Pitzy Folk loves the good life. Guiding us around his office, he introduces Jenny, a cook employed full-time to feed the staff. He then escorts us through the considerable garden behind the warehouse, where he’s growing mandarins, figs, almonds, basil, sage, peaches, chillis, citrus, avocados, cherries, nectarines, quinces, blueberries, raspberries and bananas with what appears to be great success. “We go to the markets, we grow our own vegetables. I’m a fisherman, I love my fresh fish and all this,” he says. “I eat too much and I drink too much, but that’s what good life is about.”
It’s an ethos he extends to Capi, a natural fruit soda, made without preservatives or additives, using Victorian mineral water. Launched three years ago, it’s the latest in a long line of businesses that spring from Folk’s affection for the finer things.
Born in Austria, Folk originally trained in hotel management in Europe. But like many before him and countless others after, a chance meeting with a beautiful girl in Greece prompted a significant change in plans. Though he had a job lined up in Chile, this young Australian woman put a spanner in the works. “She lived with me in Munich for six months, but she decided to come home,” he recalls. “Did I want to stay in Munich, or did I want to go somewhere else, with adventure and risk and all those things? I decided to follow her here. I married her, and we’re still married.”
When he arrived in Melbourne, Folk quickly realised that the Australian food scene wasn’t all it could be. “When I came to Australia, food in the 70’s wasn’t really that advanced,” he says. “There were some really good fancy restaurants, but nothing in between.”
So Folk decided to try his hand at creating some food culture of his own. He opened his first business, Provender, a gourmet food shop selling homemade quiches, terrines and pate. “We were really quite a huge success,” says Folk. “That gave me a really good start here.”
Since that first success, Folk tried his hand at quite a few others: cafes in department store Georges and Country Road, then the Observatory restaurant in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. Then, once Folk had his fill of the restaurant business, he decided to go into coffee, founding Map, with a line of portion-controlled coffee machines for the home (they’re now second only to Nespresso).
But, five years ago, a friend suggested Folk join him in a new venture: fruit soda. This time, however, things didn’t go quite according to plan. “We had an absolute disaster with the bottles,” admits Folk. “We got them out of Malaysia and they were faulty. We had to recall. After that, we had a rethink.”
It occurred to Folk that there was a real gap in the Australian drinks industry. To his mind, it was simply ridiculous to ship in bottles of European water when we’ve got plenty of the stuff right under our feet. “When you think of food miles, it’s obscene that we import mineral water from Italy and France,” he says. “I just think we’ve got beautiful water here, it’s bottled at the source. We have to get a bit of pride about being Australian and producing our own things. Just because it comes from Europe doesn’t mean it has to be better.”
Although Folk’s perfectly happy to drink a San Pelligrino if he’s in Italy, or a Perrier in France, to his mind it’s hypocritical to promote local produce but drink imported water. “Every chef in this country talks about local sources, everything here, yet all of them have Perrier, San Pel or whatever else in their restaurants,” he says. “To ship containers of water to Australia, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Another item Folk thought was missing from Australian tables was a range of mixers and sodas made with natural fruit juice, without the addition of preservatives. “When you look at Australian manufacturers, we’ve got Bundaberg, and they’re fantastic. I think they’re doing a great job with their ginger beer,” says Folk. “You’ve got a couple of other smaller ones that have been run for a long time, but all of them have preservatives. We just want to put natural botanical ingredients in and preserve it naturally through pasteurisation.”
Under the Capi brand, Folk sells all-natural fruit sodas with flavours like blood orange and grapefruit, along with a home-style lemonade and a genuine tonic water. “Most people are using artificial quinine, which the Americans developed during WWII,” explains Folk. “We decided we’d go back to how it used to be made. We get the bark from the tree.”
Along with sourcing natural ingredients, Folk is concerned with producing a product sustainably. Like most other drinks companies, his glass bottles are all recyclable, though he’s considering a bottle-return scheme for hospitality clients. “Having grown up in Europe in the '50s, it was postwar, so my parents never threw anything out. Keep it, there might be a use for it one day!” he says. “In Bavaria, the culture is where you get a plastic crate delivered to your house, it’s like the milk, you put the empty crate with the empty bottles back out and you get the new one,” he says. “We’ll have a similar service where we’ll deliver and take back. They’re things I’m working to. I think we all need to be innovative on this thing.”
And while Folk’s certainly not averse to making a buck, he believes that people who get into the food business are motivated by a genuine passion for the product. To his mind, most restauranteurs start restaurants not because they want to open a restaurant, but because they love food. “How do you throw a good party? It’s about generosity. You have to be generous to create something that’s good,” he explains. “I’m selling my belief to the public because I want to share it.”
That said, there’s one thing other than fruit soda Folk would rather be drinking. “I don’t drink much soft drink, really,” he admits. “I have water or I have alcohol! Give me a bottle of rosé for lunch!”