Kombucha Mama’s Effervescent Expansion


by RENEE PATRICK Cascade Business News Feature Writer

A friendship born on the tennis courts has grown into one of Central Oregon’s fastest growing small businesses. Jamie Danek  and Michelle Plantenberg have created a truly unique product in Kombucha Mama, but the real success to the story comes from imbedding local into every aspect of the company.

Kombucha Mama’s roots and growth all stem from community collaborations, and the health, vitality and energy infused in their product can also be seen in the way the business is run.

“We had a vision and wanted people to feel better,” Danek said. In 2009 the women formed their partnership, Danek making a shift from her previous career as owner of a technical recruiting firm and Plantenberg from a background in sales and marketing. “She [Plantenberg] was brewing kombucha and I was growing hydroponics,” Danek explained. “It was the recession, and kombucha was really expensive, and the stuff at the store was really strong and vinegary. We wanted to make it affordable.”

The two women had very little money to start the business and very little knowledge about brewing kombucha on a production scale. “We started to brew kombucha in bulk and put it on tap, but didn’t know if it could be done,” said Danek. “And six months later we had kegs. We could have been the first or second people in the country to do it…the Home Brew Shop helped out and taught us about carbonation.”

The local collaborations don’t stop there: Sisters’ graphic designer Jeannine Munkres created the eye-catching logo and all labels are printed at Action Printing in Bend. When launching the business the women couldn’t afford to buy the bottles, so Tyler Reichert from Silver Moon Brewing sold them bottles at cost. Jacksons Corner provided business advice, Bapi Champati from My Chai gave the business their first tea pot, 10 Barrel helped the women figure out distribution and Daniel Brewster of Cascade Couriers was elemental in getting the distribution off the ground using his fleet of bikes, and now to the valley via bio-diesel. “This community came together and just raised this baby,” Danek said.

Danek and Plantenberg initially had a home delivery service and took their product to the streets, handing out samples and flyers downtown. By the end of the first year Kombucha Mama moved into their NE First St. location and their products could been seen on shelves in local stores. “Now three and a half years later, we can’t keep up with demand,” Danek said with a smile.

Kombucha Mama grew from producing 250 gallons a week to 500 gallons this past spring. The women have a new goal of moving into a much bigger space (currently 1,200 sq ft) by the first of the year. “We want to open up a kombucha brewery,” Danek said. “People come in all day to fill up their bottles, so we want more of a retail space, maybe a self serve area.”

Their expansion plan would bump up production to 2,000 gallons per week and includes distribution to Portland and all throughout Oregon. Currently Kombucha Mama can be found in Eugene, Corvallis and at over 40 retailers, restaurants and cafes around Central Oregon.

What is this drink called Kombucha?

Defined as an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea, kombucha is a raw probiotic that uses live cultures of bacteria and yeast. “It has 50 claims to fame, but the biggest one is, it balances the ph. When your ph is in balance you feel better, sleep better, don’t get sick as often…the reason your body might crave it is because it craves that balance,” explained Danek.

“It’s a 19 day cycle to make the tea, that is why it’s so expensive,” Danek said. “It’s raw and live and constantly changes, so consistency is very important to us.”

Their tea is sourced from organic farms; during the production process a strong tea is made, then sugar is added to make it really sweet (using organic evaporated cane juice from Eugene), then the mixture is combined with starter tea, or SCOBY (a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). “The SCOBY eats all the sugar and in its place puts the probiotics and vitamins. The tea is in a temperature controlled room and after 12-15 days it starts to taste like a slightly fermented beverage, and we put it in kegs. CO2 is added and after another three days it is carbonated, kegged and bottled.”

The flavors are added after the fermentation process and include lemon ginger, pomegranate lemonade, maté as well as several seasonal combinations. With seven to eight current flavors, the women have a goal of producing ten.

“Kombucha is raw open fermentation, you can’t seal it, you need the oxygen, so it changes all the time…It can be very challenging to be consistent, but we want people to have the same quality every time.” Danek explained integrity and the ability to learn from mistakes is essential in their work.

With plenty of B vitamins, special acids and organic ingredients, Kombucha Mama is most excited about becoming an alternative to soda. “Kombucha can change the obesity problem, the sickness and the health care costs when your body is more in balance,” she said. By focusing the distribution on convenience stores, gas stations and grocery stores, Danek and Plantenberg hope to tap into the market that traditionally buys sugary drinks.

“The town is crazy for kombucha,” she said. “They embrace this company; Bend is such a healthy community, and all the money that comes in gets spent right here. We are about as local as it gets.

“What we both bring to this place is the energy, the mutual desire to spread goodness and joy…Kombucha has an energy about it, the idea is to spread that everywhere” Danek said.

The women are very intentional in how the business is run. With optimism, a healthy business model, collaborate partnerships and quality and consistence at the heart of their business values, Kombucha Mama strives to make their business as healthy as their product. “Approach every situation with love and you can’t go wrong,” laughed Danek.

“We are so passionate about it and just want to tell the world. It’s the alternative to soda, and everyone needs to know.”

Kombucha Mama teaches brewing classes; more information can be found at: www.kombuchamama.com, facebook.com/kombuchamama, 1470 NE First St. Suite 700, Bend. 541-306-6329.


About Author

Renee is the Art Director for Cascade Publications, and Editor for Cascade A&E Magazine.

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