There’s an old saying: “A rising tide lifts all ships.” That concept isn’t limited to boats in the harbor, it applies to the work we are doing in economic development. It’s about embracing an abundance mindset that benefits ALL types of business owners, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or neighborhood. And in Salt Lake City we’re building a culture of collaboration. Winners help other people win.

This is the story of Salt Lake City’s Han’s Kombucha. A small batch, women-owned, local kombucha brewery. It’s a startup that has been nurtured and lifted up by our city and local business community, and we’re happy to report their business is taking off.

Hannah Hendrickson (aka Han) started brewing kombucha in the closet of her dorm at the University of Utah. As her prized SCOBY grew, she began sharing her brew with friends. In October of 2018, Han sold her very first booch batch to a local tea shop. The next year she met up with her now business partner, Kate Lubing, a restaurant consultant from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since their teaming up, together they have been steadily growing to meet customer demand.

In the beginning, they used Salt Lake City’s Square Kitchen, a culinary incubator space that houses local food and beverage entrepreneurs, providing affordable commercial cooking space.

Demand started to grow. The incubator space was great, but not large enough to keep up with the orders. A professional colleague led them unexpectedly to Jeff and Jen Carleton, owners of Mountain West Cider. As it turned out, the Carletons had some extra space. “It took a little convincing, but they’ve been super helpful and instrumental to our success. We have learned the value of staying levelheaded. And also how to operate forklifts and pallet jacks! We owe a great debt of gratitude to Jeff and Jen,” said Lubing.

In Utah, Kombucha is moving from a new found trend to a daily staple drink. Consumption is on the rise as more consumers discover its wellness benefits and healing proprieties.

So how can a small local startup grow and still compete with larger national producers?

Han’s Kombucha learned one of the best ways to do that is through collaboration with local small businesses. It comes in the form of developing unique flavors, a mash up of local suppliers — from berries to lavender or honey. They even used local artists to develop special edition labels.

Another collab brought the mixing of Han’s Kombucha flavors with Roha Brewing, a local craft beer favorite.   Could hard kombucha be next?

Distribution channels improved with help from Caputo’s, A Priori. A huge win. Lubing added, “They genuinely care about us and our success, and we so are grateful for their support. They have helped push us into a full-scale production with several new accounts and future prospects.”

These new accounts brought bigger orders, and once again they found themselves in a scaling challenge. It was time to find a bigger facility.

But then the pandemic hit. And the big SLC windstorm damaged inventory. Which otherwise would be bad news for any business owner, but the timing tempered demand and gave them an opportunity to pause, regroup, and find a way to expand operations again.

With help from Salt Lake City’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Manager Roberta Reichgelt, they discovered Salt Lake City’s Economic Development Loan Fund (EDLF).  Their $100,000 loan helped fund equipment and the cost of building out their new production facility. Once they are in their new space and running with more products they will use the money to hire employees.

Many SLC startups may not know that the EDLF helps business owners reach their dreams by providing financing that they might not be able to find anywhere else. A part of that challenge is gender gap funding. We’re working to change that in Salt Lake City — women-owned businesses are a key ingredient to growing a stronger and more inclusive economy, one that is built to last.

“We loved working with Roberta. She was a constant support in getting us into our new brewery location,” said Hendrickson. “She connected us with helpful local resources to help us grow, but more importantly she connected us to the EDLF. It came at a time that we really needed help scaling our business, allowing us to produce more kombucha to fulfill new contracts that we would have lost out on.”

The address is under wraps for now, but we can tell you that it is in a beautiful space off 300 West. “I know I speak for the entire team when I say we are thrilled to be a part of the ballpark neighborhood. We have other friends that are looking to start businesses and we’re trying to funnel them all into this neighborhood because we want it to be a destination spot in the city. We are really looking forward to the new improvements coming to the 300 West corridor,” said Lubing.   

Highlights of the new location include a 5,000 square foot brewing space, retail, and Utah’s first official full kombucha bar. Hendrickson and Lubing also have future plans for event space, paying it forward to the Salt Lake City community who helped grow their business.