Despite its ill-informed detractors, kombucha has a world of positive perks—plus the fermented drink makes for a tasty (and seldom used) mixer. Matt Thomas of Townshend's Tea Company stumbled into the fermented world of kombucha a few years back with his locally produced Brew Dr. Kombucha brand, which is easily the best kombucha to ever come in contact with your lips.
Did you go to college?
[I] graduated from the University of Oregon in 2002. The original idea for the tea company was actually a project in a senior-year Business Strategy and Planning class... However, I had no idea while I was there that I wanted to go into business for myself. U of O has a great Entrepreneurship program, but I majored in more general Business Administration, which prepares you for being a cog in a corporation. I wish I had been pushed to at least think about entrepreneurship. That's my recommendation to any young business majors out there.
How did you fall into this line of work?
The kombucha has been a natural growth of the tea company. After the Alberta Street Teahouse reached a successful point, I was able to open the Bend Teahouse. Right after that (early 2008) we started getting asked more and more if we made kombucha. We started making a few gallons at a time in the teahouses to sell to our customers. We got pretty good at it and decided we could try bottling it and selling it elsewhere. Once we started a relationship with Whole Foods we were really able to grow that part of the business.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into your line of work?
Do it before you have kids. If I had had a family during those first five years, there's no way I could have supported them or spent time with them. You will work a lot for very little. Keep doing all the little things that make the business special and it should work. Never stop trying to see the business and the product from your customer's point of view. When you find a gifted employee, recognize it and do what you can to encourage and keep them. You can't do everything yourself, and the business is only as good as all the people working there.
What advice would you give to someone who's just beginning college?
Get to know as many people as you can. A big network will help you immensely as you begin looking for work or creating your own job. Take your time. I loved my fifth year as much as my fourth. Don't worry if you can't find a major you love. A well-rounded education is very valuable, and students hardly ever know what they want to do once out of school. Learn all kinds of things and try to remember them all.
Visit Townshend's Alberta Street Teahouse at 2223 NE Alberta, brewdrkombucha.com