian flavors/products get relegated to the ethnic aisle is because they’re so heavily laced with added sugars and preservatives. They’re too sweet for a population that I think is rightly starting to turn away from added sugars. But on a more personal level, those additives mask the elegant taste profiles of such a beautiful region of the world. So, the decision to keep it “real” was driven by my desire to present these fruits in the most unadulterated way I could.
bC: We are so excited to carry Sanzo in our stores! What excites you about working with by CHLOE.?
SR: Feel free to call me ignorant, but for a while, when I thought of what it meant to eat vegan, I had a one-tone picture in my mind of what that meant, what foods would be consumed, and maybe even the “branding” and “emotion” behind it. But, I think by CHLOE. really helped to change that conversation and add a different voice.
That’s what gets me excited. Your mission of “redefining what it means to eat well” is so aligned with our desire to change the conversation around Asian flavors. I feel like we’re kindred spirits — we enjoy challenging the status quos in our fields, asking how we can make things better, more equitable, and more representative.
bC: What is next for Sanzo? Where do you hope to see the company in the next five years?
SR: Between our partnership with by CHLOE. and our recent profile in New York Magazine’s Grub Street, things have taken off in a way that I’m not sure I could have imagined. So our short- and medium-term goals are to find the right investors (I’ve self-funded Sanzo to-date), more retail partners like by CHLOE. who get what we’re about, and offer Sanzo more conveniently to more areas of the country.
As for the next five years, my goal is for Sanzo to be a brand that Asian-Americans are proud to call their own and that non-Asian Americans are also proud to support. I want Sanzo to be more than just a beverage. I want us to have a voice and do good for the community. If we can do that, then regardless of the numbers I’ll be happy with the impact we’ve had. And of course, if we can eventually expand Sanzo to Asia, that would be the dream scenario.
bC: What is a piece of advice that you live by?
SR: It’s not so much a piece of advice but some self-realization I’ve come to over the last year through some life events. And basically, it’s to keep things in their proper perspective in life.
Though not great for my personal bank account, I’m so fortunate right now to be able to pursue Sanzo. But ultimately, what I do for a living doesn’t define who I am.
What I’m learning (and continuously re-learning) is that what’s most important is the relationships I have with those I love, that I’m paying forward the lessons and myriad coffee convos I have with other skilled founders, restauranteurs, investors, etc., and that I give back to a community that has given so much to me.
Nickname? Sandro is already a short for Alessandro, so I’ll go with that. But if you need another … some of my friends have sarcastically called me “Dro” haha.
3 emojis that describe you best? 🤔🍜🏀
Go-to karaoke song? One Direction – “Story of My Life.”
Favorite place on earth? Though taxing, I couldn’t imagine starting Sanzo anywhere else but New York City.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Durian. Easily the biggest disconnect between odor (unpleasant to say the least) and taste (delicious!) of anything I’ve ever eaten.
Window or aisle seat? Window!
Spirit Animal? Panda bear.
Podcast or Books? Podcasts in general, but a good book has a way of capturing the imagination in a way no other storytelling medium can.
If you could make a documentary, what would it be about? Perhaps more of a podcast/binge-able Netflix series, but I’d want to dive deeper into the relationship between Asian cuisine and culture in America. We have the popular documentary The Search For General Tso and Ugly Deliciouson Netflix, both of which I absolutely love.