Vista, CA — As the maker movement continues to gain momentum across the US, many cities have begun to incorporate economic development strategies that support these makers in their own communities. By embracing the maker culture, these cities are also fueling community-wide advances in local entrepreneurship and job creation.
One city that has enabled ingenuity to flourish is Vista. The City’s focus on the spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity has led to a robust cadre of local makers and crafters – from craft breweries and beverages to food, manufacturers, art, biotech, software startups, and even incubators.
Below we highlight two of Vista’s many “makers” and how the City has become a growing “makerspace.”
Driven by a growing desire for healthy living combined with a passion for sustainability, this cool company spawned from a marketing project by entrepreneur Melissa Finestone during her senior year at Cal State San Marcos.
The MULK Co. specializes in making clean-label, dairy-alternative milk in a variety of flavors. Using almonds (and soon-to-launch oat milk), MULK is made using a cold-pressed process, contains 10x the almonds than the boxed brands, and is additive-free (free of gums, homogenizers and oils). MULK is produced locally in Vista and sold direct-to-consumer at farmer’s markets around San Diego County, including in Little Italy, Poway, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Rancho Sante Fe and, of course, its launching pad, Vista.
MULK added local delivery in 2020 during the shutdown and continues to deliver to homes and offices throughout the region every Friday.
“The idea that sparked MULK was the desire to provide an alternative to dairy to mitigate the methane that cows emit into the environment and positively impact mass dairy farming by reducing it,” Finestone said. “We also wanted to provide a solution for consumers who are lactose-intolerant, vegan, environmentally-conscious or health-conscious.”
Fun Fact: MULK is spelled with a “u” because that’s how it sounds when Finestone says it with her South African accent.
Finestone, who worked as a commercial interior designer in South Africa, has been creating in the kitchen from the age of six when she received her first cookbook. When she came to the US in 2008, while pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in business, jobs in food-related positions kept landing in her lap, from working as a student brand ambassador for Chipotle Mexican Grill to cooking gourmet lunches for a movie studio in Los Angeles to working in sales for Bitchin Sauce when she arrived in San Diego.
The designer-turned-foodie, so-to-speak, is now swimming in success with MULK. And with MULK, there’s something for everyone.
“Mulk is unique because of the variety of flavors available! We`ve lost count – maybe 15 and counting,” she said. “We like to say that if you visit our booth, there’s a flavor for everyone, from chocolate for dad, matcha for mom, strawberry for the kiddos, Mermaid Matcha with adaptogens and more recently, soon-to-launch by popular demand on Instagram, a Thai tea. When the holiday season swings round, you will find our Almond Nog, Choc-Mint and Pumpkin-Pie. We also have a vanilla barista MULK, which contains more almonds so it froths for coffee and lattes. Very excitedly, we have two new flavors launching soon in our Stapes line: Oat milk and our own MULK Blend, made of almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts. To make so many flavors means our production process has to be dialed in. After many hours of making Mulk, we are pretty proud of how far our process has come.”
MULK currently has four employees who work in the startup’s 1,300 square-foot commercial kitchen located in the Vista Business Park. The startup has three additional employees who work at the local farmer’s markets.
When asked why she chose Vista for her venture, Finestone said, “To be honest, Vista chose me. Well, my husband did, and he had been living in Vista for several years. I was living in Los Angeles where we met and after long distance dating, I moved down and a year later we were married. Right away he took me to Vista`s best spots like the Moonlight Theatre, which was the perfect romantic date night, The Yellow Deli for its delicious drinks and homemade breads, and of course, the Vista art walk. We really enjoy seeing a movie and then walking around Main Street looking at the sculpture art. There is definitely an art and maker vibe to Vista and I think it’s what makes the city unique.”
Finestone said she is driven and inspired by Vista’s eclectic artisan community. “There are so many talented, original and unique makers and creators in Vista and we are truly proud to be amongst them,” she said. “A lot of passion goes into our product, which I believe is a defining factor of any creative. We are driven by the creative process, a spark that acts as fuel, an invisible ingredient that feeds our ideas to fruition.”
The success from that passion couldn’t be possible, however, without support from the City, Finestone said. “Kevin Ham (Vista’s Economic Development Director) was fantastic in helping find a home for MULK,” she said. “His invaluable network of connections eventually led us to finding the perfect commercial kitchen in the Vista Business Park that will now allow us to expand and grow. We would never have found it without him.”
What began as a passion project in the back of Mama Kats restaurant in San Marcos in 2016 has turned into a popular cold brew company that is now sold throughout the region.
“The founders looked at what was being offered as cold brew in the market and realized that there had to be something out there that was more unique,” said Joe Henschel, The Steeping Giant’s CEO. “Through months and months of R&D with the different roasts and the brewing methods, we finally came up with something very special. Throughout the years, the process has been perfected and we are able to produce a ‘small batch’ artisan cold brew experience, but to the masses.”
A few years after launching The Steeping Giant, Henschel and his partners saw another opportunity and that was to offer cold brew on tap in offices throughout Southern California, creating a new coffee culture in the workplace.
“We got into a single office, then two, then 10, and we continued to grow through sales and word-of-mouth,” he said. “We moved out from the back of that kitchen to a small brewery – about 400 square feet. As business continued to grow we needed more space, then in 2020 we finally moved into a larger brewery in Vista and have continued to expand within the same area.”
Henschel first met The Steeping Giant Founders – Michael and Anthony Herrera – in 2017 when they were still operating in the back of the restaurant. After tasting the product, Henschel – who was working in marketing in Orange County at the time – knew immediately that they had something special. And so, he offered them his marketing skills to grow the startup, and connected with some investors who helped expand the business.
“Anthony Herrera, who loved this business with a passion, passed away in November of 2020 and the company moves forward continuing the legacy that he left,” Henschel said.
Henschel, a Vista native and Cal State San Marcos grad, has had a passion for brewing since his college days, and even started brewing beer with a neighbor in his garage, which led to the successful Bear Roots Brewing Co. in Vista. While he is no longer involved with the brewery, he is excited to be part of Vista’s iconic brewing community again through The Steeping Giant, whose roaster is Doug Novak from La Costa Roasting Co.
“Through many different processes, we now approach Cold Brew coffee like brewing beer – every detail is focused on and quality of product is priority,” he said. “With The Steeping Giant, everything from our roasting process and brewing process is unlike anything that anyone else is doing. First, we roast specifically for cold brew, we do not just take what we would use for drip coffee and cold brew it. Also our brew process is very unique because we have customized our brew tanks specifically for coffee. We pride ourselves in the freshest, most delicious cup of cold brew – the roasting, grinding, brewing, and packaging all happens as close as possible to each other. Our process also cuts out the oxygen so you are getting the freshest cup of cold brew at every pour.”
Besides being a local, Henschel said Vista is the perfect locale for The Steeping Giant.
“I love being close to other brewers and businesses in the business park district and love being able to support local businesses in Vista,” he said. “I have seen Vista go from a small town with barely anything around, to a hub where people from all over come to enjoy our food, beer, cold brew, and entertainment.”
Vista’s maker community didn’t happen by accident. In fact, the City’s economic development playbook includes those in the “maker” ecosystem, such as craft food and beverage makers, entertainment/arts, manufacturing and medical devices.
“Makers play a pivotal role in our local economy, and we want to continue to attract and support these thriving industries,” Vista Mayor Judy Ritter said. “We have a handful of maker industry clusters that we continue to invest in for our community’s future.
For More Information Contact:
Kevin Ham, Economic Development Director, City of Vista