Milking it for All its Worth

Hunter Harlor was never a particular fan of almond milk. Oh, he’d keep a half-gallon or so around the house, but the idea that he might have a future as an entrepreneur in the stuff never occurred to him.

That is, until one day last year when he read a magazine article about making almond milk at home. The homemade version, the article promised, bested storebought varieties by any measure: flavor, creaminess, or mouth feel.

Intrigued, Harlor followed the article’s instructions. He soaked a bunch of almonds in water overnight. In the morning, he blended the heck out of them, then strained the results through cheesecloth, and added a pinch of sea salt and raw sugar for flavor.

Then he took a sip.

“Imagine you’ve been eating Kraft Singles your whole life and thinking, ‘Hey, that’s pretty good cheese,’” Harlor said. “And then you eat the world’s best white cheddar, and you finally know what cheese is supposed to taste like. It was that much better.”

Read the rest of this story...

Taste buds blown, Harlor started spreading the gospel of homemade almond milk around town. He experimented with the recipe, trying different varieties of almonds and various straining materials. After a few weeks, he believed he’d developed his product to a standard high enough to be saleable.

His first business call? Rising Star Coffee, a neighborhood coffee shop and roastery in Ohio City.

“I’d been going there pretty often as a customer and I had a friendly relationship with the owners,” he said. “I noticed they didn’t have any almond milk for using in coffee, so I asked if they’d have any interest. It turned out their customers had been asking for it.”

The first week, Rising Star ordered a gallon and a half of Harlor’s milk, and within a few weeks they were ordering three. A new business was born, one the 25-year-old Harlor dubbed forty.one, after his address on the 4100 block of Whitman Avenue.

He’s now selling about 20 gallons of almond milk a week, with a client list that’s grown to include Gypsy Beans & Baking Co. in Gordon Square, the two Phoenix Coffee locations in Cleveland Heights, Town Hall Ohio City, and the Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights. He does a weekly drop-off for private customers at Rising Star, and also makes home deliveries.

“People love that old-school ‘milk jar delivered to their front porch’ feeling,” said Harlor.

He’s just expanded into making soy milk and a hybrid almond-macadamia-hazelnut milk, and he is searching for a larger production space to meet rising demand.

Harlor sources his nuts from Hillson Nut Company, a nut distributor in Cleveland’s Stockyards neighborhood because he has found that their nuts are the freshest and most economical and he likes partnering with a local business.

Pricing has been a challenge. A quart of forty.one almond milk retails for $6, three or four times what supermarket varieties cost. While Harlor and his customers believe the extra cost is justified, he recognizes forty.one won’t be a serious competitor at supermarkets anytime soon. The fact that he’s not yet equipped to pasteurize his product also limits retail opportunities: forty.one milk must be consumed within seven days of production.

That’s why Harlor, who also works as a bartender and a retail management consultant, is setting his sights on farmers markets beginning this summer.

“We’d like to do a subscription service where you pay weekly or by the month,” he said. “Every week we’ll be there and you swap out your glass bottle for a new batch.”

Until that happens, you can look for forty.one on Twitter (@ohc41) and Facebook (forty.one).