01 Nov Episode #9: Pablo Castro & Veronica Schwartz from Dr. Cow
Vegan raw aged cheeses from Williamsburg.
Today I’ll be talking to Veronica Schwartz and Pablo Castro, founder of Dr. Cow in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Dr. Cow is known by their delicious raw vegan nut based cheeses full of flavor and remarkably reminiscent of aged dairy cheeses. They both have experience in the culinary entrepreneurship world that dates back to the time they were living in their native Argentina. Veronica is a pastry chef and Pablo has a business degree, these two forces mixed together made Dr. Cow the spark that ignited a plant-based cheese revolution.
We were in Argentina in a moment that we wanted change. We already had a restaurant over there and work in the food industry. We always were curious about doing products and trying new things. We wanted to leave Argentina because it was kind of too flat for us. We knew that we can do better and we want to explore something different, so we came to New York and see, and started a new life.
Words from Pablo & Veronica:
Visit Dr. Cow:
Jennifer Dopazo: Hi, Pablo and Veronica. Thank you for having me at your home and opening your doors for us.
Pablo Castro: It’s a pleasure.
Jennifer Dopazo: It’s been quite a morning. We have a lot of, I think people will hear all the construction going around in the hot neighborhood that we are right now, but it wasn’t like that before. I just wanted to start with the regions of Dr. Cow and how you came all the way from Argentina and you’ve been here for some years. I just wonder if you can share with us that transition. How was it planned? Was it planned or not? What made you make that move?
Veronica Schwartz: We were in Argentina in a moment that we wanted change. We already had a restaurant over there and work in the food industry. We always were curious about doing products and trying new things. We wanted to leave Argentina because it was kind of too flat for us. We knew that we can do better and we want to explore something different, so we came to New York and see, and started a new life.
Pablo Castro: My cousin was here at the time and he told me, “Why don’t you come? You’re going to blend easily here. You can start doing things.” So we came in July 2001, just before 9/11. It was a big change. Everything changed. It was more difficult to blend in, but we managed to do it. We started working off whatever position available, we could find.
Jennifer Dopazo: In the food business?
Pablo Castro: Well, in the food or anywhere.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay.
Pablo Castro: She was looking more into working in pastry, in restaurants.
Veronica Schwartz: Yeah, I was a pastry chef, so I could find work as a pastry chef.
Pablo Castro: That was easy for her.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay. New York was basically, could we say that it was because you had that support, from like you said, your cousin, but also …?
Pablo Castro: I’ve been coming to New York a few times and I really feel comfortable with the city and the way, the transportation, people were gentle. I don’t know. It was comfortable for me to be here.
Jennifer Dopazo: Let’s talk about the origins of Dr. Cow. I’m wondering how it started, the brand. When and where you decided to start your own products. If you could share with us those days.
Veronica Schwartz: Basically, Dr. Cow started with one product, which was a granola that we was doing it already in Argentina. The main ingredients were quinoa and amaranth. I’m talking about the year of 2000 or maybe 1999, where that wasn’t popular at all. Even in South America, in Argentina. They’re originally from Peru or Bolivia. I didn’t know anything about it. It came that Pablo brought some to me and we started trying, doing things, and came this granola. We was doing in Argentina. Then when we came here, after a while we was more in two different shops and stuff. We started making it.
Jennifer Dopazo: Oh, I didn’t know that. You started in Argentina with it and then you brought it here somehow?
Pablo Castro: Yes. We were doing it for breakfast. We also were packaging the granola and selling it in a few stores.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay. Was it known as Dr. Cow at that moment?
Pablo Castro: No. It was Three Quarters. That was the name.
Jennifer Dopazo: Okay. Why did you change the name when you started doing it here?
Pablo Castro: It’s good if we change, we change completely [crosstalk 00:04:38].
Veronica Schwartz: It was more like an American name. I don’t know. It was the moment.
Jennifer Dopazo: Now I can see why you talk about reinvention, because it was not only the change for you guys but also you reinvented this product that you were already doing. Was there anything that you felt that you needed to do to adapt it to the new market?
Pablo Castro: We started making it in a new way. Then we changed it completely again. That way, we were roasting things. Then we start making it like raw living foods. Instead of roasting it, we were dehydrating them, all the ingredients. We said okay, no more sugar, so we started using agave at that moment. Doing everything organic. Changing with the recipe as well.
Veronica Schwartz: I don’t think I will call it a reinvention. I was thinking more like it was a growing process. Not even in the product or in the move to the city. It was like something like-
Pablo Castro: The more you know, the more you want to change.
Veronica Schwartz: It was more like the [crosstalk 00:06:27] for us, like in many aspect in our life to grow. We didn’t feel like we can do it in our country. It happens that when we came here it was easily, and it was more diverse. We were access to many more things and-
Pablo Castro: Ingredients, yes.
Veronica Schwartz: -many more different people. It wasn’t a reinvention.
Jennifer Dopazo: It was like an evolution.
Veronica Schwartz: Exactly.
Jennifer Dopazo: You were just experimenting and now you had all these [less 00:07:00] ingredients and ways to doing it. It was just like that next step, right?
Veronica Schwartz: Yeah. The evolution came when we started learning more about raw food. It was mind-blowing for us because it was something like understand also how food affect people. It wasn’t only make a product that is tasty or be success maybe with better ingredients. It was also a process that will be better.
Jennifer Dopazo: When did you start getting involved with the whole raw food? When did that interest started for you guys?
Veronica Schwartz: That was at the beginning of 2004 or something like that. It happened to came from many different people. The idea of raw food. We started exploring or learning or reading books. It was super interesting. Makes sense. I think both of us, we have this thinking ourself, do good things. When you know how something is not so good, you want to change it.
Pablo Castro: Yeah. You want to bring the good things maybe more into your life or the way you do things as well.
Veronica Schwartz: Yeah, or you learn that something you can make it in a better way or there is something that you didn’t know that it was bad and you cannot go back. We are not the kind of people that we can close our eyes and keep going, “Yeah, whatever.” No.
Pablo Castro: Just close your eyes and drive. No.
Veronica Schwartz: We have … I don’t know how you say.
Jennifer Dopazo: You will take action on it, or try to do something.
Veronica Schwartz: Yeah. It’s not about success or money. It’s about us. It’s about us, how we want to grow as people, as a contr-. What is our contribution in this moment?
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that. Dr. Cow is known for its cheeses today, but as you mentioned before, it all started with the granola product that you were making. I’m just wondering, when you started experimenting with cheese, how this happened? When did you start making the cheese that you’re known for today?
Veronica Schwartz: What happened is the granola business was super-small. It was something really from our heart. We already knew a lot about the food business in many aspects. We totally knew that we cannot build a company with a product as granola in the way that we want to make it. The competition was from any cereal to … It was impossible.
Pablo Castro: Yeah, from Cheerios or …
Veronica Schwartz: Anything that fit in a [crosstalk 00:10:17].
Pablo Castro: Corn flakes to … yeah.
Veronica Schwartz: Whatever. We are really good at creating product, so while we was learning about raw food, we was experimenting with tons of different things from crackers to breads to granolas, dressing, milks, dessert. Whatever. We knew we had the tools and knowledge, everything to create all these things, but to find a perfect product that you want to introduce to the market, you have to find something that it has a lot of properties like altogether will make something worth it to put in the market. For us, it’s not only to be good as taste good. It’s not really what it has to … It’s everything, to go and say, “Ah, we have to sell it.” It happened to us, when we do something, “Oh, why you don’t sell it?” Doesn’t work like that. It has to have more things. The cheese was something. It wasn’t there. It was really delicious. It was a lot of things to explore. Nobody was doing something like that. Everything that was in the market, it was like not raw or healthy. It was a substitute of something, but it wasn’t really … or heavy. Nothing. It wasn’t really appealing. Not even for us, because we were doing raw food, so we didn’t have tofu or other things. The cheese was something we see, this can work.
Pablo Castro: Potential.
Veronica Schwartz: The potential. It was a long, more than a year process of taking-
Pablo Castro: A year experimentation and tasting, trial and error. That’s how we came up with the final product. Experiment in a year. We still trying to come to a perfection of flavor, salt, the right … the complexity of what a cheese is. Making also the nuts, fermenting nuts. A fermented product is easily digest, it has a lot of benefits to the gut or to the intestine. That’s why also we wanted to do the cheese, because it’s a fermented thing. Not everybody ingests fermented food, and it’s the best way to eat nuts. You don’t digest the nuts so easily. If you just grab a nut and roast it or raw, whatever, it’s not the same that having a fermented nut. It’s easily available for the body.
Jennifer Dopazo: It sounds like the experimentation was also because starting, eating raw and all that, not only you saw an opportunity for a product, but you also wanted it, like eating raw, and you saw that it wasn’t there. You had the knowledge and the tools, and why not, right?
Pablo Castro: Yeah. At the beginning we started making it for us, in a way. Trial and error. It was there in the fridge. Okay, we have it today. Let’s make it, add different flavors. That’s how we start making different flavors but with an … [adapt 00:14:26] instead of just, “Let’s try to mimic something.” No. Let’s put something that it will be good, like using [inaudible 00:14:35] flakes or kale powder or different nuts, a combination of nuts.
Jennifer Dopazo: When did you decide from doing it for yourself, and then offering to someone else? How was that? Did you share it maybe with friends and they said this is really good? [crosstalk 00:14:53].
Veronica Schwartz: No, it was more like … Yeah. Friends, chefs.
Pablo Castro: We went to a restaurant.
Veronica Schwartz: Different stores, like raw food stores.
Pablo Castro: Other small ones.
Jennifer Dopazo: You were sharing it. You were just sampling with them.
Pablo Castro: Yeah. Also, we were known because of the granola, so this came like additional product. Once you have a brand, people will have another product of that brand.
Veronica Schwartz: You already are into the market.
Pablo Castro: Yeah, you already are into that system.
Jennifer Dopazo: You can just tell them, “Hey. How about you check this out?”
Pablo Castro: Exactly. If it sells, it sells. If it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. I’m wondering, if we talk about sacrifices, growing a business, growing a brand, even with your own products, would you say that there has been any sacrifices while growing Dr. Cow? Or even being here, far away from originally where you’re from? If there are none, that’s fine.
Pablo Castro: No, I didn’t sacrifice. In a way, I put all my love in it and my energy. That’s not a sacrifice. It’s what I want to do. That’s how I see it.
Veronica Schwartz: Yeah. It’s not.
Jennifer Dopazo: It’s part of the way you live, right, so it was like an extension of that?
Pablo Castro: Yeah.
Veronica Schwartz: Yeah, of course. [crosstalk 00:16:25] the way. I don’t feel like … It’s something that I recommend to a lot of people, to include whatever you feel like you want to do every day in part of your life. It’s not separate life. It wasn’t a sacrifice. There is no sacrifice. I think actually, life is pretty long. It could be a sacrifice, I will say yeah, sometimes I don’t have time to do this or learn more about other things. I have a lot of interests in many other things, that maybe I don’t have time. Maybe there is no time right now, but definitely it’s going to be time in the future.
Jennifer Dopazo: Great. I’m very curious about Pablo and Veronica. You guys have been in the food industry since early age. I just wonder how that happened. Was something that came from family? How the food business came to your life? How do you decide to go for it?
Pablo Castro: In my case, the father of my father and my father, they were already into the business. That for me came from childhood, in a way. Go into the factory of my father, jumping from bag to bag, smelling all these scents. It was pretty nice for me always, going there with him and spending time with the workers. Then, when I grew older, I started working with him. Then I started working in the restaurants. That’s how we met.
Jennifer Dopazo: Working in restaurants?
Pablo Castro: Yeah.
Jennifer Dopazo: Were you in the same restaurant?
Pablo Castro: Yes.
Veronica Schwartz: For me it’s kind of different. I started in the food business because in some point cooking was something that relaxed me and make me feel good. It was the reason to why I stopped doing whatever I was doing, and trying to do something that make me feel good. The idea of work, do work will be something that I will want to do, not just work for the money. It’d be part of my life. Then I realized that it was like my expression of art. Being a pastry chef, it’s like I’m playing with different ingredient and doing the alchemy and shapes and colors. That’s the reason it makes me feel good.
Jennifer Dopazo: Also, Dr. Cow, you guys started here in your kitchen, and you were doing everything from here. It was recently when you decided to have a store. I’m just wondering what made you open it.
Veronica Schwartz: Actually, where the store is is our factory. It was since we start.
Pablo Castro: We just say okay, let’s … It’s a showroom-store and everything. We opened it a year ago. 2014.
Veronica Schwartz: It was always there. The storefront, it was always there. We never used it. It was time to come out from the closet or something like that. Yeah, it’s like our showroom.
Jennifer Dopazo: Maybe it was your way of [crosstalk 00:20:22] bring people in?
Veronica Schwartz: Also, work for the community.
Pablo Castro: Sharing it more. Yeah, working for the community here that’s serving more. We were doing the cheeses and then the granolas. Now we’re doing more things. Now people can come. We’re doing different cheeses with different flavors and different shapes, so [people 00:20:47] can come see what they want, read the ingredients, maybe grab a nut milk and then a cheesecake or a cake, some chocolates. We have more products now.
Jennifer Dopazo: Since you opened it [crosstalk 00:21:07] storefront?
Pablo Castro: Yeah. Only for the store.
Veronica Schwartz: Also, we have a great line of, there is something we love which is the supplements and all the super-foods. Also, in all our path, we’re learning and changing our diet. It was something really important. We learned a lot.
Jennifer Dopazo: People don’t only go in and they’re just going to buy a cheese or milk or the pastries or the granolas. They can just get a complement of other products-
Pablo Castro: Yeah. A more holistic approach. With supplements-
Jennifer Dopazo: I read online something. That Dr. Cow was the spark that started the not-cheese revolution. Do you have anything to say about that?
Pablo Castro: Thank you. That’s good.
Veronica Schwartz: Somebody recognized it.
Pablo Castro: Maybe yes, maybe not.
Jennifer Dopazo: You were the first ones, right?
Pablo Castro: Yeah.
Veronica Schwartz: The true is there wasn’t nothing in the market like that. We were the first. We were the only one for many years until a lot of people want a piece of the market. Which is good, because it makes more variety. More people start to know about what is a nut cheese.
Pablo Castro: Now there is more awareness. More options. I think that’s good. More options, you can go and pick the one you like, or try different ones. In a ways, it’s trying to expand that cake, in a way of splitting it up.
Jennifer Dopazo: I wonder, why do we need Dr. Cow in our lives?
Pablo Castro: I don’t know if in our life. I think also in the world, I think it’s good for the whole planet that we live. It will be good if more people start eating not my cheese, Dr. Cow, but anything that is not dairy base. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s something that I think it will be good. Environmentally it’s more sustainable, and it’s more healthy, I think, for you.
Jennifer Dopazo: Great. Would you mind sharing some tips or advice for someone who would like to start their own brand or their own products in the food industry? What would you tell them? If someone approached you today and be like, “Hey, I have this idea.” What would be your advice to them?
Veronica Schwartz: Do a good thing. Do a product that is real. Don’t do it just to benefit yourself with the profit. Do it so we all benefit about it.
Pablo Castro: Don’t sell smoke.
Jennifer Dopazo: I like that.
Pablo Castro: Make something that is with passion as well. Something that you’re making because you believe that it’s something-
Veronica Schwartz: Do something real. Do something that you are convinced that what you’re giving to the people is good. Check all the background of the companies that you’re buying all the ingredients. Put passion. Don’t do it only to make profit. Understand that a product that is like that, maybe it doesn’t going to make you a millionaire. That’s not the point.
Jennifer Dopazo: This is a family business. You’re both involved in it. Your daughter’s with you. How does your day look like? I’m just wondering about your routine, since you’re so involved with it and you have your own family and you both have your own company. How’s your day? How does it look like?
Pablo Castro: Family’s first.
Jennifer Dopazo: Love that.
Pablo Castro: Then work.
Jennifer Dopazo: Good.
Veronica Schwartz: Every day’s … Sometimes it’s same, sometimes it’s different. You just go with the flow. We have only 24 hours in day. We do the best that we can do.
Pablo Castro: We like to sleep, so then you have less hour than 24.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah. You’re not part of that group that they’re just going to work and lose sleep.
Pablo Castro: No. Not at all.
Jennifer Dopazo: The whole idea for life-work balance.
Pablo Castro: It’s your balance.
Veronica Schwartz: It’s a healthy business.
Pablo Castro: Exactly. You cannot-
Veronica Schwartz: Any other things that is not only involve working.
Pablo Castro: I’m not a workaholic. I like what I do. I try to do it the best possible. I do my best.
Veronica Schwartz: Everything takes time. We don’t want to be working 24/7, so we do smoke for a year and then boom. This is a family business. It has the time. We are not in a rush.
Jennifer Dopazo: I love that. I really [crosstalk 00:29:42] like that.
Pablo Castro: It’s a growing process, that’s what.
Jennifer Dopazo: Yeah. Your family dynamics, [crosstalk 00:29:47].
Veronica Schwartz: We didn’t born big. We’re born as a baby and we are growing.
Pablo Castro: Same as we transport this to a business. The business is growing little by little.
Veronica Schwartz: It’s not like we came with tons of money. We make [inaudible 00:30:07]. No. We start from the beginning.
Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. Thank you. It was really lovely to chat with you.
Pablo Castro: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.
Jennifer Dopazo: Love Dr. Cow. I hope everyone who sees this come and check you guys out, and more people love it as I do already.
Pablo Castro: Thank you.