After a month of tinkering with fruit and botanical simple syrups in her Lovall Valley Road kitchen, a local mom found herself in the Williams-Sonoma headquarters in San Francisco, where founder Chuck Williams insisted on trying every flavor himself. A well-connected Sonoma friend had made the introduction and the rest is history.
In under a year, the syrups were among the mega-kitchenware chain’s most popular products.
Almost 20 years later, Karin Campion’s Sonoma Syrup Co. products are sold and served in bars, restaurants, stores and supermarket chains across the county.
“And I didn’t even have a business plan,” said Campion about those early days. She was working full time in architectural design at the time, a single mom raising three sons. She had been trying out recipes, serving beverages to her sons and their St. Francis elementary school friends after class.
“I loved my garden and I loved tinkering with flavors and I knew I could come up with an all-natural syrup using real fruit and pure cane sugar that would taste great,” she said, “without all the unnatural ingredients and additives in the only other options available at the time.”
After the big order came in from Williams-Sonoma, Campion found a consultant to help quickly scale up production.
“And I just learned as I went along,” she said. “In architecture, you are used to taking a project from beginning to end… so I leaned on those skills. And I am still learning every day.”
Campion has built the brand of extracts and simple syrups into a booming national brand.
She still designs houses, but that’s her side business now.
Her customers include bartenders, baristas and chefs, both amateur and professional. The Sonoma Syrup Co. product line now also includes extracts and bar mixers. Prices range from $13 to $45. “And a little goes a long way,” says Campion. They are versatile and can be used to flavor icing and whipped cream, to caramelize onions, as a glaze or to flavor sodas or a dozen other uses. Her Pure Sonoma Olive Juice makes a “delicious” dirty martini.
Her goal all along, says Campion, was to share the flavors of the botantical bounty of Sonoma – mint, lavender, Meyer lemon, olives – with people all over the world. She has even served her products at the White House. “A while ago,” she clarifies.
Then COVID hit. And the pandemic has changed Campion’s business model dramatically.
“On March 18, our sales to restaurants, hotels and bars went to zero,” she said. “But other channels exploded overnight – in particular, our wholesale business to online retailers and direct sales to home chefs. We worked around the clock on a new website and now, we’re having one of our best years ever.”
“People are cooking and baking and making drinks at home like never before,” she said. “Our sales have been off the charts and I am so, so grateful.”
Sonoma Syrup Co. products are sold on Amazon, at BevMo, Whole Foods, Total Wines and a dozen more major retailers, as well as on the company website. Locally, you can find Campion’s creations at Sonoma spots including Whole Foods, the CVM Store, Prohibition Spirits and Chateau Sonoma.
Campion’s company and its products have been featured in Oprah magazine, Real Simple, In Style, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
A woman-owned business, Sonoma Syrup Co. employees mainly women, and all locals, who have helped Campion to build out her brand over the years..
After the production facility she started on Eighth Street East was sold, she moved operations to a site outside the county, but owned by a Sonoma Valley family. But her products are still developed and designed in the Valley and the company’s offices are located in a building on the Plaza.
Kierston Cook, co-owner of CVM Store on Eighth Street East, has sold Sonoma Syrup products ever since the shop first opened three years ago.
“Our top sellers have been their Bloody Mary Mix, lavender-infused syrup and the vanilla bean extract,” she said. “People will come into the store specifically to buy those.”
The bar at Mary’s Pizza has done a brisk business in pomegranate martinis ever since Sonoma Syrup first introduced that infused flavor.
“I think the world of Karin and the business she has built here in Sonoma,” said Mary’s CEO Vince Albano. “Have you tried the martini? It’s fantastic!”
Campion said that she never considered any other name for Sonoma Syrup Co.
“I just love this town and have had so many supporters here from Day One,” said Campion. “I’m so grateful to live here because it’s a truly nurturing and creative place to build a business.”
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