I had come to laugh at the guy. “Ten dollars? For an ice cube?” But there we were, sitting outside a south Davis shopping mall in the late afternoon sun, and Roberto Sequeira was explaining his fledgling “premium luxury ice” business, and I was getting parched.
It started as a business-school exercise to create the perfect product. Something new, with a high margin, “recession-proof” and relatively inexpensive to introduce. A luxury good seemed the best bet. But everything—clothes, watches, you name it—already had a high-end iteration.
“Eventually,” Sequeira says, “we ended up with water.”
The bottled-water market was already, ahem, flooded. How about frozen water? If Americans can support more than 3,000 brands of bottled water, Sequeira reasoned, why not a single yuppie ice? The result: large (2.5-inch diameter) spheres carved by hand in Canada, packaged in vacuum-sealed groups of four or eight, cradled in dry ice, overnighted to your ultra-chic nightclub and ceremoniously baptized in your Belvedere and tonic. Yes, regular ice performs the same function for 10 bucks less, but why be frugal? You’re out, you’re celebrating, you’re making a statement. I don’t just have money to burn, sweet thing, I have money to melt.
Sequeira calls it Gläce, pronounced “gloss.” Rappers, he says, prefer the term G-Lace. The umlaut was punched above the “a” so Gläce could be trademarked, and just eight months after graduating, he had a Web site (www.glace-ice.com), a manufacturer and a product. Gläce has been “shelf-ready” for about two months.
You won’t find it at Froggy’s or anywhere. Each imported sphere takes more than 10 minutes and $3 to create. That’s why Sequeira’s aiming for the most exclusive celebrity-studded clubs and restaurants, the trendiest VIP rooms, where a $40 shot of whiskey doesn’t bat an eye, even in a down economy. So far, he’s done three Los Angeles parties, and the reception for Gläce follows a predictable arc: from skepticism—if not downright outrage at concept and price—through intrigue and enjoyment.
Born in Nicaragua, 34-year-old Davis resident Sequeira has the infectious enthusiasm and positive energy of a proud first-generation American. You get the feeling that even though he thinks it’s an absurd product, it just might sell. After all, 15 years ago, few thought we’d surrender $4 for a cup of coffee.
Because talking about drinking is silly, we headed for his home freezer. He unsealed an orb and dropped it in my glass. The frosted ball turned clear as it became enrobed by a heavy pour of Johnny Walker Black. I held up the glass. The sphere looked luminous in the light. It tasted like … ice. But my drink had heft.
“Gravitas,” Sequeira said. “It’s the difference between a man’s drink and a boy’s drink.”
Maybe it was the whiskey talking, but I was digging this artisanal ice thing. It was festive and fun. By the end of the interview, $10 for an ice cube seemed, well, still ludicrous. But I could see throwing down for Gläce on a special occasion—the nonsmoker’s version of cigars to celebrate a birth, perhaps. As Sequeira transferred my still-substantial sphere into a martini glass for another round, I admired the brilliance behind his plan: If there’s truly a sucker born every minute, why not sell ’em something to suck on?