When Ramapo High School alum Albie Manzo's law school dreams fell apart during last season's Real Housewives of New Jersey the Franklin Lakes resident admits he didn't know what to do next.
Naturally, he applied to other law schools, and was dismayed that he wasn't accepted. After one particularly good interview he found out why: The RHONJ limelight cast an unfavorable hue on his applications.
"Schools were afraid to take a chance on me coming back because of the high visibility of the show," Manzo told Patch. "I was very discouraged and didn't know what I would do."
This apparent "black" listing may prove to be his lucky color: it matches his new venture, the health beverage blk., which has been flying off shelves across the country since its launch this spring.
blk., or black water as it was called when Albie and his uncle Chris Laurita discovered it last year at the food show in New York, is Canadian spring water infused with fulvic acid, a natural nutrient-rich compound that has been used in alternative healing circles for centuries.
The beverage's black color comes from a chemical reaction between the water and fulvic acid, and is part of the drink's allure.
"The color is what gets people listening in the first place," Albie said.
The health and energy boosting benefits, however, is what keeps people drinking it. He said it leaves him feeling refreshed, like he'd gotten a solid eight-hours night's sleep.
In typical Manzo-Laurita style, the entire family supports the business. Both Chris and Albie Manzo work on the business end of the company, along with their Uncle Chris Laurita, who is a partner in the venture. Manzo mom Caroline and aunt Jacqueline have helped out on the promotion end with public appearances (just this weekend, they gave samples at ).
But it was a Canadian family who "invented" blk., both accidentally and out out of necessity. About four years ago, the mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and was sick and weak from chemotherapy. In search of something to make her feel better, her children took to the internet seeking alternative treatments and holistic remedies when they discovered the free-radical scavenger known as fulvic acid.
They mixed it with spring water, and it turned black. They gave this black water to their mom. She drank it and felt better. So she kept drinking it. Four years later, she is not only alive but thriving. And while they wouldn't go so far as to say the water cured her, they believe it restored her strength and increased her stamina to keep fighting.
The family thought the black water was a pretty cool product, so they decided to package it and sell it, which lead them to the food show, where the Manzo-Laurita family found them.
Albie and Chris attended the show on a mission to find something new and different to market using their RHONJ celebrity. They left with several leads, but after researching fulvic acid and meeting with the family in Vancouver, they narrowed the field down to black water, changed its name to blk. and created its sleek, eye-catching packaging.
"They were the nicest people I've ever met," Manzo said. "Then we started drinking the water every day and I felt completely different, physically. I was sold."
Considering what is at the core of the beverage and its effects, its commercial appeal isn't surprising. Fulvic acid is mined from prehistoric sediment and been dubbed a "miracle molecule." The list of ailments it is said to cure is endless and its medicinal history is timeless. Ayervedic medicine calls it shilajit (or salajeet), a rejuvenating agent believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and anti-aging properties.
In western medicine, fulvic acid is being investigated as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions, diabetes, eye problems, ulcers, AIDS, cancer and a host of other conditions.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that in the laboratory fulvic acid not only inhibits intracelluar Tau protein tangles formation but also may reverse existing tangles. (Simply put, these tangles are a measurement of the neuro-cognitive-degenarative process and a key stage in the development of Alzheimer's disease.)
"Fulvic acid is likely to provide new insights in the development of potential treatments for Alzheimer's disease using natural products," the study authors concluded.
Manzo admits he was skeptical of the claims at first and he doesn't quite understand the science, but the more he drinks it — he downs a bottle a day — and the more he hears from satisfied customers, the more he believes in blk.
One case in particular, he told Patch, has really assured him of the product's potential: A mother gave her autistic son blk. to drink, thinking its unique color might get him drinking more water. The boy not only drank it, he loved it, but the amazing part, he started behaving. The mother reached out to Albie, shocked, who sent her two more cases to try. Her son is stimming less and listening and following directions more. The difference, she told Manzo, is unbelievable.
As is the product's commercial success, Manzo said. "It is blowing off the shelves across the country," he said, noting Wegman’s picked up distribution of it early on. "We literally couldn't believe that people grasped on to it as quickly as they did."
In the Franklin Lakes area, you can find it on the shelves at Food Town in North Haledon and Corrado's in Wayne, and it will soon be available in ShopRite, A&P and King's.
A 15-oz. bottle of blk. retails for $2.49, which Manzo noted is priced matched to the popular coconut water health drinks, blk.'s biggest competitor. Since blk. is only water and fulvic acid, it has zero carbs or calories and no caffeine.
For more on blk. and its history, visit blkbeverages.com.