Fysikos Sea Sponge Co.
The next time you’re at the Downtown Sarasota Farmers’ Market, stop by Fysikos Sea Sponge Co. and say hi to “X”—the nickname for Brian Cook, owner of Fysikos (he prefers to go by X). Cook will fill you in on what sea sponges are—and why you’ll come to love them.
If you know anything about the town of Tarpon Springs near Tampa, which calls itself the “Sponge Diving Capital of the World,” then you can start to make a connection between Cook and that outpost of Greece in the New World. Cook worked in the media business in California for his career, but he decided to move to Florida after enjoying the Sunshine State during vacations. He moved full time to Tarpon Springs in 2013 and knew some colleagues connected to the sea sponge business.
The majority of natural sea sponges sold in the U.S. are processed in Tarpon Springs, and many sea sponge divers still use the town as a starting point. The living sponges they obtain come from as far up as the Panhandle and as far down as the Keys, Cook says.
Cook visited several farmers’ markets to sell his sea sponges, and he settled on the Downtown Sarasota market. When Market Manager Phil Pagano asked who makes the sea sponges, Cook pointed out that they’re “harvested by man and made by God.”
Sea sponges have a variety of uses, probably many more than you’d think. The various sizes can be used for bathing, makeup application, and general-purpose cleaning, Cook says. (By using a sea sponge, you’ll probably also use less soap, saving money in the long run, he adds.) Some are even used by horse groomers. There are large bowl-shaped sponges fashioned as vases as well. Cook also sells coral and shells, two natural decorative complements for sea sponges.
Using natural sea sponges is more popular in Europe than in the U.S.—but once someone tries them, it’s hard to get them to stop, Cook says. In fact, during a visit at the Downtown Sarasota Farmers’ Market, retired dentist Jerome Schwartz came by Fysikos to purchase a second sponge. He praised Cook’s sponges for their soft, natural feel.
Sea sponges can last about two or three years with the right care, Cook says. He gives out a card to all new buyers to remind them to completely rinse their sponge after use (squeeze, don’t twist), air dry for good circulation, and use a baking soda and water solution every one or two months to clean the sponge.
Although the sponge industry has seen some down times, it’s experienced a resurgence in recent years. Sea sponge divers leave a portion of the sponge underwater so it can grow again, Cook says.
“It’s like pruning a tree. It’ll come back stronger,” he says.
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