We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Kevin Mashayekan a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Kevin, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Let’s start with the story of your mission. What should we know?
Like most food and drink companies, Howling Moon Kombucha started from a tiny home kitchen. In 2016 my then-girlfriend (now fiancé) Lori and I had just graduated from college and moved into a small duplex on the edge of Clairemont. We had studied microbiology together and were now working in the biotech industry. We were enjoying our new life together, but as with many entry-level lab positions, we found our new careers to be somewhat disappointing. I felt my passion for microbiology and my fascination with bacteria slowly fading away.
So I turned my passion into a hobby. I started making beer in our kitchen, and a brewing obsession took over my free time. Later my brewing branched out into wine, cider, and finally kombucha. Lori wasn’t much of an alcohol drinker, but once kombucha was on the menu she joined in on my brewing endeavors. It didn’t take long before we were using all of our combined college and lab experience to formulate the perfect tasting kombucha.
Within a few months we were making kombucha by the gallon, and sharing it with everyone we came in contact with. The feedback was always the same: “This is so much better than what I buy from the grocery store!” We made it our mission to share our scientifically-crafted kombucha with the world, and Howling Moon Kombucha was born.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
We are Howling Moon Kombucha, a 2-person company making fresh, small-batch non-alcoholic kombucha. Kombucha is a sparkling probiotic tea that is refreshing, low-calorie, and filled with probiotics.
What sets Howling Moon apart is our scientific background. Our experience studying microbiology and working in the biotech industry allows us to finely control every aspect of the production process. This results in a kombucha that is lower calorie than other brands, in addition to being less acidic and more refreshing. All of this is done while retaining a high probiotic count.
We also have a lot of unique and exciting flavors that truly stand out. Our flagship flavor is Cactus Nectar, made with prickly pear and hibiscus. You can order our kombucha through our website at howlingmoonkombucha.com or find us on the shelves of over 70 locations in San Diego.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
As with most other brick-and-mortar businesses, we were hit hard by the Covid pandemic. As a 2-person team with no employees, our revenue came almost entirely from tasting room sales and events. Although we were elated at reaching our breakeven point and turning a profit for the first time in February 2020, our sales disappeared completely 2 months later. Having no idea what to do next and not knowing how long the pandemic would last, Lori and I detached ourselves from our business entirely.
Two more months passed, and we realized the pandemic wasn’t ending any time soon. For a while we considered closing our doors and declaring bankruptcy, but we simply couldn’t give up our dream of making Howling Moon a success. So we put our heads together and came up with a game plan to start from scratch.
I learned some basic computer programming and Lori devoted herself to digital marketing. Shortly afterwards we launched a home delivery program through our website. If no one would come to our tasting room, we would bring our kombucha to them. Every week we drove from Escondido to Imperial Beach, dropping off kombucha at our customers’ doorsteps. For the first time in months, we were making income again.
Looking ahead to the end of the lockdowns, we recognized an opportunity to introduce our kombucha at local stores. Once our home delivery program was established we set to work on bottling our kombucha for resale. I worked on purchasing and configuring bottling equipment, while Lori worked on a complete rebrand along with label design. Today we’re pleased to share that our kombucha bottles are being carried at over 70 San Diego locations.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
For the first few months that we opened our doors, I saw the size of our company as a huge weakness. How a 2-person team with no employees compete with the other kombucha brands in San Diego, let alone the massive national brands? After all, there’s only so much that two people can do. Between production, packaging, maintenance, advertising, event operation, bookkeeping, and distribution it always felt like we were being stretched thin, and that the odds were against our favor. I dreamed of a day when we could afford to hire our first employee.
But as time went on I realized that our lack of employees was as powerful of a strength as it was a weakness. I learned that there’s a sense of magic that people feel knowing that they are speaking to the owner of a business. Sometimes it was something as minor as a customer seeing a photo of me on our website and then seeing me in person at the tasting room the next day. Other times it’s a customer calling me and knowing that whatever question they ask, as the owner I will have an answer for them. The absence of a chain of command adds a sense of intimacy and authenticity to my relationship with my customers. Looking back, I credit the small size of our company for a lot of the success Howling Moon has had since its inception.