Drink Well, Do Better: Fort Worth’s Own Holy Kombucha
Have you noticed all the breweries and distilleries popping up all over Fort Worth? For the last several years, our city seems to have become the epicenter of a beverage explosion.
This is not a bad thing. Manufacturing is one of the pillars of healthy municipal economic development, and people like alcohol. Among these newcomers, another beverage manufacturer in town may have escaped your notice. Founded in 2010, Holy Kombucha has quietly grown into one of the most widely distributed manufacturers of kombucha in North America.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar, and a SCOBY (aa symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which facilitates the fermentation process. Obscured by the mists of time, the origins of kombucha are difficult to trace. Most agree the tart, fermented tea hails from the Asiatic steppes of Russia, appearing sometime in the last two millennia. That is not very specific, but kombucha’s claimed health benefits (it is high in antioxidants and probiotics) has led to a rapid proliferation throughout the West. While some Americans have been making and drinking kombucha for years, its dramatic popularity has been more recent, with double-digit growth expected to continue for the next several years.
Holy Kombucha was founded by Theresa Pham and Leo Bienati, who began their kombucha journey by selling at local farmers markets. The couple had been importing coffee from Colombia and brewing kombucha on the side and selling the kegged beverage at events, festivals, and outdoor markets. Then their Colombian coffee partners went out of business. Central Market, who had been one of their coffee customers, was interested in adding more kombucha to their limited offering, and upon trying Holy Kombucha, decided to put it in every one of their stores.
That was a turning point for Pham and Bienati. Previously, they had only sold their kombucha in kegs. They quickly established a viable bottling operation and turned all of their attention to growing Holy Kombucha. From that first grocery account, things began to happen very quickly. Soon Whole Foods, Market Street, and Tom Thumb added Holy Kombucha. Then Kroger picked them up and distribution stretched to California and Colorado. Recently, Sprouts has increased their distribution to more states. Holy Kombucha is truly a national product.
What had begun in an 1,100-square foot rented commercial kitchen has now become an impressive homegrown success story, but one that has remained a true family operation. Unlike many private equity- or venture capital-backed market offerings with national sales teams and brokers, Holy Kombucha is still operated by Theresa and Leo. While they have recently begun to add to their management team, Leo says they owe their success to hard work and a great product. “We believe that Holy Kombucha has grown because people love it. So therefore investments we make in the company are investments in the product itself and the production team. We do not have many layers of management. Up until a couple months ago, it was still just Theresa and me and the production team.” Their process, along with the strong product focus, has served them well. They are set to open a new 40,000-square foot production facility this summer where they will still make every batch of kombucha from scratch.
It is perhaps a little surprising the Holy Kombucha story remains relatively unknown, despite their product being available in over half the country. Leo explains it thusly, “We simply haven’t had time to do any PR! I would like to, but we have been so focused on making great kombucha, we couldn’t.” While they are the largest kombucha brewer in Texas, and the only one that is certified organic, Leo takes pride in having built every account relationship they have. “From small establishments that carry our kegged kombucha to the largest grocery account, I have built every one of those relationships and they all mean so much to us. When someone tells me that they see Holy Kombucha everywhere, I am very proud of that.” While Leo claims it’s all about the product, he and Theresa are adamant about giving back. Ten percent of Holy Kombucha profits goes to help victims of human trafficking. With the rollout of their new facility, Holy Kombucha is planning a new way to contribute to their cause. “I cannot say too much yet, but we are very excited about our plans that will help to keep people engaged in helping others.”
While new distilleries and micro-breweries battle for your attention, the future looks very bright for Holy Kombucha. They will continue to help those in need while providing a delicious healthy beverage. Although they long ago extended their reach beyond the limits of Fort Worth, they have certainly proved themselves to be a company worthy of our support and a wonderful addition to our city.