It all started with a craving. Salem resident Shani Gonzalez longed to taste the Mexican agua frescas, a thirst-quenching fruit beverage that she grew up drinking. Her husband, Josė Gonzalez, understood the nostalgia and asked his mother for her recipe for the drink.
“We grew up on these fresh juices that we really couldn’t find anywhere in Oregon,” Jose says. “Everything is made from scratch.” After making the refreshing beverage, Jose was inspired to combine it with hard apple cider. The result was a selection of semisweet hard ciders unlike anything else he’d seen on the market in Oregon or elsewhere. From the outset, the family knew they had stumbled upon something special.
Blending Culture and Independence
“It really is a blend of not only the Mexican culture but also Oregon’s independence in the craft-drink industry,” Jose says. “We were really enjoying craft beer and cider, but at many Mexican restaurants and small taquerias, they didn’t have anything craft. I thought to myself, they’re missing out on a great opportunity.”
The Gonzalez family launched La Familia Cider Company in 2017, getting their product on shelves around the state within six months — a feat that Jose attributes to industry knowledge shared by Jeff and Lynda Parrish, owners of Portland Cider Company. La Familia continues to partner with the Portland cidery, using their facilities for production and working with the same bottling and canning companies they do. “They opened doors that we wouldn’t have been able to open ourselves for who knows how long,” Jose says.
Though they initially weren’t going to open their own space for La Familia, Jose found that the first question he often got when talking about his cider was: Where’s your taproom? “People in this industry, they want to connect with you and your story,” he says. So after more than a year of logistics, La Familia Cider Company opened a flagship taproom in downtown Salem in July 2020. Opening a brick-and-mortar during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, but Jose says that being raised in a family of farm workers taught him to plan wisely and persevere.
“I knew that every step we make, we better make sure it’s a safe step,” he says. “Seeing what my parents went through, starting in this country and hearing them tell us, ‘You can have the American dream’ and seeing them operate with courage …. We strongly believe that what we want to do is possible. That’s the heart of it.”
New Family-Friendly Taproom Opens
The taproom, which includes indoor seating and an outdoor patio, shares a space with Azuls Taco House and is home to 29 taps, including La Familia, other craft ciders and 14 craft beers. La Familia’s cider is also on draft in bars and restaurants across the state, and it sells its two flagship canned products in grocery stores: a floral and bright Jamaica hibiscus flavor and a tart, tropical guayaba, or guava flavor. Both are around 5% alcohol by volume.
At its essence, La Familia stays true to its name by being a company that is all about family. Jose enjoys sharing his mother’s recipe with others, and when you visit the Salem taproom, you can meet his son, daughter and nephew, who work there.
“It’s an invitation for people to be part of our family,” he says. In the same vein, the company has also built into its business plan ongoing donations to organizations that fight against federal immigration policies that result in family separation.
“We thought that name was a big responsibility. We can’t name it family without making sure that keeping families together is part of us,” Jose says. “We knew we had to do something forever.”