From its start at the Vero Beach Oceanside Farmers Market last April and expansion into Stuart’s Green Market a month later, a Vero Beach juice company with a theme of ancient elixirs is selling some 3,000 bottles a month, according to its founders.
Today, the full line of Gaia’s Secret raw, organic drinks is available at the Village Beach Market, where store manager Brian Durst says the response has been “fantastic.”
Gaia’s Secret is the brainchild of Vero Beach residents Musa Kurdi and Sam Scotson. Their healthy twists on age-old elixirs are swiftly gaining popularity, so much so that they are outgrowing their Old Dixie Highway location and are scouting a larger commercial kitchen in Miami.
Kurdi, a 30-year-old native of Lima, Peru, first came to Vero from Miami Springs to compete in a high school math competition. He was so taken with the town that he went home and told his parents they should move here. They did, a couple of years later.
By then, Kurdi was at Columbia University, working on what would eventually be undergraduate and graduate degrees in political economics.
He was living and working in New York when his mother, Pilar Gonzalez Nugent, was seriously injured in a car accident. Kurdi returned to Vero immediately to aid in her rehabilitation and help run her business, Sunflower Sugar Art, a manufacturer of cake decorating and baking tools.
A few years later, with his mother’s health restored and her company operating efficiently, Kurdi took a drastic detour from sugar dust and icing molds: He joined the French Foreign Legion. It was there he met his partner, in business and life, Sam Scotson.
Scotson, 26, from Nelson, New Zealand, had joined the Foreign Legion after five years of service in the Royal New Zealand Infantry. After their initial training, though, the two decided to leave the Legion to travel, and eventually ended up back in Vero.
It was then that Kurdi became aware that his step-father’s Parkinson’s disease had progressed rapidly. He believed that medicines were having serious side effects and diminishing his quality of life.
Kurdi recalled his Peruvian grandmother using chicha morada, a cider made from the purple corn of the Andes mountains, to reduce her blood pressure. When Kurdi began to make this drink for his step-father, the positive changes were fast and impressive, he says.
“One of the best parts is that his vigor, his energy has returned,” Kurdi says with a smile. “He has been able to get back to doing what he wants.”
Today, Kurdi claims to hear similar reports from dozens of customers of his handcrafted drinks. All are marketed as having long-forgotten super foods and ancient spices, with Scotson serving as the company’s unofficial librarian of ancient texts and essays. Stored on his Kindle, the writings come from India, Egypt, Greece and Tibet. “The next few months we were like kids in a sandbox,” Kurdi says.
One concoction using rose-infused water and edible gold leaf was inspired by a recipe for a beauty potion in Cleopatra’s diary, Kurdi says. Another is a tonic from moringa, a leaf extract dating to 150 B.C., when warriors in ancient India were fed the extract before battle. Their most recent creation uses turmeric, and not just the powdered spice in the grocery store. Kurdi says Gaia’s Secret uses fresh, local, organic turmeric root with a higher level of curcumin.
“We have worked with Brian and Valerie Quant at White Rabbit Acres Produce, where we get our organic turmeric,” Scotson explains. The organic ginger is purchased from Peterson’s Groves, a citrus grove operating since 1923 on 66th Avenue. Peterson’s sells all the Gaia’s Secret drinks at its roadside organic market.
Heather Rossi, another local grower, has been extremely helpful, Kurdi says, even growing exotic herbs “for us to play with.”
The company has recently started selling at the Brickell City Centre Farmers Market in downtown Miami, the largest market in sales volume in the state, Kurdi says. They are also hoping to attend Expo West, the nation’s largest natural health expo, in Anaheim, Calif., in March.
With these placements, new products in the pipeline and plans for a larger commercial kitchen in Miami to help them keep up with demand and distribution, Kurdi and Scotson hope that Gaia’s Secret won’t be a secret for long.
Says Durst of the Village Beach Market, “It’s great to see a local Vero company start to grow so quickly.”
Story: Kate Shanaphy Maingot