Food Hub’s AZ Nordic Kvass Looks to Bring Russian Flavor to Massachusetts

The so-called dog days of summer are here and there’s no better way to cool off than with a cold, refreshing drink.

No, not beer. We’re talking about kvass.

Described by Russian-born Mike Zubairov as “a unique-tasting, fermented, non-alcoholic beverage,” kvass is traditionally an Eastern European drink, and has been enjoyed in countries like Russia and Ukraine for centuries.

The drink is made when stale bread, yeast, water, and a couple of other ingredients ferment for a few days during which  carbonation occurs naturally — a process similar to how beer is made, just without the hops.

“It’s essentially kind of like a soda in the way it bubbles. It’s traditionally consumed within families who grow up there; [similar to] having a Coca Cola here, it’s just something you’ve grown up with,” said Mr. Zubairov.

After immigrating to the U.S. from Russia in the mid-90’s, now Mr. Zubairov and his father, Anatoli Zubairov, are launching their own brand of kvass, hoping to bring that taste of home to Massachusetts.

Already capable of making the beverage with a generations-old family recipe and piqued by the possibility of entrepreneurship since his move to America, Mr. Anatoli Zubairov wondered if he could combine the two, turning his passion into a business.

“I’ve always had the thought in the back of my mind since coming to America that I wanted to start a business, but couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. I guess a big reason [influencing the start of AZ Nordic] was to bring a traditional, natural kvass to the market since I didn’t see any in stores,” he said.

Quickly recognizing that purchasing a facility outright to produce the drink would be a “substantial capital investment,” the Zubairovs started exploring other options like shared kitchens, stumbling upon the Worcester Regional Food Hub.

“From the start, the Food Hub was very helpful and supportive in making sure we could get this venture off the ground. [WRFH Director] Shon Rainford and his team have guided us in many ways and we thank them for everything they’ve done,” said Anatoli Zubairov, adding that access to the kitchen space itself has been a “fantastic resource” and “instrumental” to launching the business.

Although there are dozens of kvass brands on the market even in the U.S., Mike Zubairov says what makes AZ Nordic unique is its homemade quality and its “old country” taste.

Crafted with only four or five ingredients, Anatoli Zubairov says it offers an all-natural alternative to mass-produced kvasses and any other beverages packed with sugar which are typically found in stores.

As they focus their initial efforts on Russian specialty shops where they know there’s a demand for it, the product is currently only being sold through Bazaar Supermarkets which has a handful of locations in Allston, Brookline, Framingham, and Newton. But if they can get it off the ground in Massachusetts, the father-son duo hopes distribution can then take off to New York, where they say there’s an even larger Russian-speaking population.

So while the overall goal is to bring what for many Eastern European living in the U.S. is a nostalgic taste of home, the Zubairovs would eventually like to see their small-batch, startup beverage venture also win over some new customers who may have never tried or even heard of kvass.