Keith Marok is a man of many interests.
Not only does Marok design and make jewelry, but he is a professional glass maker and soda pop entrepeneur. Yes, soda pop.
"He is a multi-talented kind of guy. Very creative," Kathy Steingraber said.
Steingraber, an East Toledo native who lives in Oregon, is the former president of the Downtown Warehouse District Association. She is a member/property owner of St. Clair Village, Inc. in downtown Toledo.
Located in St. Clair Village is The Little Gallery, a commission-free gallery at 46 S. St. Clair St. Marok, 35, shows his glass art at The Little Gallery's exhibits, which are held every third Thursday of the month.
"Everybody who exhibits here, exhibits free," Steingraber said. "Anything they sell is theirs. We don't take any of the money. It's a wonderful event."
Marok and his wife, Amanda, own a company called Marok's GlassRoots.
"We do demonstrations and teach classes every third Thursday, from May though Sept. 17," Keith Marok said. "I've been a glass maker since 1997. I apprenticed under another glass blower, Josh Evans, in Columbus. I design and make jewelry. We do custom work, all the way up to full municipal sculptures.
"Working with Kathy at The Little Gallery, she has that love of architecture and art. She doesn't do it as a business. She just wanted to promote the artists in her building. She had a couple of artists renting in her building and she wanted to get other people from Toledo, and it has flourished. We enjoy going down there. There is a lot of networking and artists who come together on that block that's been renovated."
This summer marked Marok's second year doing exhibits at The Little Gallery.
"Kathy contacted me through the Arts Commission of Toledo," Marok said. "It's been real successful. We enjoy going down to that portion of town. We always make sales down there at the Gallery. That's why we exhibited the soda pop there. That was the first time we gave the public a test of the soda pop. Everybody loved it except one couple. It was too sweet for them, but there's not a lot of sugar in it."
Marok and his wife tossed around names for the soda, which Keith was making in his home, and came up with Grape Lakes Soda. He started making the pop for kids, and then for a cousin's wedding. He began making the soda in 2004 and served it out of a keg.
"We'd go around and do the downtown Farmer's Markets," Marok said. "This year we said, 'Let's see what it would take to sell the pop at the Farmer's Markets while we display the glass.' I called a lady in Port Clinton who was holding the Farmer's Market one month and asked who she knew who could help us get it ready to sell to the public and what paperwork we'd have to fill out."
The Port Clinton woman referred Marok to the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), located on Airport Highway.
"CIFT had helped her get organized with the Farmer's Market," Marok said, "so she had me contact CIFT and they said they had a food competition and this sounded like something I should enter in their competition. The deadline was the next day; we were able to fill out the proper paperwork and we got called back that it was properly filled out. We submitted our samples to a local board of judges through CIFT, which included a representative from Marcy Kaptur's office."
In early July, Marok entered his soda in the "new food products" classification at the CIFT competition.
"We showed up with a keg," he said. "We were present at the judging, so they got an entire presentation. We got judged and we found out we were were one of three winners. We were excited."
Grape Lakes Soda, which includes 95 percent fruit juice, uses grapes grown in West Toledo.
"We are trying to contract for a larger amount from vineyards along Lake Erie," Marok said. "We will be setting up a couple acres of grapes at or near the CIFT test site in Bowling Green. The reward for winning the competition is we get to benefit from CIFT, which has a test kitchen outside Bowling Green.
"We get to make 50 gallons of our product for sale ... fully packaged, approved, up to code. There are other benefits, too. It was a very big deal. At the time we were looking for somewhere healthy and clean to manufacture the product. It was just the perfect reward for what we were looking for."
Marok said CIFT will also help with developing and packaging Grape Lakes Soda.
"We're going to be sending out test products to food engineers, so we'll be receiving our freshness date and the nutrition analysis," he said. "We have to find out the nutrient content - the tests will be put on the label - and the freshness date, which will tell us how long it can stay on the shelves.
nce that's done we'll file with the State of Ohio for our label, and then we can produce it at the CIFT test kitchen."
Marok chuckled when he was asked if Grape Lakes Soda could someday rival smaller soda pop brands like Faygo and Fanta.
"We're looking at making it a big deal," he said. "It's good stuff."