When Ethan and I started dating ten years ago we had no idea we would end up founding and running a kombucha company together. We had been friends since middle school and had stayed in touch over the years. We both moved West for our respective adventures and then came back home to Virginia to settle down near the Blue Ridge Mountains. By the time we reconnected Ethan had been homebrewing for years, and the delicious taste of his kombucha is probably one of the many reasons I fell in love with him.
At the time, I was a professional yoga teacher teaching classes by donation and co-directing Charlottesville’s first yoga teacher training school. I also taught undergraduate Spanish courses at the University of Virginia and worked at various food and beverage spots around town. Ethan, having returned from a stint out West as a professional snowboarder with lots of construction experience and a bachelor’s degree in Applied Sustainability, was using his carpentry and design skills to build his own “green” home. All the while, he lovingly tended the mother culture that he and a California roommate had started brewing with eight years earlier, making small batches of delicious kombucha in a variety of flavors each week.
As our love blossomed, so did our interest in creating things together. For years, friends and family had been encouraging Ethan to offer his kombucha for sale. I had an entrepreneurial inclination, and we both had just enough naiveté to think we knew what we were getting ourselves into. As I remember it, one day we just looked at each other and said, “We can do this. Let’s go for it!” We started collaborating to hone in on our flavors, and before we knew it we were launching a business.
We started by selling six-packs of Ethan’s kombucha out of the trunk of a car in a parking lot behind a popular restaurant in Charlottesville. Every time a cop car would drive past, we’d wonder whether we looked suspicious enough for them to stop—but they never did. Our growing community of kombucha drinkers would excitedly come back for more each week, bringing back their bottles for us to wash and fill with more kombucha for the following week. Almost inevitably, what had started as a hobby in a corner of Ethan’s studio apartment turned into a bona fide small business. We named our fledgling company Barefoot Bucha, in honor of our desire to create a low waste reusable bottle model that would tread lightly on the earth.
But while our business model was environmentally sustainable, it wasn’t operationally sustainable. As our number of weekly clients topped one hundred, we were becoming more of a bottle washing company than a kombucha brewing company. We then decided to put our kombucha into kegs. This way, customers could wash their own bottles and refill them on draft around Charlottesville.
Fast forward eight more years—and sometimes it really does seem like a fast forward!—and our kegged kombucha (rebranded as Blue Ridge Bucha) is now available on draft and in refillable bottles at grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and more than 150 locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Last summer, we opened the Blue Ridge Bucha Taproom, the first full service kombucha taproom in the state of Virginia and one of only a handful on the East Coast. In Fall 2018, we were honored to receive SCORE’s National Small Business Award in recognition of our sustainability efforts. This January, we were grateful to be named best nonalcoholic beverage in the entire Blue Ridge region by the readers of Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine. It’s been such a journey from our humble beginnings to being a solid regional kombucha company with a strong and talented team of people working with us and nine years of business experience under our belts. We’re a lot more seasoned, but we’re also learning something new every day.
As we start Year #9 of being in business, with 150+ accounts, and almost one million bottles saved, we are excited to launch this blog as a way to connect with our kombucha drinkers, near and far. Here, we hope our team’s regular musings will give you an opportunity to learn about all that that goes into running a conscious kombucha business. From flavor development to customer experience to developing meaningful community partnerships to celebrating sustainability initiatives – we are excited to share our journey with you!