Oct 16, 2013
by RENEE PATRICK CBN Feature Writer
Central Oregon loves a local product; even better, make it natural, healthy and unique. Kombucha Mama covers all the bases with their flavorful teas, but their sky-rocketing growth over the past few years goes beyond an amazing recipe for their effervescent beverage. Their dedication to the community that nurtured them from an idea to a full-fledged brewery and tasting room remains an essential component to the business’s operations.
“I’ve never lived someplace like this before,” commented Co-Owner Jamie Danek. “If you want to start a business, this is the place to do it…The support of the community has been amazing.”
Kombucha Mama’s expansion to their new headquarters on 1125 NE Second Street marks not only an operation 10 times bigger (from 500 gallons produced a week to 5,000), but the kombucha brewery/tasting room is the first of its kind in the country.
“The expansion is not about the money, it’s about without Bend and the graciousness of the people here and all those guys that helped us, we wouldn’t be here,” Danek explained. “We have no idea if a kombucha brewery will sustain itself, and we are willing to give it a try and put back the energy into the community.”
The vision for the new location revolves around making Kombucha Mama a community gathering space with seating for 35 inside and as many as 100 outside with fire pits (permits pending), live music, wifi, cozy seating, 12 kombuchas on tap and retail goodies. “People that live in mid-town don’t have any place to ride their bike and [hang out], so we want to be that venue.
“We are super exciting about it, it will be a lot of fun, and it’s the first of it’s kind,” she said. “We applied for a liquor license so that some time in the future we may have beer and wine…We won’t cook here but we will have local yummies from whoever is making great food in town.”
The growler fill station is currently up and running with a grand opening slated for November.
The path from their tight quarters on NE First Street to the more expansive location on Second Street has been about a year in the making. What started as an idea took shape when the space was secured and the lease signed in January, but the entire building had to be gutted and designed from scratch.
“Scott Young is the contractor extraordinaire,” Danek said. “He basically designed it, redesigned it and just made it happen. His contribution has been amazing...Permitting hasn’t been easy because everything we wanted to do hasn’t been done before, however, our contractor has made it seamless and the City has been really supportive in knowing what we want to do.
“There’s a lot of red tape, don’t get me wrong, but I [think] the City felt good enough about what we were doing and our contractor knew enough and set it up in such a way that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. We got that from the heath inspector too, he said this is the model of how it should be,” Danek continued.
“So I feel like it’s been a long road, we started in January and got occupancy in October; it was a lot longer than what we thought, but everyone has been super supportive.”
The kombucha produced in the new facility will be as delicious as ever, but big changes were made in the production process as they switched from a manual system to automatic. Much of the equipment needed to be designed or modified especially for the pioneering brewery. “Dave Danek with Akamai Woodworking designed all the tanks for us…The brewing room totally mimics a brewery, but had to be modified with different piping needs for different gasses.”
Kombucha Mama had been primarily self-distributing up until the expansion, but recently partnered with Bigfoot Beverages for their expertise in helping to bring the product into new and existing markets. “Bigfoot has been a huge component in all of this; the reason that we choose them is their customer service is so over the top, and that fits with Kombucha Mama’s style, it requires forward thinking people, and people that are willing to be patient…We hope to lean from each other and help each other grow,” Danek said.
“Our goal is accessibility,” she said. “You don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to want to be healthier. In fact Food 4 Less is our biggest customer.”
Throughout the tremendous growth, the company has been careful to scale the business intentionally. “Eric Plantenberg has been brought in as the core values ambassador; his job is to make sure as we grow and as we scale that we keep the same energy as originally intended, no matter how big we get,” she said.
Kombucha Mama now has 20 employees with Dave Naftalin as director of operations, Danek has moved into the role of director of sales and marketing, Jeff Baylock is the production manager and Michelle Plantenberg primarily works on the future vision of the company.
As with the founding of the business, Kombucha Mama is grateful to all the assistance they have received from the community. From local breweries giving advice on how many cases can be stacked on pallets to equipment and small business loans from several local banks, community involvement continues to be an essential component to Kombucha Mama.
1125 NE Second Street, Bend
Owners: Jamie Danek and Michelle Plantenberg
No. Employees: 20
Year Established: 2009
Product/Service: 7 Flavors of Kombucha