Casamara Club founder Jason LaValla ditched his corporate law gig to dive into the beverage industry — now he’s making a splash in Detroit and beyond with his all-natural, Italian-inspired soda
By Chelsie Dzbanski
Photos courtesy of Casamara Club
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background. My name is Jason LaValla, and I’m the Founder of Casamara Club. Before starting Casamara Club, I was working full-time as a corporate lawyer, mainly representing food & beverage companies. Eventually I decided I could be having a lot more fun on the other side.
2.What inspired you to start Casamara Club? I was dealing with late hours and annoying clients as a lawyer, but couldn’t help noticing my friends in hospitality were working even later hours, and serving more annoying customers (for less money), and still coming home happier. They do it because they love it, and I decided to surround myself with that kind of enthusiasm.
3. Casamara Club has been featured In Bon Appetit and The Wall Street Journal and can be found at a variety of Michelin-starred restaurants. What makes your brand so unique? We trust our customers in a way that most non-alcoholic-drinks brands don’t. For example, most brands add no sweetener so they can advertise as “zero calorie, zero sugar” or they load up on zero calorie sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit, because they don’t trust their customers to enjoy their work unless it’s super sweet. We’re doing something pretty radical, in my opinion, by adding a pinch of real sugar and trusting the right people to find us.
4. What flavors do you offer? Our Amaro Club Sodas are inspired by traditional Italian botanical drinks. Alta is styled as an aperitivo with chinotto orange, juniper, and allspice. Capo is the easy one, with a pleasant blend of mountain herbs and mandarin orange. Onda is a bit wild and savory, with lots of lemon, sage, and rhubarb root. Sera is more of an evening spritz, with lots of grapefruit, cinnamon, and baking spice.
5. Are your sodas designed to drink on their own or as mixers? I designed our drinks to be enjoyed on their own, but I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how great they are as mixers. A few months ago I finally caved and added some cocktail recipes to our website, and the feedback has been fantastic.
6. Can you share some of your career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far?New Year’s Day, 2019. Just a couple of months after we sold our first case, my friend Erica and I met for coffee. We talked about everything we could use this business to accomplish, settled on a mission, and she decided to join me in running Casamara Club.
7. What was your biggest mistake or failure and what did you learn from it? My biggest mistake was trying to work with a professional consultant to turn my homemade recipe into a commercial formulation. It was a nightmare. They didn’t listen to a word I said, kept insisting that no one cared if we used preservatives, and told me my plan to use real botanicals instead of highly processed “natural flavors” was impractical because “that’s not how Arizona Iced Tea got as big as they are.” I learned two things. First, if I wanted to make something truly special, I couldn’t rely on the existing industry to get me there. But more importantly, I learned never to trust anyone who demands payment up front.
8. Why is using all-natural ingredients so important? I want people to think more critically about what they put in their bodies. My hope is that after you’ve checked out our labels, and then see “natural flavors” or “xylitol” on someone else’s, you’ll wonder why.
9. If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what would you be? The boring answer is I’d probably go back to being a lawyer to pay the bills. But if money wasn’t an issue, my dream is to travel the world taking cooking classes from regular people.
Now onto some fun…
10. What was your first job growing up? My first job was washing dishes, cutting vegetables, and delivering pizza at a restaurant in my hometown.
11. What’s currently on your playlist? When I’m not listening to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, I’ve been digging into Japanese city pop and Italian library music. IYKYK.
12. What was your favorite TV show as a kid? “Boy Meets World.” Next question.
13. Three things you can’t live without? A book to read, coffee to drink (shout out Anthology Coffee!) and snacks (I need my Aunt Nee’s).
14. Dream vacation destination? My dream vacation destinations are all food related. Copenhagen, Osaka, and Lagos are a few cities I haven’t been to that I’d love to eat in.
Local Love Questions…
15. Your current favorite local spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner? This is an impossibly difficult question to answer with so many great options, but off the top of my head I’m going to say breakfast at Rose’s Fine Food, lunch at Batch Brewing, dinner at Selden.
16. Your favorite place to shop locally in Metro Detroit? Western Market in Ferndale is my Disney World.
17. Your go-to for a good cup of coffee? Milwaukee Caffè just opened up down the street from me [in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood] and it’s perfect. They carry the best coffee in town, so that’s covered. I’m also not going to pretend like pumpkin spice lattes aren’t delicious. Theirs is easily the best.
18. Your current favorite Cassamara Club flavor(s)? As we start rounding the corner into fall, I find myself gravitating towards Sera. All that grapefruit and cinnamon!
19. What do you love about Detroit? The community. I moved here from New York City, where the attitude is you can’t rely on anyone but yourself. Here it feels more like we can’t rely on anyone but each other.
20. Favorite quote or words to live by? “Time wounds all heels.”