Kingsway Kombucha plans opening in late 2020, early 2021

Thursday, June 18, 2020
Margaret Naczek, Business Journal

After receiving $325,000 in loans from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp., Kingsway Kombucha LLC is another step closer to opening its production facility, taproom and event space at 2202-2210 W. Clybourn St. in Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley.

Bill and Maureen Brewster decided to pursue their family-owned and operated business after their eldest son got the couple hooked on kombucha drinks. Kombucha is a fermented tea drink.

"We became kombucha drinkers, and we thought it would be so awesome if we could make kombucha commercially," co-owner Bill Brewster said. "There's a few brands in Wisconsin, but not a whole lot of companies making kombucha in Wisconsin."

Brewster, a U.S. Navy veteran, left his position with GE Healthcare in October to pursue this business endeavor full time. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Kingsway Kombucha's funding plans drastically changed.

"We were going down a more traditional commercial funding route, and through a bank and SBA and with all of the emergency lending that was going on, it just dried up the capital. We ended up being referred to MEDC, which has just been a blessing," Brewster said.

With the loan approval, Kingsway Kombucha will be able to purchase the necessary equipment to produce kombucha. Brewster is working with Quality Tank Solutions in Oconomowoc for the kombucha brewing equipment.

Originally Kingsway Kombucha expected to be operating by August or September of this year. With Covid-19, the timeline is pushed back until December or early 2021.

The kombucha manufacturer will operate at two adjacent buildings on Clybourn Street in the Menomonee Valley. Both buildings are each about 6,000 square feet. The beverage manufacturing, bottling, kegging, distribution and deliveries will be housed in the more industrial-looking building.

The other building is more finished and is designed with an open-concept space. Brewster plans to use this space as a taproom and events space.

"We weren’t originally going to have a taproom. Every single person we talked to has said you have to have a taproom," he said.

Kingsway Kombucha plans to also sell merchandise and work with other local businesses to sell products. Once the company begins producing kombucha and creating more capital, Brewster hopes to utilize the space for events as well.

"I think it's a progression. The way I look at it is, and one of the things that we’re making our focus, is on the kombucha, making sure we make a quality product," he said. "I don’t think it’s hard to sell kombucha. I think it’s hard to get people to be loyal or like their brand."

Brewster hopes to not only create loyal customers because of local ties but also because of the high quality of his product.

"It is as much a craft brew as any beer we [Milwaukee] have," he said. "We want to become part of the fabric of social life in Milwaukee. I know that’s aspiration, but I think we can get there."

Kingsway Kombucha is working closely with the MEDC, Near West Side Partners, Milwaukee Department of City Development Commercial Corridor team, and 707 Hub at Marquette to create community relationships.

The kombucha will be brewed in a traditional style with less than 0.5% alcohol-by-volume to make it a nonalcoholic drink with natural and organic ingredients. Brewster said he hopes to appeal to both regular kombucha drinkers and people who have never tried it.

"We want to be in that solid quality, craft brew kind of a segment and also supporting the Low and No movement," Brewster said.

The low and no alcohol movement or the alcohol-free movement has been growing in popularity, according to Brewster. He wants Kingsway Kombucha to be a nonalcoholic alternative for adults to enjoy at bars and restaurants.

"This is a grown-up sophisticated, non-obtrusive, alcohol-free beverage that you can order in a bar or restaurant or a pub along with people who are having alcohol and kind of have it be seamless. That's where we’re positioning that," he said.

Kingsway Kombucha plans to distribute to bars and restaurants as well as distribute single-serving units in 12- or 16-ounce aluminum cans with recyclable labeling.

According to Kingsway Kombucha's loan application, the company expects to hire four full-time and eight part-time employees within the next two years.