BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Each Monday, we introduce you to a City Shaper -- someone or a group of people making a positive impact on our community.
This week, 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik takes us inside the only large-scale kombucha production facility in New York State.
Bootleg Bucha has been open for less than a year on Buffalo’s West Side.
"Kombucha is fermented tea. So, it is tea, the end product, a lot of people are surprised it doesn't taste very tea-like. It's a slightly sour drink from the fermentation process," says Heather Lucas.
Before it's bottled and put on store shelves, each batch of Bootleg Bucha begins with two simple ingredients -- tea and sugar.
"We add a culture of bacteria and yeast to it at that point. In which the fermentation process kicks off. It takes between 14 and 21 days to brew and you end up with what's almost like an immature vinegar," says Bootleg Bucha President Jeff Empric.
That's when Heather Lucas works her magic, coming up with flavors like blueberry lavender and tart cherry mint. She oversees product development.
"This is the only thing that helped me kick my Diet Pepsi habit. It was terrible. And you still, you get the satisfaction of the carbonation. Along with the probiotics, which is fantastic. It's equivalent to eating a yogurt," says Lucas.
Heather and Jeff started brewing kombucha in their basement, then started selling it at Horsefeathers Market before opening their taproom on Niagara Street last year.
They got Todd Salansky on board to do marketing, and now they're in 70 stores across the state and regularly collaborate with other local businesses.
"I think like five years ago, businesses were afraid to collaborate. Now you get the open door. We've got a lot of relationships with breweries, we've got relationships with local farms, local stores," says Salansky.
"There's so much energy around businesses in Buffalo, which has been a huge part of our success. And people getting together on that, are just kind of rising together on it, so it's awesome," says Empric.
Bootleg Bucha is already outgrowing its space. Heather, Jeff, and Todd plan on adding up to ten-thousand square feet and new staff members to their operation over the next few months which will give them the ability to distribute throughout the Northeast and along the whole East Coast.
"If you just keep it in a hobby mindset, that's where a lot of businesses fail, but if you really treat it like a business and realize that number one priority is nurturing your business, whether it's financially or anything else, then it will support you and everybody else that is involved in it for a long period of time, but it's your baby, you gotta feed it, you gotta nurture it, you gotta make it work and it'll be there for a long time and that's the key to a successful entrepreneurial business," says Empric.
One of the next events where Bootleg Bucha is collaborating with a local business is goat yoga – yes, yoga with goats. There are several sessions this summer.
If you'd like to nominate a City Shaper, contact Kelly Dudzik.