From home brew hobby to nifty small business

Carmen Buchi and Justin Lilley of Nifty Kombucha. Submitted photo

Now that farmers market season is in full swing, we are spoiled with gorgeous produce and many mouth-watering food products. But one maker recently caught my eye: Nifty Kombucha.

Nifty was founded in the summer of 2017 and has now expanded from brewing kombucha to also offering nitro cold pressed coffee.

Carmen Buchi and Justin Lilley started brewing kombucha at home when they realized how much of the fermented beverage they were drinking. They experimented with different flavors and turned home brewing into a friendly competition. When they started sharing their brews with co-workers, the positive feedback inspired them to turn their hobby into a business.

I sat down with the founders to learn a little more. The interview has been edited.

 

Norby: How did you get started? Where did the idea come from?

Buchi: My parents started having health problems and I started becoming interested in holistic health. What we eat has a strong impact on our bodies and how we feel. Kombucha was a healthy way to get probiotics and help heal health issues naturally.

Lilley: I started drinking it as a healthy alternative to all other beverages like soda and juice, but it still tasted great and was something I wanted to drink.

How have things changed?

Buchi: We began producing in our kitchens and quickly outgrew the space. Now we have moved into The Good Acre (a Falcon Heights food hub). We share kitchen space with our food/beverage makers and have a real community. We can purchase fruit and herbs to flavor our kombucha from other farmers and makers that are part of The Good Acre.

Lilley: We’re also able to share with each other — what works, what doesn’t. The entrepreneurship community in Minneapolis is incredibly welcoming. We’re able to really learn from each other. Everybody wants to help!

How do you share roles and responsibilities?

(Buchi and Lilley look at each other and laugh.)

Lilley: Honestly, we both do everything. We don’t have time to set roles. It’s all hands on deck.

It is fun to be part of the whole process. Understanding each step helps us to continue to deliver a better experience.

Is there a story to the name?

Lilley: When I first brought back my kombucha to my family in my hometown in rural Wisconsin, my mom said, ‘Oh yeah, kombucha! I’ve tried that” — which I was a little surprised, as trends are much slower to find their way to rural Wisconsin.

She took a sip of what I had brought, and responded, ‘Well, that’s nifty!” And I kind of looked at her, and was like, ‘You’re right! It is nifty!’

Buchi: And that’s where we got the name. And it has worked in our favor, as the name is so different and recognizable. Consumers know exactly what to ask for and remember us by the name.

What are your plans for the future?

Lilley: We’ve built a great partnership with Lakewinds (Food Co-op) and would love to continue growing with co-ops.

Buchi: We want to make sure our growth is sustainable and we can stay true to our small batch mentality as a company, but growing into retailers like Whole Foods and partnering with breweries and restaurants to have a non-alcoholic option are long-term goals.

 

You can find Nifty and Fulton and Nokomis Farmer’s market, but don’t wait. They sold out before I could get to them this past week.

Nifty is also available at Lakewinds Food Co-op, Mastel’s Health Foods and The Firm.

 

Nichole Norby resides in the Kenwood neighborhood and serves on the board of directors for Neighborhood Roots.