In seven days, I turn thirty-three. This post is very special to me. I’ve been waiting for this exact article ever since I started Chicpeajc. This interview and our collab is my birthday gift.
Taproot Organics are Jersey City soap makers that infuse organic ingredients and use real food for their products. I’ve been addicted to their soaps ever since I found them at the Downtown farmer’s market (pre-blogging days). It is the only soap I use and I always joke that their soaps look like dessert!
Two years ago, after I launched the blog, I became very attached to Taproot Organics and the couple behind it, Daniel and Zaida. They were one of the first vendors to support me on my journey, and I supported them. I begged them for over a year to let me interview them and also get a sneak peek into their lives, but the timing was not right until a few weeks ago. Daniel and Zaida reached out with the idea of making a special soap for my birthday.
We met before the interview to talk about ideas, ingredients, and smell scents that would be infused into the soap. Long story short, we came up with the two main ingredients of the soap: champagne and hemp. When we made the decision, my first reaction was, “That sounds like a Party.”
Introducing a ChicpeaJC and Taproot Organics collab especially for my birthday – “Party”
I came back to the Taproot Organics studio on Communipaw Avenue a few weeks later with photographer and friend, Andy Mac to make the soap and interview Daniel and Zaida. That whole experience was a party in itself. We started by making the soap, which was an amazing experience. We then sat to chat and drink champagne (no hemp involved, unfortunately,) and then it was time for a photoshoot.
Now where does one use soap? In the shower, right? It was only fitting to do a sexy photoshoot in the amazing Taproot Organics backyard, which is so lush with plants, trees, and the most comfortable hammock. It’s an urban oasis right in Jersey City and the most nice-smelling one!
I want to be very honest with my readers. This photo shoot was nerve-wracking. I’ve never done anything like it. I came to a realization as I turn thirty-three that I never looked better, I am happy, I feel amazing in my skin, and I am proud of it. I am a mom, a wife, and an entrepreneur. But first, I am a woman.
What are your names?
Daniel and Zaida Grunes.
What do you do?
Daniel: I am Chef de Savon at Taproot Organics and Zaida is Co-Founder.
So let’s start from the beginning. How did Taproot Organics begin?
Zaida: About 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with vitiligo. As my skin started turning white Daniel made me soap and it was incredible. I posted updates on Twitter and Facebook. Friends saw them, started ordering soap and Daniel had to make more to keep up with the requests. At the time, he was working at Jean-Georges in Manhattan. He would come home from work and make soap at night. People came by our apartment in Inwood, in Upper Manhattan, to pick it up. Social media is amazing.
So why “taproot?” Why is it called Taproot Organics?
Daniel: When you first plant a seed, before you see a sprout, a root emerges. That is the taproot. It is the first exposure to the outside world, to the nutrition, to the moisture, to everything around it that the life of that plant will ever have. As such, Taproot is the first experience you have. You make approximately 7 choices every morning before you leave the door, be it what you’re going to have for breakfast, what kind of coffee you’re going to drink and how, what you’re going to shower or shave with, how you’re going to get dressed. So we take one or two of those choices and make it the best possible experience.
How did you figure it out?
Daniel: Trial and error. I’m a culinary person. I’ve been in and out of the restaurant life since I was thirteen. It’s just been one of those ideas that took root and grew organically.
You just figured it out by yourself?
Daniel: You take a ton of research and years of experience, and you go, “All right, why are there ten parts when there should only be 5 when done properly?” And you figure out how to do it better.
Zaida: People want healthier lifestyles. They want ingredients they can pronounce. Daniel’s master recipe took hundreds of hours to create. We treat Taproot a lot like a bakery. Sourcing the highest quality ingredients is super important.
Daniel: To that end, I have personally ingested almost every ingredient in my kitchen. It’s a point of pride being able to say it’s the cleanest, the best.
Zaida: We use teas, chocolates, botanicals, herbs, aloe vera, Shea Butter – I’m insane about Shea Butter. Cocoa butter, Jojoba oil, Hempseed oil. Oh, we love Hempseed oil.
So your focus is soaps, right? But you sell other products.
Zaida: At one time, we almost killed off soap, if you can believe it.
Daniel: Soap is less than a third of the line, at this point, in terms of sales.
Zaida: Clay Deodorant. It took off. It’s made in twenty-five stick batches and sells out quickly!
My story with Taproot is, before you guys, I would refuse to buy the organic, natural soap. Like, “What? I’m not spending $8 on a bar of soap. That’s crazy!” And then I met you guys and I saw the difference with how my skin felt when I would shower with your soap. There wasn’t that shitty residue that you have, like that chemical feeling, and I was done. You know from Costco, you get twenty bars of soap? I literally had a panic attack, like “We’re showering with this?” I threw it all out. We are not putting this on our skin. The thing is, if you think about it, why do we eat organic? Why do we shower in natural goods? It’s because of your body. If you’re going to buy a pair of sneakers for hundreds of dollars, why aren’t you going to invest in your body, in your health?
Zaida: We get that feedback about price point, which is totally valid. Then we look at how much we’re spending on food. We’ll spend $12 for lunch, but we won’t buy soap?
But the bar of soap lasts a month.
So you’re paying $10 a month to shower and feel exquisite.
Zaida: It’s all a matter of priority.
My showers are like spas. I’m actually excited when I finish a bar of soap and open a new one. Last time, I bought two bars of soap. It was months ago, and I’m on my second bar. And I shower twice a day! It’s worth it!
Zaida: I tell people who buy a variety to take a knife and cut it in half, so if you have three different scents, three different flavors, you can always switch it up.
Yeah, I’m going to do that! I’m showering with the Ale now. So good. I like the minty, refreshing ones. That’s what I always go for.
Daniel: It’s NJ Beer Company in there. How do you get any better than that?
I love these collabs that you guys do! *hint hint*
Zaida: Oh we love collabs! I love being able to support other local, small businesses, Mom and Pops, and Creatives. Last year in Jersey City alone, we’ve partnered with Milk Sugar Love on Marzipan soap and ice cream, ModCup coffee is in our Chef’s Special kitchen bar, several beer-infused soaps are made with New Jersey Beer Company, Bliss and Grove tea soaps with Kelley of Do You Tea?, Goat Milk and Honey bars with Miss Molly’s Honey, and today we made a Champagne and Hempseed batch for your birthday celebration! In sourcing ingredients, consider where you spend your money. Want to have a smaller footprint? Reinvest in your local economy.
You guys are very Jersey City.
Zaida: And we’re new!
Zaida: This is our third summer. That’s it. Daniel is originally from North Bergen, so he’s familiar with these parts.
I know your story: you were a blogger in Upper Manhattan. Can you talk more about that?
Zaida: I loved what you do from the very start because I did it too. I know how hard it is and how passionate you must be. I wrote Manhattan’s Peak while living at the very top of Manhattan for almost 20 years, in Inwood and Washington Heights. I would support small businesses and would encourage them to get on social media. We’d meet up with owners and say, “Hey, have you joined Twitter yet? Are you on Facebook? What you are doing is great, share it.” I burnt out, though. It’s easy to burn out.
I know, I’m trying not to. I burn out every month, but I just push through it.
Daniel: Take a spa day, in the shower with Taproot Organics, and you’ll refresh.
I do little things to take care of myself, like exercise.
Daniel: You’re running in the morning. That’s inspiring. I look at your snapchat and go, “Damn. I should try doing that once a month.”
Zaida: I tap him in the morning, “Lynn’s running and we’re still in bed!”
I exercise because that’s like my time. I make exercise my meditation. It’s like brushing my teeth. This morning, I didn’t run and I felt like shit that I didn’t go. It’s part of how I make myself feel better. And doing little things like buying nice soap that makes me feel good, doing things for me.
Daniel: For me, it’s knowing your neighbors. Having a relationship with the shop owners, with the counterperson. It’s being able to go down the street and say, “Hi, won’t you be my neighbor?” I want the “Mr. Rogers” here. And yeah, I’m corny for it.
When I see you at the farmer’s markets, I just light up. You’re like the Chef de Savon! You have the whole look and you talk about the soap, you’re so passionate about it. Nobody does it better than you. The people who work for you are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but you’re the face of it.
Daniel: Which is ironic, because I never wanted to be a “face.” I love the background.
Zaida: One thing that was really important as a hyperlocal blogger was sharing stories that you didn’t see all the time. Not just the best restaurants that everybody knows and everyone goes to, but the little taqueria on the corner, who’s making the empanadas, who has the best coquito. Recently we found a little Jamaican place down the street that makes insane jerk chicken. We enjoy “hideaways,” which gets us exploring and learning about local culture. Over the last two and a half years, we explored all the Wards. We’re trying to find the little hideouts, really delicious places, and then tell people. That’s how we keep our local economy sustainable.
I love it. So where do you guys sell your products?
Daniel: We pop up at farmer’s markets, private events, hotels, office spaces, luxury buildings, concierge services, Private label, online at TaprootOrganics.com and more.
Zaida: We’ve been accepted into almost all of the farmer’s markets around Jersey City, so we’re not just Downtown. If you live near Lincoln Park, you can come over on Sunday. If you live near Arlington Park, you can come by Saturdays or stop at our studio at 511 Communipaw Avenue. We live in Journal Square, so we have a Pop Up Shop at the Greenmarket three blocks away from where we live. We’re adventurers, right? Daniel is a world traveler. I love new adventures, new things. We meet new people all the time, which is super exciting. And people get it! Here at the studio and soap kitchen, this is a place to relax.
Daniel: This is our peace place.
Zaida: I call it our country house.
I love it here. It’s so awesome, like the hammock.
So let’s talk about this collaboration. I’ve been waiting for this. How long have I been asking you for an interview? Since I started the blog. The blog was two months old and I was put on to Taproot Organics.
Zaida: You’ve mentioned us thirteen times on your blog, and each time we sell out. When you retweet us or mention us on the blog, I’m all, “Daniel, you have to make more soap. You have to get in the kitchen right now!” You drive so much traffic to our business and we don’t want to disappoint people. So that’s number one. Two: since I was a blogger, I knew how important your voice is. I love that we’re doing this for your birthday and I love the recipe that Daniel created.
We sat and were like, “What are we going to put in it?” I was like, “Okay, let’s do champagne!” Then I’m like, “But I really like hemp.” I didn’t know the possibility of having champagne and hemp was even possible.
Zaida: Anything is possible.
And the few people I’ve spoken to, I’m like, “Oh, I’m doing a collaboration with Taproot and the main ingredients are hemp and champagne. They’re like, “That’s amazing. It’s like it’s a party!” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what it’s called! It’s a Party!” I feel like the timing was right. ChicpeaJC is two years old; I’m turning thirty-three. I’m feeling better than ever, looking better than ever, and it’s a party.
Zaida: Celebrate life! That’s why Daniel keeps champagne in the fridge. You never know when you’ll feel like celebrating.
So what are your favorite Jersey City hangout spots?
Zaida: We’re here on Communipaw! This is our hangout with our twins, so we’re here with them every day and it’s not a pain in the ass because we love what we do. We support fellow vendors. As a farmer’s market vendor, we want to make sure that all of our people are taken care of and, in turn, they take care of us. We’ll spend our money with food trucks before a restaurant. Our favorite food truck is Mordi’s.
I love Mordi’s! We posted about him when we did Top 12 Food Trucks in Jersey City and he’s on the top spot.
Zaida: He made us an eggplant chicken combo schnitzel and called it the Taproot Special.
He’s one of the first food posts when I started blogging.
Zaida: Their truck is so beautiful and driving anywhere in Jersey City, we’re like, “Mordi’s!” And that’s part of the experience.
Yeah, it’s chasing your food. I love it!
Daniel: It’s hunting, urban style.
Zaida: We have some secrets.
Daniel: We didn’t even tell anyone about your project yet!
Zaida: We’re hoping to expand. The business is growing, people are looking for us, and we’d like to come to you. We’ll see what happens!
I’m excited! So any last words?
Daniel: Live clean and have fun.
Zaida: And thanks for supporting small business!
“Party” will be sold at farmer’s markets and at ChicpeaJC HQ. Keep up with Taproot Organics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and their website to find out where to get Party and other awesome products!
Taproot Organics will also be vending at the Forever Young Festival July 23rd! Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/620411871458967/