Bringing the art of fermentation to life in Baltimore and beyond
Sid Sharma is one of the founders of Mobtown Fermentation. The Baltimore-based company, which Sid along with his partners Adam Bufano and Sergio Malarin, is best known for its Wild Kombucha product line. Made from fermented tea leaves, kombucha dates back thousands of years and is rich in probiotics, vitamins, enzymes, and acids believed to promote digestive health as well as better functioning of the body’s immune system. Mobtown Fermentation offers Wild Kombucha in three flavors, and the products can be found at organic supermarkets throughout the Baltimore–DC metropolitan region. Earlier this year, the company expanded by moving into a new space previously occupied by Michele’s Granola—whose founder and owner, Michele Tsucalas, recently spoke with citybizlist as well.
Sid Sharma spoke with citybizlist publisher Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Where did you get your recipe? How does your product differ from others in the marketplace?
SID SHARMA: The way we make Kombucha is we make green tea, just like you would at home, on a stove, and then we add a probiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as a SCOBY, to it. This ferments the product for 10 days. Then, we add organic juices to flavor it. We bottle the products. We allow it to ferment in the bottle for two more days to naturally carbonate it, and then it’s done.
Kombucha is known as an ancient health remedy, originating in China and eventually spreading to Russia and other parts of the world. It’s good for metabolism, digestion, liver function. One thing that makes our kombucha unique is that we use a green tea base. A lot of other kombuchas use a black tea. Also, we made sure to apply organic juices and flavors that complement the natural vinegar tones of kombucha. This has made our kombucha a little bit more approachable. It gives it a good balance. It really takes away that vinegariness that a lot of people associate with kombucha in a negative way.
We consider our kombucha in a lot of ways the “gateway kombucha”: a little bit more approachable, a little bit lighter. We don’t want it to just be something that someone drinks to detoxify their body or for a cleanse. Our goal is to make it a little bit more versatile. You can have it with a meal. Some bars are using us as a mixer, as an alternative to those sugary cocktail mixers that are bad for you.
Q. Where is the company at in terms of growth now?
A. We started in February 2015. In 2015, we did $40,000 in sales. Here we are about a year and a half later. We’re projecting to do around $150,000 in sales in 2016, and in that time we have gone from one store to just over 90 stores in Maryland, DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Q. What has the Baltimore entrepreneurial ecosystem meant to your success?
A. The Baltimore ecosystem has meant absolutely everything to us. People supporting us as a local company—that’s what has allowed us to do what we do. Specifically within the kombucha industry, the vast majority of companies are on the West Coast. So, our biggest advantage so far has been the ability to be physically in a store and demoing our products, because the majority of the people do not know what kombucha is yet, and if I can be the person to tell them what kombucha is, they’re much more likely to purchase my kombucha.
And the fact that really we are proud of the fact that we’re a Baltimore-based product and that we grew up here and this is home for us. So we display “Baltimore, Maryland” very proudly on our bottle and that’s definitely helped us gain traction locally. Because in order to get going we had to sell in the restaurants, cafes, grocery stores right around us, and since then we’ve been able to develop our packaging a little bit and figure out different ways to sell in other regions that may not be as passionate about the fact that we’re from Baltimore.
Q. How do you scale a beverage company like this one? Did you have to change your recipe in order to mass produce?
A. The biggest thing for us is to maintain the quality of Wild Kombucha. We truly believe that by producing our product in small batches we’re able to maintain a quality and consistency that you don’t see in a lot of the national brands. In order to scale up, our plan is to open breweries in different regions. Therefore, we’re still providing that smaller scale and that quality, but we’re reaching another demographic. We aren’t limiting ourselves. Our goal is to not only be another kombucha but be a beverage for everyone.
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