A Buffalo based kombucha company is experiencing a significant growth spurt. What started off as a project in one of the owner’s kitchens, has now escalated to an expanded headquarters on Niagara Street and a freshly inked deal with Tops. Bootleg Bucha is the creation of partners Jeff and Heather Empric, and Todd Salansky (photo – right). The team began brewing at Jeff and Heather’s house, tending to the various SCOBY occupied tanks in the couple’s kitchen. What started off as a small kombucha operation, as a hobby for the kombucha enthusiasts soon became full time jobs, brewing, selling and delivering their product all over the city. You may have seen Bootleg Bucha being served up at a local bar, or even at Flying Bison Brewery. The kombucha wave is spreading fast, and Bootleg Bucha is currently catching a massive ride.
In order to accommodate the rapid growth, Bootleg Bucha recently set up shop in the former home of Riverkeeper on Niagara Street (same building as Resurgence Brewery). To give you an idea of their expansion, their new walk-in cooler is approximately the same size as their former digs in the basement of the Horsefeathers Building (their first production and retail operation). “The national kombucha industry is growing fast,” said Jeff. “With $600 million in sales at the moment, and it’s anticipated to grow to $2 billion by 2020. It’s the largest growing food and beverage industry in the country.”
Upon moving into their new 3000 sq.’ location on Niagara Street, the partners had a professionally designed fermentation room built. They also made sure that there was plenty of room for expansion. On top of brewing and sales, Todd says that they will be opening a retail outlet soon, selling healthy sandwiches, wraps, salads, etc. That way, when customers come in to fill up their bottles of ‘bucha’, they can also grab a healthy bite to eat.
Since first getting their SCOBY wet in January of 2015, this kombucha operation has been wildly successful in infiltrating the market. They have done this by setting up at festivals all over the city, while selling at bars and restaurants, and retailers such as The Lexington Co-op (there is a tasting there today – Tuesday – from 4pm to 6pm). “We’re being received as a main stream product,” Jeff explained. “At Veg Fest we sold over 500 cups. A lot less people are asking us what kombucha is these days. We started this business with zero knowledge of market potential. Todd was an avid kombucha fan, and I was into probiotics, so it was a natural for us to gravitate to kombucha.”
Currently, the partners at Bootleg Bucha are lobbying NY State, working with the Governor’s office to craft health and safety standards for the industry. Seeing that kombucha is relatively new to the state, and the producers should not considered brewers – there are a lot of questions that need to be addressed so that they are not all lumped together with disparate industries that share relatively few commonalities.
To date, the producers have created 45 different flavors since bursting upon the scene. They continue to avidly produce their top sellers, including blueberry lavender and tart cherry mint, while releasing seasonals at the same time. They work with local farmers to produce the best, freshest, most delicious recipes that they can. They also strive to continue to press the envelope when it comes to the science behind kombucha, which can be tricky at times.
While the national trend of drinking kombucha is on the rise, Buffalo is once again benefitting by having homegrown producers in its midst. If you’re into kombucha and its health benefits, then you are probably aware that the drink is best when it’s served fresh. Not to mention that every time you purchase Bootleg Bucha, your money is staying right here in Buffalo. Now what could be better than that?