Kombucha Dog—Brewer Q&A
Based in: Los Angeles, CA
Distribution: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange & Riverside Counties, CA
We adore these excellent, robust and flavorful brews almost as much as we adore the labels which adorn them. Because... dogs! So many beautiful dogs, each one in need of a forever home. Back in 2010, Kombucha Dog’s founder Michael Faye—who had been a professional photographer for many years prior to starting the brand—decided to transform his photography studio in downtown Los Angeles into a kombucha lab. He photographed and brewed in the same space, and one day, as he was shooting some large-format pet portraits, he thought: Wouldn't it be great to put images of shelter dogs on a kombucha bottle?
There are so many gorgeous, unique homeless dogs out there, that Michael has had no problem finding photogenic pups, thanks to the many rescue organizations, like NKLA and Best Friends. However, getting the dogs to sit still for a photo session had its own set of challenges. Many of the dogs are traumatized, shy, and don’t know commands. But you can't tell from the labels, which show dogs looking perfect poised in their individually imperfect ways. Those beautiful images end up on the labels for flavors like Hint of Mint and Wild Blueberry (our personal favorite), and reach hundreds of store shelves and eateries like Sun Cafe, where it's served on tap. This is definitely one of the most effective forms of animal rescue activism that we've encountered.
Michael's own dog, Charley (pictured, below), is also a rescue—and it's a relationship that gives him a special perspective on the value of his work. We chatted with Michael about the pups, the booch, and his mission for the brand.
Kombucha Hunter: Could you tell us about how your dog Charley came into your life, and the life of Kombucha Dog?
Michael Faye: Her story hadn't been a good one when I first got her. She had been locked up in a much-too-small crate at a truck yard down the street from the brewery. It seems like they wanted to use her as a guard dog, but that didn't work out too well. She's probably the sweetest and gentlest dog I've owned. The truck yard just let her out one day to fend for herself. It took me three weeks to catch her, but once I did we were inseparable. She's the greatest dog to have around—coming by your desk around 5pm for her nightly massage, cuddling next to you after a hard day's work, and being the best mascot Kombucha Dog could have asked for.
KH: You mentioned to us that Wild Blueberry and Just Kombucha are your two favorite flavors. Can you us a bit about what you love about them, what makes them special in your eyes, and how they came to be?
MF: As a native Canadian, I can't help but love the taste of fresh, wild blueberries. They're in my smoothie every morning and it would be a shame not to add them to my kombucha. The two mixed together create a slightly sweet blend with a natural profile. And Just Kombucha has flavor profile akin to crisp apples. It's refreshing and subtle, and goes with just about every meal.
KH: What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced in growing the company, and what are some that you still face?
MF: There's been a ton of challenges in growing Kombucha Dog, as there are with any startup. The biggest of these has and will continue to be educating the public on what kombucha truly is. A huge reason as to why I started this company was because the entire kombucha industry changed after its re-release in 2010. Here was this huge demand in the market for kombucha, and suddenly it was stripped from the stores because of the naturally occurring alcohol content. Other companies saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate the market with diluted kombucha that was under 21. It's comparable to selling non-alcoholic beer as actual beer. You can drink as much as you want, but you still won't get a buzz. With diluted kombucha, you're actually being sold something with far less nutritional value. I decided to go back to the roots of what this ancient probiotic tea truly is and go from there. We leave all the good stuff in your kombucha—antioxidants, probiotics, detoxifiers, and B-vitamins. This has definitely made growing the company quickly a challenge because it contains 1% abv and cannot be sold to the under 21 population. We've had to turn down hundreds of opportunities to be in yoga studios, health stores and restaurants. But we believe your kombucha should be honest and pure, not fruit-flavored sparkling water. We'll take integrity over a wider target market any day.
KH: And on the flip side, what have been some of the greatest rewards?
MF: The rewards have been incredibly inspirational and are what keep us moving forward everyday. Dozens of dogs from the labels have been adopted thus far. Nothing feels better than helping these dogs find their forever homes. We cannot thank the rescues and foster homes enough for being a part of the Kombucha Dog family. We also love doing this for our customers. Seeing someone say, "Whoa!" when they take their first sip is a high-five moment for us. Every single time. People really just appreciate the time and energy that goes into making our brew and that appreciation goes a long way.
KH: What is your favorite thing about being a kombucha brewer?
MF: Every day is a new adventure. I get to play with new flavor ideas and feel like a kind of scientist. It's fun to taste and test the kombucha at all of its stages, tweaking the process a little bit here and there to make the kombucha even better the next time around. In a lot of ways, being a kombucha brewer is just like being a craft beer brewer. I've got one of the coolest jobs out there, that's for sure.