A Winning Business Plan Brews Up Community and Kombucha

Reader Contribution by Wendy Gregory
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Neighborhood Kombuchery Growlers
Photo courtesy of Alex Heflin

Kombucha fans who had dabbled in homebrewing, Andrew Rhodes, aerospace engineering student and Carissa Herman working in marketing, discovered a co-op that sold kombucha on tap while traveling. That sparked the idea that Morgantown, WV needed a venue that brewed and served kombucha on tap. The downtown area of this college town is filled with cafes, restaurants, a farmers’ market, and monthly art walks that now host pop ups of the Neighborhood Kombuchery tents and restaurants with taps of their own for refilling growlers or complementing the meals they serve.

 

Andrew Rhodes and Carissa Herman of Neighborhood Kombuchery
Photo by Joel Wolpert

Andrew, a PHD candidate at West Virginia University at the time, submitted his business plan to the West Virginia Business Plan Competition and was one of the winners. Open to West Virginia high school and college students, the competition is hosted by WVU John Chambers College of Business & Economics and the Enova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Winners of the competition are given cash prizes and the expertise of the institution and seasoned professionals across the country to bring their business plans to life. Rhodes used the resources to write the business plan and received assistance in editing and finetuning his plan from the business incubator at WVU, Launch Lab, staff. After two previous attempts at a winning business plan, Rhodes won on his third try. After winning the competition and starting the business, Rhodes returned to present to subsequent competitors to share his experience of launching a business from his winning plan.

 

Neighborhood Kombuchery Taproom
Photo courtesy of Alex Heflin

From choosing local graphic designer, Tara Smith, to hiring a local woodworker to make their taps with Smith’s logo design, Rhodes and Herman’s business plan had one guiding principle: to use local businesses whenever possible. Using locally grown seasonal and sourced ingredients as much as possible and focusing on beneficial herbs, Andrew and Carissa have been brewing and serving since 2019. Kombucha, a fermented and fizzy drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast has gained popularity as consumers look for probiotics and fermented foods for their positive effects on gut health. The sober curious and those looking to limit alcohol and searching for substitutes are also part of the kombucha crowd. While the fermentation process does leave residual alcohol and is not for those avoiding alcohol entirely, those looking for a refreshing, interesting, and potential health boosting beverage are lining up to have their growlers and glasses filled in Morgantown.

 

Neighborhood Kombuchery Brewing  Photo courtesy of Alex Heflin

Known for their seasonal and innovative combinations, past flavors have included herbs and seasonal fruits like the popular blueberry lavender, strawberry spearmint, juniper fenugreek, cucumber lime mint, as well as seasonal fruits like watermelon and Pink Lady apple. Jalapeno mango and pomegranate, pineapple ginger, and blood orange cacao are also on the menu throughout the year. The brewing process can take up to 6 weeks for each batch before they bottled and put into kegs.

 

Kombucha flavored with seasonal and local fruit, herbs and vegetables
Photo courtesy of
Alex Heflin

Their mid-2019 launch and plans to become a brewery that sold kegs and bottled kombucha to restaurants was turned upside-down by the pandemic and its impact on the restaurant business that was to be their main customer base. To weather the pandemic, they pivoted to direct to consumer sales at farmers’ markets and pop up tents, which had been Phase 3 of the business plan, not phase one. The benefit of the markets has been to facilitate relationships with local producers with local ingredients to incorporate in their kombucha. The increased contact with the public has allowed them to encourage the efforts of home brewers with tips on how to flavor and tailor the brews to the brewer’s taste. They even hold small workshops at the markets to teach brewing techniques.  As restaurants in the area have reopened and their taps are flowing again, Neighborhood Kombuchery is back on plan to supply kegs to sell on tap.

Future plans include more fermented foods and beverages as they have begun to get requests for their kombucha from all over the state. While both partners have full time jobs and Andrew is now Dr. Rhodes, they have grown enough to hire employees to help with the sales and brewing. The tap room is now open limited hours with the hope that ‘normal’ life may return in the coming year and hours can be extended for enjoying a glass of kombucha with friends and enjoying the local art that lines the walls of the taproom. Raising awareness about fermented products and the history and benefits of functional food and drinks is a passion that guides them and provides inspiration for future. As trailblazers in the state as kombucha brewers with on tap sales to markets and restaurants, they also hope to inspire and encourage others to try brewing their own or launching a business.

Find Neighborhood Kombuchery on Instagram


Wendy Gregoryspent her career working with children as a culinary and gardening teacher in an arts-based summer camp for at-risk children in Nelsonville, Ohio, and as the director of a children’s museum in Lancaster, Ohio. She is a freelance writer recently relocated to the home of her ancestors in West Virginia and exploring the ways seniors can contribute, grow, and reinvent themselves in a new chapter of life. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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