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Be a Mensch to Your Gut with Fermensch Kombucha

arms holding cans of fermensch

If there’s a better company name than Fermensch Kombucha, we’re yet to hear it. The bubbly probiotic brew is made by chef-turned-professional-fermentor Chad Huniu, but he gives all the credit for the name to his wife Mykel. Huniu officially started Fermensch in 2016 with on tap distribution, but now you can order canned Fermensch for local pickup and delivery near their Huntington Beach, CA brewery. We talked with Huniu about his path to ‘boochcraft, the challenges of operating a business during a global pandemic, and how he gets his flavor inspiration.

chad and mykel

How did you decide to start by offering your kombucha exclusively on tap?
After cooking, I was hired by a local company to develop their entire fermented foods line, one part of which was kombucha on tap. At the booch bar, I noticed how unique and special the experience could be. I also liked the creativity it afforded me. I could make each keg a different flavor. I had fun experimenting with different ingredients, taking risks.

When did you start bottling and canning?
We started bottling in late 2019 and switched over to cans at the beginning of this year.

Was that a difficult move?
It was. We loved our bottles, but when the pandemic put a strain on shipping, making all our packaging costs double (and sometimes triple), we knew it was time to go all in on cans. We actually had our sights set on cans for a long time. It just sped up our transition. Cans are infinitely more recyclable and environmentally friendly than bottles, but of course switching packaging means new equipment costs and a big old learning curve. We’ve been loving our new cans and see lots of potential for growth, like shipping to NorCal and out of state.

fermensch being poured into a coupe

What kind of restaurants were you initially serving in?
In the beginning, the majority of our business was third wave coffee shops like Neat Coffee and KIT, as well as vegetarian and vegan restaurants like Seabirds Kitchen. We quickly expanded that to local breweries, juice bars and offices. We started doing farmers markets as well, which was a great way to reach the community directly.

What’s your sourcing process like?
We source from lots of local farms, especially for our seasonal flavors. For our year round flavors, we try to keep it as local as possible, but our first priorities are making sure our ingredients are organically grown and taste exceptional. I learned early from my cooking days that technique only gets you so far. The quality of your ingredients determines the floor and the ceiling.

How do you come up with flavor combinations?
Ah, my favorite part of the job. I enter my Sherlock Holmes style mind palace and meditate for nine hours, focusing on the potential of a juiced piece of celery. I’m just kidding. I’m always kicking around ideas and trying stuff. I love playing with spices and herbs not usually featured in beverages. Lately, I’ve been very taken by the power of adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms. Finding flavorful combinations to pair with these strong tasting ingredients has been a fun challenge, like with our adaptogenic Chaga Root Beer flavor.

four cans of fermensch

Do you have a best selling flavor or a past favorite?
Bloom has been our best selling flavor since we debuted it five years ago. A mild, fruity, floral combination of blueberry, lavender and chamomile. It’s yet to go out of style.

How did you end up offering a kombucha package with a dozen eggs?
This came about during the early days of the pandemic. We started offering home delivery and brewery pickups, and our farmers market customers asked us to offer more goods since the markets were shut down. We actually were selling organic veggie CSA boxes at one point, as well as local coffee beans and sourdough bread. Now we just sell the pasture-raised eggs and this amazing gluten-free bread from our friends at AWG as add-ons to your weekly booch order.

What’s the story behind the name?
My very talented and hilarious wife Mykel came up with the name Fermensch Kombucha. It was really just an off the cuff joke when we were searching for a name — a play on ferment and mensch — but it has all these deeper meanings that I really love. My family is Jewish, so it has meaning for me there. For those not fluent in Yiddish, mensch is the Yiddish word for “a nice guy.” This is why our tagline is “be a mensch to your gut.”

However, mensch also means “human being” in German. Fermentation is a naturally occurring process, but, as the clever humans we are, we figured out how to harness the power of our bacterial and yeasty friends. Through fermentation, we make all kinds of delicious and nutritious cultural staples like cheese, wine, kimchi and kombucha. These fermented foods define human cultures and would be difficult to imagine living without.

hopped pear kombucha can with pears

What have you learned about running a family business?
Communication, communication, communication. Just because you work with your family (I work with both my father and wife) doesn’t mean they can read your mind. In fact, they won’t magically know exactly what you want them to do. As my wife likes to tell me, words are important.

What have you learned about your business during the pandemic?
Pandemics suck, be prepared for the worst. Things can change overnight (re: see bottles and the shipping crisis). Better have a contingency plan or, as is more often the case with me, be quick on your feet. Go long, buy bigger quantities of ingredients and extra packaging if you can. And be prepared to make some tough choices about things you really didn’t want to reckon with.


Sarah Strong

Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.


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