It’s been quite a journey together.
“Kombucha is an art as well as a science,” according to Jeannine Buscher, co-founder and owner of Marshall, NC’s Buchi. As something passed down from families and friends for thousands of years, the fermented drink has had as many permutations and distinct flavors as you can imagine. But with its spike in popularity at the beginning of last decade, demand soared for all styles of kombucha. Meeting that demand was a challenge the Buchi team knew they had to solve quickly to capitalize upon. Doing so while keeping the company’s values intact was a must, which included responsible sourcing and manufacturing, a culture of inclusiveness, and a willingness to address the critical needs of food and climate systems in our world. Running a small business in such an environment is no easy feat, and the dedicated team at Buchi—Buscher, along with Zane Adams and Sarah Schomber—knew their passion combined with the know-how and resources of Mountain BizWorks would be enough to get them where they needed to go.
For the Buchi team, Kombucha is something they wake up excited to make and bring to people across the United States. After starting off in a small kitchen in the Montford neighborhood of Asheville, NC, Adams, Buscher, and Schomber’s shelves and countertops were soon overflowing with kombucha. There was an urgent need for more space, which led to the Buchi team moving onto a 180-acre farm where they could produce and store more product. Being so dedicated to their work, they decided to live there, as well. The proximity helped the team grow together through various challenges. “I really believe that the secret to our success is that we lived together for six years on that farm,” Adams said.
But even all that new space came up short for their needs. “The very first year we were there, the kombucha crisis happened,” Schomber explained. A sudden surge in popularity for kombucha left shelves empty everywhere and supply far behind demand. Adams refers to this time as “the great opportunity,” although as with any opportunity there were risks.
During this time, Earth Fare, a supermarket with locations throughout the Southeast, called the Buchi team and asked for all the kombucha they could make. They were only averaging about 10 to 12 cases of kombucha monthly, which was not nearly enough to meet the craving for kombucha that customers had. Buchi began working around the clock, trying to find a way to make enough supply to meet that demand. At a certain point, Buscher recalls they had to ask themselves: “Are we really up for this? Do we really think we can get over this hump?”
“Are we really up for this? Do we really think we can get over this hump?” Buscher recalls having to ask themselves.
Most small businesses hit similar roadblocks where they have to ask this question. Fortunately, the answers were clear. Yes, the team was up for it—they lived and breathed kombucha. And they knew a way over the speed bump was possible with the help of Mountain BizWorks.
Adams, Buscher, and Schomber worked with the Mountain BizWorks team to develop a strategy for sustainable growth that worked with the way the three of them wanted to run their company—with passion and care for the world around it. Mountain BizWorks’s combination of lending, coaching, and facilitated networking services empowered Buchi to meet their challenges head on while strengthening the core of their business. While traditional bank funding wasn’t an option, Mountain BizWorks was able to provide capital at a time they needed it, offering flexible funding that could be drawn based on milestones for growth. That funding allowed Buchi to purchase equipment and inventory needed to meet their increased order load.
The Buchi team also took advantage of classes offered through Mountain BizWorks that will serve them well into the future. “Mountain BizWorks has been a cornerstone for the small business community here in Asheville,” Schomber said.
If it weren’t for the vibrant local community in the Western North Carolina region, the Buchi team would never have started their project or kept it growing to where it is today. Now, Buchi no longer goes by how many countertops full of kombucha jars it can produce—they think in terms of truckloads. And now they’re in a position to give back to the community they love so much by sharing what they’ve learned in their journey to build a successful business. Buchi is an active collaborator with other local food and farm focused businesses, especially those employing regenerative agriculture practices. The team values peer-to-peer collaboration and sustainability, which is something they’ve worked on with Mountain BizWorks to help cultivate in other local businesses.
“In my gut, I knew we were on to something that could really shift a lot of lives,” Adams said.
Now, with Mountain BizWorks’s help, “we can actually create abundance, we can create opportunity, and we can begin to live our values a little bit more every single day in our business model.”