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THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER – Brewing up a Solid Business

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Lenny Boy Brewing Company’s success formula blends organic kombucha with measured, meticulous growth.

Townes Mozer’s first taste of kombucha twelve years ago grew into an obsession with the nonalcoholic fermented beverage that he turned into a burgeoning organic beverage business.

Mozer, 27, is founder and owner of Charlotte’s Lenny Boy Brewing Company, the only certified organic microbrewery in North Carolina and the only certified organic kombucha producer in the southeast.

Lenny Boy’s projected revenue for 2015 is $600,000. The microbrewery produces 4000 gallons of kombucha monthly and another 2000 gallons of craft beer. Since their founding they’ve doubled their production space and added an on premise taproom providing real-time feedback for new flavor concoctions.

“My initial investment was $10,000.00,” said Mozer, a Charlotte native, “I recouped my investment within three months and opened the brewery in Southend in 2012. I’m looking to more than double my space again to about 10,000 sq ft sometime within the next year.“

Growing market

In 2014, Americans purchased more than $400 million of kombucha according to Quartz, a digital native news outlet. The fermented probiotic tea is claimed to aid in digestion and offer other health benefits. Kombucha has gained market share in the highly competitive health oriented beverage market over the past several years as sugary soda sales lose ground to natural drinks like coconut water, tea and juice.

Lenny Boy, named after Mozer’s dog, offers six kombucha flavors at retail including Mint Condition, Strawberry, Good Ol’ Ginger, Elite Beet, Lost Rose, and Wake-up Call. All use filtered alkaline water, kombucha starter (a live bacteria triggering fermentation) and cane sugar. Supplemental flavors can include green tea, lemongrass, nettle leaf, and a variety of fruit. Retail outlets for the tangy brews include Harris Teeter, Earth Fare, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and specialty food shops across the south. Lenny Boy kombucha retails for around $3.50 for a 12 ounce bottle.

Mozer’s foundation for his business began in his college apartment laundry room when he was a student at University of North Carolina, Wilmington in 2004.

“I visited a friend in Oregon where I first tasted kombucha,” said Mozer. “I thought it was amazing and really got excited about the health benefits and the entire fermentation process. I was a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and got all sorts of amazing produce from local farms. I began brewing beer, mead, ale, and kombucha in my linoleum floored laundry room. My friends thought it was great and told me I should sell it. From that point forward I began planning about how I could make a business out of my passion.”

Mozer made effective use of his education taking his double major in business and environmental science into his first job out of college, a one year stint at a certified organic farm outside of Asheville.

“I lived and worked on the 140 acre farm which was a “seed-to-sell” operation serving a 120 member CSA,” said Mozer. “I wanted to learn all about seasonal farming, when the fruits and vegetables came in, experience different types of produce, and learn directly from the growers. It was an incredible experience and I established relationships that serve me today.”

A Year of R & D

Using the farm as a living R & D lab, Mozer brought kombucha starters with him and experimented with everything from blueberries to melons in creating new and unusual flavor profiles. Not unlike one of his agricultural heroes, Thomas Jefferson, Mozer took fastidious notes on crop yields and recipes filling scores of spiral bound notebooks that he frequently references today.

After his farm experience Mozer connected with Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a regulatory compliant production facility providing resources and education to small, entrepreneurial food producers, farmers and natural product makers.

“Even though I lived in Charlotte, I was producing in Asheville because that’s where I had the space for production,” said Mozer. “I’d go up once a month, brew one batch, bottle another that had been fermenting for 30 days and load up a truckload to bring back and sell in Charlotte.”

Mozer sold his first bottle in December of 2011 and never looked back. Gaining certified organic status was an important component in his strategy.

“I was using all organic products in production,” said Mozer. “I just needed to gain the actual certification. The market really demanded that. It helps set us apart.”

Sales have all grown through word of mouth and ironically enough promotion from other local brewers.

“It’s a bit of a fraternity in Charlotte with most of the craft brewers,” said Mozer. “Places like NoDa Brewing Company carry my kombucha on tap to offer their customers a local craft made nonalcoholic alternative.”

As he gained shelf space, mostly at health food outlets and local restaurants such as Luna’s Living Kitchen, Mozer opened his South End brewery, with about 2500 sq ft. It wasn’t long before he added his taproom and began brewing small batch craft beer.

“Lenny Boy has a wonderful reputation as a craft brewer,” said Kit Burkholder, a certified Cicerone®, a trained beer and brewing expert. Burkholder, 36, works as the official “beer guy” for Harris Teeter’s Ballantyne Commons’ store. “Townes knows his bacteria and the science behind brewing. The kombucha is very popular in our store and his beers like Burn Down Brown and De La Wit are well sought out by our customers. Lenny Boy well represents the craft brewing community in Charlotte.”

Mozer employs four with his staff primarily involved in production, distribution (his team delivers locally) or in the taproom. Sales, marketing, administration and operations eat up nearly 70 hours a week for this small businessman who seems perpetually in motion.

“It is crazy work wise,” said Mozer, whose cell phone rang continuously during a recent interview. “I just took my first vacation in three years.”
Investors offering more than capital

Though Lenny Boy has more than half a million dollars in annual revenue, most all of the profits go right back into the business. Mozer takes a modest salary of less than $30,000 annually.

While he’s been approached on several occasions by investors interested in buying into the business he’s held off – up until now.

“I’m entertaining a couple of very serious offers by people who bring particular expertise to the business along with investment capital,” said Mozer, noting marketing expertise and ties into the scientific/biologic research community are attractive characteristics held by investors he’s entertaining.

While Mozer is a long way from the micro-batches of his college apartment laundry room, his passion for kombucha continues to burn hot.

“I love being able to combine fresh healthy ingredients using the fermentation process and create a completely different product,” said Mozer. ” It’s an amazing product.”

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