House Kombucha founder Rana Lehmer-Chang launched her company with a plan to avoid packaging waste by serving her fermented beverages in refillable containers and on tap. As Berkeleyside reports, Lehmer-Chang had almost given up on that goal — and was considering a sale of her business — when she met another struggling Bay Area business owner: Anson Abdulla, the owner of Berkeley’s People’s Cafe.
Abdulla, who bought the Shattuck Square spot back in 2016, had put the cafe on the market as costs continued to increase as revenue remained static. Even as he hustled to sell the business, he also made tweaks to its existing model, adding more vegan options to its menu and focusing on zero-waste initiatives like encouraging coffee drinkers to bring their own mugs. Things seemed to improve, but it was still tough.
Meanwhile, Lehmer-Chang was going through a similar skirmish. She launched House Kombucha in 2009, and since then the brand has become ubiquitous at grocery stores, cafes, and corporate cafeterias in the Bay Area and beyond. And yet, as she told Berkeleyside, Lehmer-Chang was still hanging on to her taproom dream, but “didn’t have the money or bandwidth to do it” and, like Abdulla, took steps to sell her business.
Ironically enough, though both businesses are based in the East Bay, the two didn’t meet until this past March, while attending a food trade show in SoCal. As they traded notes, they realized that there might be opportunities to work together, and the taproom plan was eventually hatched.
Berkeley being Berkeley, it should probably come as no surprise that newly revamped People’s Cafe isn’t even the first kombucha taproom in the city. That honor goes to Boochman, which, with its distinctive man bun–forward logo, became the first stand-alone kombucha bar in the Bay Area this summer.
The new People’s Cafe/House Kombucha collaboration had its grand opening this past weekend, with eight varieties of kombucha — all exclusive to the cafe, the East Bay Express notes — available. This week, for example, patrons can expect jasmine grape, winterberry pie, coconut peach ginger, blueberry litchi, and strawberry lavender, as well as a CBD offering, served by the pint ($5.95 for the CBD drink, $4.95 for the rest) or growler ($12 for standard varieties, $16 for CBD).
Lehmer-Chang’s future plans for the cafe include a vegan prix-fixe Thanksgiving dinner and a zero-waste grocery store. In fact, she’s already made some additions to the menu: a vegan ramen dish made with a shoyu-based broth and served with spinach, mushrooms, black garlic oil, bamboo shoots, and tofu, as well as a zero-waste boba drink made with black or green tea and served in a glass jar with an extra-wide metal straw. “Plastic is the worst part, but nobody’s doing zero-waste boba tea,” Lehmer-Chang told Berkeleyside. “They’re bringing in paper straws, but that’s not zero waste.”
People’s Cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week