After three years, Capital Kombucha is ready to expand far beyond the nation's capital. The company has outgrown its workspace in Union Kitchen and is moving into bigger digs at fellow food incubator Mess Hall, which will allow it to increase its production by 250 percent. The kombucha brewery currently distributes to 250 retail locations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Now, they're looking as far west as Ohio and as far north as Massachusetts, and plan to expand their presence in existing markets.
"Since we started, the issue was always: Can we make enough? It wasn't, 'We can't find places to sell to,'" says co-founder Daniel Lieberman.
Lieberman and his co-founders John Lee and Andreas Schneider met attending George Washington University's business school. "The first year and a half, we were still in grad school," Lieberman says. "We were still taking exams and putting our own money into this thing... We were very, very lean." The trio are now scattered across the country, with Lieberman in San Francisco, Schneider in upstate New York, and Lee in D.C. They've grown to a five-member production team.
Although Lieberman, who also works at Pandora, lives in California, he says Capital Kombucha doesn't have any plans to expand out there. "There's a lot more kombucha companies out on the West Coast both in terms of number and size," he says. "It's a little more competition."
In addition to their presence in a number of local grocers and markets, Capital Kombucha can be found in Whole Foods, Mom's Organic Markets, Safeway, and recently, some Manhattan Dean & Deluca’s. They'd also like to further their reach through restaurants like Sweetgreen, which carries their fermented drinks and is now opening shops across the country.
New products could be in the works, too. "I definitely don't think that we want to be just making kombucha," Lieberman says. They've toyed with a gelato collaboration. Last year, they partnered with DC Brau to create a limited-edition kombucha beer.
But even though Capital Kombucha has expanded beyond D.C., Lieberman says it was important that they maintain production here. "We've had opportunities to leave D.C. and go to a cheaper area," he says. But it is Capital Kombucha, after all. "It's where we started, where our mojo came from."
Photo by Paul Kim