Tinkering with DRY’s Store Locator for any length of time, you’ll find DRY Soda carried in some pretty amazing independent cafes, restaurants, grocery stores and more. Each of these places has a story, so we’ve set out to bring you the best of these entrepreneurial endeavors to you in Retailer Tales.
Today’s Tale: &grain
Chatting with: John Ropelski, founder and owner
Location: Garwood, New Jersey
Specialty: An obsessive commitment to bread and the ingredients that go between each slice
John Ropselski never set out to start a bakery.
In fact, his mind was not even close to being in bread. Upon finishing his degree in finance, Ropelski stepped directly into the mortgage business and saw immediate success. However, when the market went belly up in 2008, he decided it was time to rethink his path. “I knew I always wanted to be my own boss, so I thought ‘What could I open?’”
His inspiration was quite the duality. First, in his earlier days of working in high end retail, John was inspired by the craftsmanship and attention to detail that made such fashion outlast seemingly anything the economy could throw at it – boiled down by John as “do things better and people will appreciate them.” Secondly, though finance was his trade, baking was undeniably in his blood – literally. The son of Polish immigrants, John comes from a bloodline of Ropelski bakers and thus had a rich family history upon which to draw knowledge and experience. Rolling this all into one resulted in an enrollment in the French Culinary Institute and five years spent perfecting his newfound craft – something in which he takes the utmost pride.
“There are always higher end places to go to dinner, but I’d never seen that done for lunch,” Ropelski says. With this in mind, &grain was born. John is admittedly obsessed with the process and details of what goes into high higher-end-yet-reasonably-priced sandwiches, but he points out that every aspect of his business is just as intentional. “I wanted to bring a little bit of New York into New Jersey,” he says. “The space is a mix of antique farmhouse and industrial warehouse,” with parts of the space (including the DRY Soda display to the left) constructed from recovered farmhouse wood. In all these decisions – whether ingredients or construction – John says it is pride that drives him. “I’m a proud owner,” he says. “People tell me that I could save some money dumbing something down here or cutting a corner there, but that wouldn’t be something I could stand behind.”
Ropelski recommends &grain’s grilled cheese sandwich – made on fresh baked Pain de Mie, toasted with garlic butter with melted brie and goat cheese on top of grilled prosciutto - paired with a Lavender DRY Soda (all pictured above). “I want to help people eat better, and people want soda with their lunch. So when I found DRY I thought, ‘This is exactly what I want’, because it seems like DRY shares that same philosophy,” John says.
With all the hard work and attention to detail, the days are certainly long. John’s days start at 1 am when the first loaves go in the oven and end around 8 pm when he sends the team home.
“I get very little sleep, and I eat very little, but at the end of the day seeing all the empty plates and thinking of everyone in and out throughout the day, that’s what I get fed on.”
He says the occasional Cucumber DRY / Hendrick’s Gin helps too.