As Bend continues to grow its reputation as a beer town, two local women are putting the city on the map for a different kind of brewed beverage: kombucha.
When Jamie Danek and Michelle Plantenberg started Kombucha Mama in 2009—just a few years after the 2,000-year-old effervescent fermented tea started to be produced commercially—they brewed the beverage in a home kitchen and distributed it to local homes and businesses via Prius. Today, the Bend-based company is preparing for an April 15 rebranding that Danek and Plantenberg hope will allow them to expand their market share and extend their mission.
About 18 months ago, the mamas behind the local kombucha company had to do some soul-searching.
"Do we go big or stay in Bend?" Danek says the company was fielding a flood of requests for the product in other cities and kept saying they'd get there eventually. Ultimately, the pair decided to do both.
In an effort to translate the company's ethic into something that would appeal to the uninitiated masses, Kombucha Mama enlisted the help of local ad agency TBD, the company behind the branding of Crux Fermentation Project. As part of the company's rebranding, it will unveil a new name and logo.
"It's all about energy, a vibration, about happiness," Danek explains. "It's all about vibe. Our core value is optimism—seeing goodness in the world."
And while Danek hopes to see their company's kombucha on grocers' shelves alongside national soda brands, she also wants to help boost the category as a whole.
"We realized this is so much bigger than us," says Danek, who also serves on the board of directors for the newly formed trade group Kombucha Brewers International.
Kombucha consumption is taking off across the country, and Bend is well positioned to be a hub of that growing movement. With its fondness for healthy living, craft beer, and supporting local, it should come as no surprise that the city is home to the first kombucha brew pub of its kind in the country.
Kombucha Mama was also among the first to offer kombucha on tap—now, the bubbly stuff is being served up by the glass or growler everywhere from breweries to discount grocers and cigarette outlets to local business offices.
"Our bigger goal was accessibility," Danek explains. That's why the company has invested so much time into developing a flavor profile geared toward the 99 percent of people from whom the word kombucha elicits a cringe or confusion. It's also the reason Kombucha Mama started its surprisingly successful experiment of putting kombucha on tap in unexpected places, such as Food 4 Less and eastside gas station minimarts.
Now, the discount grocer is Kombucha Mama's number one retailer in Bend, proving that yoga pants and dreadlocks are not required to appreciate the low sugar, probiotic rich beverage. And as kombucha increases in popularity, Danek and Plantenberg are hustling to keep up with the demand.
Though the company moved into its current 5,000-square-foot space less than a year ago, it is already looking to expand. Danek says Kombucha Mama is on the hunt for a 50,000 to 75,000-square-foot facility in Bend, with the goal of opening in 2015. A brewery this size would make them one of the largest producers of kombucha in the country—and likely create about 50 jobs, Danek says, more than doubling the current staff of 25 full-time and 10 part-time employees.
In the meantime, Danek says they are planning an internal expansion of their Second Street location, which also includes a brewpub where visitors can sip on a pint of one of nine on-tap varieties while lounging on the couch, taking in the work of a local artist, or checking their email on the pub's wifi. Pastries from Sparrow Bakery will soon be joined by other light fare, including salads and gluten-free pizza from nearby businesses.
While the taproom is buzzing on a Friday afternoon—Danek jokes that they need to come up with a growler carrier for people like the man who has just walked in, with each index finger looped through two growler handles. She says the space was not created to be an income generator.
Danek says the primary motivation was to give back to the community by creating a family-friendly hangout in an otherwise lacking section of midtown. That neighborhood aspires to be the next Galveston, she says. By the time summer arrives, the brew pub will have outdoor seating for 50, activities for kids, and a license to sell beer and wine to grownups.
In keeping with the company's commitment to supporting local, Danek says the pub hopes to feature basement brewers, allowing customers to try beers they can't get anywhere else.
Danek stresses that the company wouldn't be where it is today without the support of the local community—from the beer bottles Silver Moon Brewing sold Kombucha Mama at cost so they could begin distribution, to the designer who create the company's logo in exchange for a year's worth of kombucha.
"We're pushing for a national presence," Danek says, but "our path to growth, I promise—we're going to grow exponentially with the same energy, with the same vibe we have as a small company."