When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Zemonade 

Zemyran Prater created a lemonade delivery service to help pay the bills and finance his career in music. Then the business took off.

click to enlarge A year from now, he’d like  a food truck and storefront. After that, a production company.

Photo by Chiara Bercu

A year from now, he’d like a food truck and storefront. After that, a production company.

If you want lemonade delivered to your door, Zemyran Prater is your guy. Mere months into his new business, Prater is selling one of the most coveted beverages in the Bay: the home-brewed "Zemonade," packaged with fresh strawberries and blueberries in every jar. Between batches — which take up to four hours to make, depending on demand — the 25-year-old Antioch native spends his days making lemonade deliveries, meeting an emergent clientele in locales as far away as Dublin and San Jose. "Deliveries All Day," his Instagram posts read. Most days he sells out.

A singer and videographer, Prater never thought he'd be making lemonade to pay the bills. Alongside video production for Project X — a high-profile YouTube channel for Bay-Area dance parties — Prater has spent much of his young adult life honing his voice as an R&B singer. Named after the Hebrew word for music, "Zemyran," Prater grew up in a creative household. He spent his upbringing singing on the "Praise Team" at church, and began to record songs with his brothers Kalan and Daryl in an at-home studio at age 13. In collaborations with Bay-based artists such as Maroj and Forte, Prater has since cultivated a sound he describes as "calm" and "motivational." "I make the love-making music, for sure," he said. "It's therapeutic."

Prater had no plan when he quit his day job back in August. At the time he'd been working two years in "housekeeping" at Kaiser Permanente, a position he felt was exploitative and chemically toxic. As a single father of two year-old twin girls, Cali and Sage, Prater took a risk in leaving Kaiser without a backup plan. "I felt like I was on a cliff, blindfolded, with no parachute, no wings, nothing," he said. "But God was telling me to jump." Despite not having a plan, Prater was dead-set on his decision. "I wasn't tripping," he said. "I wanted to jump into that."

Though Prater considered using the fresh start to pursue music fulltime, he needed a quick way to make money on the side. "I started thinking food," he said. "Everybody gotta eat!" A couple days out of a job, Prater began to sell meals out of his kitchen, delivering pasta dishes to friends and locals in Antioch. "People know me for putting projects together," Prater said. "And for reaching out to the community, too, trying to get everybody involved."

Prater credits his mom for his skills as a chef. Growing up, he and his brothers were often tasked with making dinner for the family, and his mom taught them how to master staples such as burgers, tacos, and pizza. "She's the ultimate cook," Prater said. "She could pull anything together."

A week into selling pastas, Prater was sitting in the kitchen with his daughters and had a sudden craving for lemonade. At the time Cali and Sage were across the table from him eating frozen blueberries, one of their favorite foods. After making juice from lemons and strawberries he had in the fridge, Prater decided to add some of their blueberries to the drink. "I threw it in there, shook it up, froze it a little bit," and ended up with something "hella good." Having racked up empty Classico jars from a week of cooking pasta, Prater used six or seven of them to bottle the juice, and posted them online to sell. When the jars sold out within the hour, "I thought 'man, people really want the juice!'" he said.

Prater made those first bottles of Zemonade on September 5, a little over a week after quitting Kaiser. He began selling the drink at local barbershops and alongside Lake Merritt, using a dolly from Costco and a speaker he'd purchased for busking. It didn't take long for him to realize how lucrative the business could be. When he sold $50 of juice in three minutes, he knew he "would never work for somebody else ever again."

Prater now sells the juice in 16-ounce ($7), 32-ounce ($10), and gallon ($30) jars, available to order on Instagram @Zemonade. "Life in a Jar," the tagline reads, printed with a signature yellow logo on marketing materials.

It was his friend Cary Grant (real name) who first came up with the name "Zemonade" in a sketch he did for branding. Together with Prater's brother Kalan and friend Jhamaria McCrary, the three of them have been instrumental in getting the business get off the ground. In September they helped produce a theme song for Zemonade with Chanelle McCoy, which featured in numerous commercials on his Instagram. Now that Prater is overbooked with deliveries and events to attend, he's even begun paying friends to represent Zemonade in his stead.

Since starting the business, Prater has amassed a wide array of clients, and has even sold to celebrities like Busta Rhymes, Sway Calloway, and Mistah F.A.B. His infectious smile and positivity seem to be part of what makes the juice an easy sell. Prater claims people "take a chance" on Zemonade because they say he has "positive vibes." "That's why people believe in it and support it," he said. The drink "holds energy."

A year from now, Prater wants to have a food truck and a storefront for Zemonade, as well as a house of his own with Cali and Sage. Once he gets the business situated, he plans to devote his full attention to music and collaborations with other artists. In the long-term, he dreams of opening his own production company, where he hopes to provide resources for young people interested in film, music, and plays.

Prater sees his daughters as his main inspiration to keep working. "They're something else," he said. Pictures of Cali and Sage cover his Instagram profile, interspersed with images of Zemonade jars and first-sip reaction videos. Now that Cali and Sage are learning to read, "Zemonade" is one of their favorite words. "They ask for it every day," he said. "They love it." And if it weren't for his daughters' frozen blueberries, Prater claims he would have never even have "thought about making this drink."

Prater is glad he went with his gut when he quit back in August, even though he didn't know what he was moving toward at the time. In his perspective, it's important to trust yourself and not get too "caught up" in the unknown. "You have to wake up and be like: Do I choose to go to the same job that's making me miserable, or do I choose happiness?" Prater said. "Do I choose to make my own?"

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