The (Silk) Road to success

Payam Fardanesh on "Made at Sac State — The Video Magazine" Season One
Payam Fardanesh (center) chats with “Made at Sac State – The Video Magazine” host Gloria Moraga and Professor Seung Bach, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs, about Silk Road Soda.

When Payam Fardanesh founded Silk Road Soda, his line of Mediterranean-inspired drinks, in 2012, he was selling one bottle at a time out of the trunk of his car. Four years later, he’s bringing the tastes of his childhood to the entire country.

In the past year alone, Fardanesh has inked deals with some of the biggest names in retail, catapulting his brand into the national spotlight. Still, the Sac State alumnus remains grounded in his family roots and the memories of his grandmother, brewing and sipping the same suds he sells today.

“I was re-creating my childhood when I made the product,” Fardanesh says. “It’s a pretty simple drink, but everyone in Iran has it.”

The entrepreneur spent his formative childhood years in Iran. The Silk Road Soda line is his version of his grandmother’s own recipe for the sweet-and-sour Mediterranean drink sekanjabin. It is traditional and simple, made primarily with mint, sugar and vinegar, and it is a staple in countries like Iran, Greece, and India.

Fardanesh was the first to bring it stateside on a commercial scale. Sacramento, he says, was the perfect place to test the market, thanks to the city’s diversity.

“There are so many different cultures that are really tied to Sacramento,” he says. “We really have a melting pot here. … It really was a launching pad for us.”

Silk Road Soda may have its roots in the Middle East, but the company got its start at Sac State: Fardanesh met his original business partner in the Master of Business Administration for Executives (EMBA) program. He earned his degree in 2011, launched the brand in 2012, and hasn’t looked back since.

In 2016, Fardanesh signed his first national contract with Cost Plus, and Silk Road Soda today is shipped by 10 different distributors to nearly every state in the country. The company’s growing success snowballed into a blockbuster pact with CostCo, where they will begin rolling out his product by the case starting in the Pacific Northwest later this year. That deal alone, he says, could end up accounting for over one-fifth of the company’s business.

This year, Fardanesh expects to sell more than 30,000 cases — an amount that no longer fits in the trunk of his car. That’s a problem he’s happy to have.

“For the younger entrepreneurs that think they can’t get it done here in town, I would say they’re wrong,” he says. “If you have a great idea and a good pitch and good promise, there are the faculties in our community to grow a small business.”

Click here to see Payam’s interview with Gloria Moraga in the College of Business Administration episode of the first season of Made at Sac State — The Video Magazine.

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Former CAMPers shoot for the green at charity golf tournament

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For two sons of migrant workers, the move to Sacramento for college was a night-and-day change from their small farming community homes: Sacramento State is home to more students than the combined populations of Galt and Esparto, the respective hometowns of David Garcia and Cuahutemoc Vargas, owners and co-founders of the midtown boutique Kulture.

Despite the dramatic change of scenery, Garcia and Vargas found a home away from home on campus in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), a federally funded scholarship program that helps first-year students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds transition to and succeed in college.

Years later, the former “CAMPers” are parlaying their successful business into a way to give back to the program that gave them so much.

“Sacramento for other people might not seem that big, but to me it was,” Vargas says. “So CAMP helped me a lot and made it easier. Since they did that for me, why wouldn’t I want to give back to them?”

Since 1981, CAMP has helped thousands of students from migrant families adjust to college life. Each year, the program fosters a family-like environment for a cohort of 70 students and provides assistance with everything from financial aid and housing to tutoring and counseling.

Garcia and Vargas met at Sacramento State through mutual friends at CAMP, connecting with each other and other CAMPers through shared experiences and humor. In 2013 at the urging of friends, the duo launched their own clothing line, Keepin’ It Paisa, and two years later opened Kulture at 1006 24th St.

The store celebrates the Latino migrant experience through clothing, art, home decor, and more. Their casual wear line Keepin’ It Paisa – a play on the phrase “keeping it real” – features shirts, hoodies, and hats with Spanish-language slogans and phrases that put a twist on colloquialisms and pop culture references. All the additional art, decorations, and products are hand-selected by Garcia and Vargas with a focus on bringing in local and authentic items.

“Pretty much all of the stuff that’s in here we can relate to,” Vargas says.

“People like hearing stories about, ‘Oh, where did this come from?'” Garcia says. “So they buy the story behind it, too; it’s not just an object.”

But for the two entrepreneurs, the best byproduct of their business is the ability to provide the same opportunities CAMP provided them to the next generation of CAMPers, which is what the Keepin’ It Paisa Charity Golf Tournament is all about.

Now in its third year, the tournament raises money that benefits CAMP students. The field has expanded from 80 players its first year to more than 140 in the 2016 competition, which will be held May 27 at Cherry Island Golf Course in Elverta. Proceeds go toward scholarships and an end-of-the-year mixer for CAMP students.

“In a classroom setting, some people are going to listen and focus, some people are going to tune out,” says Garcia, who met his wife through CAMP. “But in that atmosphere, it’s different if you’re out there playing volleyball or whatever, [students] come up to you and feel more comfortable.”

Few better understand the impact of CAMP than Vargas and Garcia; today, they are able to inspire a new generation of CAMPers to pursue their loftiest aspirations.

“I want to let people know that, yes, you can do it,” Vargas says. “Even if it doesn’t work out, go for it and follow your instincts. Don’t be afraid.”

Click here for more information about the Keepin It Paisa Golf Tournament and how to register.