She only got super-serious about her kombucha biz last spring, but it’s already full-steam ahead for Buchipop founder Patricia Larkin. When she launched a pilot project just over a year ago offering Buchipop on tap at Datsun on Elgin Street, little could she imagine that by February 2017 she’d be delivering to 50 food retailers and restaurants around town.
Two weeks ago Larkin began brewing out of a 3,900-square-foot space in Little Italy. City Bites Insider caught up with the former Black Cat Bistro chef to check out her new digs, get the scoop on her fizzy, fermented teas, and talk about her ambitious expansion plans.
How would you describe the Buchipop brand?
I think of Buchipop as a fun, lifestyle brand. A lot of the kombucha makers are focused on the health side. I look at kombucha — and Buchipop — as a soda alternative. I want the person who is drinking Coke or Diet Coke to see kombucha and gravitate to something new. It just happens to have health benefits and way less sugar than pop.
How did you go from restaurant chef [at Black Cat Bistro] to kombucha expert?
When I left Black Cat in April 2015, my idea was to take some time for myself and do a few things I didn’t have time to do when I was in the kitchen. I became a beekeeper that summer, started a garden at Mariposa Farm, joined a choir — oh, and I started testing kombucha at home.
So the idea to launch Buchipop happened really quickly?
It did. I was originally just playing around with fermentation — I was doing kombucha and kimchi and kefir and yogurts in my kitchen. After testing kombucha recipes all summer, I decided in the fall to get more serious and in November 1 started putting it into kegs and selling it to Datsun.
Like a pilot project.
Exactly. We put it on tap. By having it at Datsun, we could see how customers responded. It went so well that by last April I decided to really make a go of it.
Were you still brewing out of your kitchen at this point?
Actually, I’d been working out of a small space in the back of Bridgehead since the fall of 2015, but I outgrew it quickly as things started to really take off last spring. That’s when I started looking for a bigger space.
For people who don’t know Buchipop, tell me about your flavours.
We have four right now — original, ginger, berry [raspberry, strawberry, wild blueberries, and hibiscus], and Amarillo.
Amarillo. What’s that?
It’s my new favourite and it’s flavoured using Amarillo hops.
Hops, like the stuff you use to make beer?
Exactly. It will remind you of beer, but it doesn’t taste like beer. The flavour comes through, but it’s dry hops so it’s not bitter. The hops are steeped so the flavour is delicate. I find it grapefruity. When I first made it, I called it Buchihop, but changed the name to Amarillo because calling it hops was deterring some people from trying it.
Did you think Buchipop would take off this fast?
No. It’s scary and exciting! But obviously I wouldn’t have started if I didn’t think Buchipop had potential.
So you went from one customer less than 18 months ago to how many now?
About 50 restaurants and retailers.
It is. There are now three kombucha makers in Ottawa and a couple outside town. I think there’s huge room for growth here. And I don’t plan to stay just in Ottawa. I’m proud to brew here, but I want to expand beyond Ottawa in the relatively near future. This new space gives me that ability.
Tell me about this new space on Beech Street.
It’s about 3,900 square feet and it used to be the home of Sam Bat. The wood dust in here was insane when we moved in in September. Though it doesn’t look like I cleaned it 1,000 times, I assure you I did. It’s still settling. We just got the occupancy permit a couple of weeks ago, so we’ve begun fermenting out of here.
What else did you do?
We spray-painted the space mostly white. The major pieces of equipment are a big walk-in fridge, the tea steamer, and the fermentation tanks [each hold 500L].
It’s a huge space. Are you lonely?
Not for long. Heirloom Kitchen [a custom preserves company] and Renew Cold Press juice are also moving in. It’s fun to have people around to bounce ideas off and inspire you. In the future, I’d also like to use it as an event space.
Do you do everything by yourself right now?
Pretty much. I have a business partner that I met through Black Cat. But it’s me who’s hands-on in the operation. I recruit friends twice a week to help me bottle. Whoever I can get my paws on! It’s fun because we catch up, have a social few hours, and it makes work enjoyable. Restaurant industry people have such weird hours that someone’s always available.
And what else are you working on?
Some seasonal flavours. I don’t want to commit yet. I’m still sourcing and testing. I definitely have some “soda pop” flavours in mind.