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Eugene Couple Look to ‘Elevate’ Brewing Business

Eugene entrepreneurs Natalie Lewis and Corey Phaigh are looking to ride the wave of the hottest trend in the beverage market.

In 2015, Lewis and Phaigh began brewing and selling kombucha (kawm-boo-cha), a non-alcoholic, probiotic beverage made by blending fermented sweet tea and a culture of yeast and bacteria. Kombucha’s purported benefits include improved digestion, mental clarity, and mood stability.

“Our goal is to elevate the well-being of our customers and the planet through eco-friendly business practices,” Natalie says.

Kombucha, much like craft beer, has soared in popularity across the globe, especially in the United States. GT’s Kombucha, which pioneered the kombucha revolution in the US, continues to be the industry giant with over 50 percent of the market share. Another major player, KeVita, was acquired by PepsiCo in 2016. Closer to home, Bend’s Humm Kombucha recently signed a major deal with Target and is planning a $10 million, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Roanoke, Virginia.

With SELCO’s help, Lewis and Phaigh hope to reach their good-life goal of growing Elevate Kombucha in step with that industry surge.

What started as a “glorified hobby” for Lewis has evolved into a business in need of its own space. Currently, Lewis and Phaigh share a kitchen at Hummingbird Wholesale with eight other businesses, sometimes working in the middle of the night because it’s the only open slot. Ideally, they’d like to transition their operation into a minimum 1,200-square-foot space of their own. They’re eyeing 2018 for the move.

“We have a vision of what we want to do, where we want to go, and we’re confident in our product,” Lewis says. “We’ve reached our max capacity (at Hummingbird), so we’re ready to move. We’ve had a few spaces come available, but it’s pretty scary pulling the trigger without the financial backing.”

Lewis was originally inspired to brew kombucha while caring for a man with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. After making several trips to the store to buy kombucha for him, Lewis tried her hand at brewing the beverage. Before she knew it, she had more kombucha than she knew what to do with. That’s where Phaigh enters the story.

“An entrepreneur at heart,” as Lewis describes him, Phaigh kept busy as owner of Quack 12, Flower of Life Apothecary, and Phaigh Construction before joining forces with Lewis. Their paths had crossed a time or two thanks to a mutual friend, and before long, they were business partners. And before they made their first sale at a small local music festival in July 2015, they became life partners. In September 2015, their business venture became even more real when they registered Elevate Kombucha as a limited liability corporation. (Lewis takes credit for the name, by the way.)

“Our goal is to elevate the well-being of our customers and the planet through eco-friendly business practices.”

Today, they brew 50 gallons per week in the shared kitchen, and Elevate Kombucha varietals are on tap at 15 establishments throughout Eugene, including Bier Stein, Falling Sky, and Turtles (where Lewis works part time as a waitress). You can also find the couple pouring at multiple events, including the Whiteaker Block Party, Art and the Vineyard, and the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in California. Their flavors include Apple Ginger, Lavender Lemonade, Hop Berry Bliss, and First Kiss, a hibiscus rose varietal named after their first kiss.

“Kombucha is becoming the healthy alternative to soda,” Phaigh says. “It's deliciously refreshing and packed with so much goodness. The probiotics, Vitamin B, and enzymes help to boost the immune system, aid in digestion, and detoxify the body.”

In the near future, they plan to bottle their kombucha and distribute it locally. More pressing is spreading the word about Elevate Kombucha by getting their website up and running and ramping up advertising—currently, they only have a presence on Facebook and Instagram. In the meantime, they’re seeking out investors and exploring a SELCO business loan to fund the new site.

“As I was getting into brewing, I don’t think I realized just how huge kombucha was,” Lewis says. “More and more people know what it is than even a few years ago. We don’t have to explain it nearly as much as we used to.”

Now, if they could just get more people to pronounce it correctly.

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