Soon you can sip from a dozen flavors of kombucha at Fabulous Ferments' Lockland taproom

The fermented tea drink is said to be good for you

LOCKLAND, Ohio -- The industrial complex in Lockland where Fabulous Ferments has its office and production facilities looks like an unlikely destination for connoisseurs of locally brewed beverages.

But in it are already two such businesses: the Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House and La Terza Artisan Coffee Roasterie.

And next door to La Terza, inside the same long, warehouse-like building, Fabulous Ferments founders Jennifer De Marco and Jordan Aversam plan to add another one.

They're remodeling a portion of the space they lease into a taproom for kombucha, a fermented sweet tea that's one of several fermented products they make. They hope to open it by the end of November.

Behind the colorful bar they've already installed, they plan to have a dozen flavors of kombucha on tap, including lemon ginger, cucumber cayenne and pineapple cilantro jalapeno.

On the shelves, they plan to have jars of their other two major product lines: kvass, a fermented drink made from beets; and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi, a spicy Korean dish made from fermented vegetables.

Becky Corn puts sauerkraut into bottles at Fabulous Ferments' production facility in Lockland.

It will give De Marco and Aversam the first retail outlet of their own -- most of their products are sold wholesale to retailers such as Jungle Jim's International Market and Whole Foods. As such, it will give them a chance to recoup more profit and to meet more of their customers, De Marco said.

It will be the first kombucha taproom in the Tri-State area, she said -- the closest one now is in Pittsburgh.

De Marco isn't concerned about attracting patrons.

"We will create our own market," she said. "Cincinnati deserves a kombucha taproom."

The market for kombucha worldwide is expected to grow from $600 million in 2015 to $1.8 billion by 2020, or about 25 percent annually, according to MarketsandMarkets.

Demand is fueled by customers who want healthy beverages, MarketsandMarkets says, and kombucha is prized for helping the body fight disease.

When De Marco and Aversam started their business in 2008, the health benefits of fermented foods were not widely recognized. In fact, banks wouldn't lend them money for a business that focused on what they considered to be rotten food, De Marco said.

"Our best investor has been credit card companies," she added.

They became interested in fermented foods and healthy eating as young adults, both brewing their own beer in college because they were too young to buy it.

De Marco spent a year of her college career at the University of Cincinnati studying in Europe, where in Bulgaria, she drank kefir, a drink made from fermented milk.

They began their business with just a few thousand dollars of their own money, believing that if they could produce the highest quality food and not cheat their customers, the money would take care of itself.

They built the business by selling product on their website and at eight farmers markets every week. Their advertising was word-of-mouth and their product labels are designed with help from fledgling local artists and graphic designers.

They spent a year working on the label for their kvass -- the ginger-flavored version features an upside-down beet, with a lipstick-covered mouth, wearing an orange wig. 

Their first kitchen was an hour's drive away in Madison, Indiana, because they couldn't afford any of the local facilities. They outfitted their business using equipment they purchase in auctions, sometimes from failed businesses.

"Buying brand-new equipment is the number one way to go out of business," Aversam said.

They worked out of the Emanuel Community Center in Over-the-Rhine for three years, then a facility in Sayler Park for another three years, then moved to Lockland in 2015.

With the 6,000 square feet they now have, they finally have enough room to create enough inventory to keep up with demand.

"We never had a walk-in cooler before, and now we have two of them," Aversam said.

The business is making money. They declined to say how much, but it's enough that they've hired two full-time employees, and expect to hire three more to staff the taproom.

They hope to reap more profit over the next five years, Aversam said, because they want to buy some land where they can raise grass-fed cows.

But they also get a lot of satisfaction knowing they're creating healthy foods the old-fashioned way.

"I love it when we meet someone, like from Lithuania, and they say, ‘This is how we make it at home,' " De Marco said.

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