Mobtown Fermentation is coming back home.
Well, not quite the same home. The company, which now produces hundreds of thousands of bottles of its Wild Kombucha a year, is too outsized to fit back into its original quarters in the side of a former Hampden juice shop.
But soon the beverage company, which specializes in fermented teas known for their supposed health benefits, will be trading its 3,400-square-foot space in Lutherville for a facility four times larger near the city-county line in Northwest Baltimore. The new spot, in a business park at 4820 Seton Ave., will be big enough for the company to scale up its production capacity, increase its staff and build out a taproom to draw customers in.
“The plan for us is to create a really cool space where we can produce a lot more kombucha, but also to create a kind of retail environment in the front where people can come play foosball or darts or just enjoy the experience of trying it,” including tours of the space and tastings, said co-founder Sid Sharma.
Returning to Baltimore City proper has been a goal for him and co-founders Adam Bufano and Sergio Malarin even since they were lured to Baltimore County almost three years ago.
“We’re three guys that grew up in the area, and we built this brand here very intentionally,” Sharma said. “Obviously in some ways, it’s cheaper to just go out into the middle of nowhere and make a product, but we wanted to go back into the city where we can provide jobs for the city of Baltimore and kind of just be part of the ecosystem that exists.”
The move, first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal last week, couldn’t come soon enough. Three years ago, Mobtown Fermentation needed an “intermediate” space to grow, which Sharma said they could not find in the city. When they moved in March of 2016, they received a $100,000 loan from Baltimore County to switch from hand to automated bottling.
And it’s worked out—so well, in fact, that production has risen to meet demand so rapidly that the company has already outgrown those quarters on W. Aylesbury Road. Now it’s moving to a space with room to boost production 25-fold.
To help pay for the new facility, Mobtown Fermentation is doing a $700,000 financing round to bring in new investors. So far, the founders already have $500,000 pledged in verbal commitments. (Sharma said he could not disclose the investors yet.)
The company has met its own ambitious growth expectations, roughly doubling its revenue year over year since its inception in 2015, thanks to a growing staff. The group now stands at 13 people, about half of them on the operations side, which includes tasks like bottling, brewing and administration, and the rest in “outward-facing” roles like sales, Sharma said. And they’re planning to hire at least five or six more people in the new year.
The new headquarters will cater to the staff, Sharma said, with an open-office layout and recreational space for activities like yoga. The goal is to preserve a fortunate trend so far: “For a startup, it’s pretty insane that we’ve had almost no turnover. Pretty much everyone has stayed and board and is in it for the ride.”
Sharma pointed to Mobtown Fermentation’s in-house distribution network as another key contributing factor to their success so far. A year ago, the company had around 250 stores selling its fermented teas. It’s now closing in on 750 stores, all located within 100 miles of the brewery.
While many beverage companies have their products packaged alongside others’ and then sent off to distributors, who then deliver them to stores or co-ops, Mobtown Fermentation is handling all of that on its own. “We’re doing it differently,” Sharma said. “We’ve kind of established relationships with [retailers] and built our own distribution.”
Beyond stronger relationships with sellers, having a proprietary distribution network also means that whenever Mobtown Fermentation has a new product—2018 alone saw the introduction of Tart Cherry Ginger and Blueberry Yerba Mate to the Wild Kombucha line, now at seven flavors—it can begin selling it at client retailers right away.
That’ll come in handy in 2019, when the company puts out two new kombucha flavors, one of them expected to be announced in the spring (the other TBD), as well as a new collaboration with Nela Nature, a Glen Burnie-based firm that sources unprocessed panela sugar from South America. The collab will be for a series of Latin American-inspired drinks offering a healthy alternative to processed sugar-packed beverages commonly found at supermarkets, corner stores and bodegas.
With all of the forthcoming new investment, the big move and the planned product launches, it’s a lot for a three-year-old local beverage startup.
“It’s a terrifyingly enjoyable time just because there’s so much change, but it’s so exciting,” Sharma said. “I think 2019 is by far gonna be the biggest year for us.”
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