Talking Shop with our Friends at SOMA
In this series, Urban Nest sits down with local PDX business owners to talk shop about what makes their store or business fit so well with Portland. Learn about new neighborhoods, new businesses, PDX community and more!
Cultured Beverages in St. Johns
For those not savvy to the world of kombucha, the beverage is essentially a fermented mixture of black or green tea and sugar. The bacteria and yeast colonies that transform the tea into kombucha also contribute a light effervescence and acidic taste in the process. Right here in Portland, we're home to several kombucha breweries of various sizes, but only one has their very own underground kombucha speakeasy: SOMA. We visit the speakeasy and brewing facility in St. Johns and talk with SOMA founder Jean-Pierre Parent.
UN: How long have you been in business?
5 years. I used to teach yoga and took kombucha to classes for people to enjoy afterwards – they started wanting to buy it, then yoga studios asked me to bottle it, then stores started calling. So I started in my house then moved to a bigger house, then a small commercial kitchen, then a bigger one and have taken over the whole floor here. Just signed a lease today on a 7,000 sq. ft warehouse near Pier Park.
UN: What is unique about your business?
The company is really running on its own steam – we do very little marketing (just selling SOMA at a few events here and there) and are still able to grow every month, doubling in volume every 6 months or so.
I try to consider a win-win-win for every problem, because business is such a cool way to rethink how things are done. I want us to do what’s best for everyone involved – customers, employees, community, planet, so we’re zero waste, run on renewable energy, run a foundation that provides probiotic education and nutrition to an orphanage in Uganda, and are taking all staff and their guests to Cirque du Soleil next week – all kind of good stuff. All employees are able to (actually required to) create solutions to problems they face, define their own roles in the company.
UN: For you, what is most important about the customer experience?
I want to effect people in a positive and permanent way – the best way I know to do that is with high-quality probiotics. SOMA has millions of times more naturally-occurring probiotics than any other kombucha brand, yogurt, supplement or anything else we’ve tested. It’s also the only naturally-carbonated and naturally-sweet kombucha, and we make sure it tastes awesome and stays low-cost so there’s no excuse not to drink it.
UN: How would you describe the community that surrounds your business?
It’s funny but based on our Kombucha Speakeasy in St Johns, we get literally all kinds of people in here. From 5-year-olds to older folks to hippies to marines. I’ve thought a lot about what unites the group and I think it’s just people who want to feel awesome but want to enjoy getting there!
UN: What do you think makes your business a great fit for Portland?
I did not mean to start a kombucha company, that’s for sure. But Portland as a whole was so supportive that it just happened. I appreciate Portland as well – the water, the willingness to try new things, how we recognize quality. Someone wrote in a review that the Speakeasy is like time traveling 5 years into the future of Portland, because it’s already so progressive here - I thought that was pretty cool.
UN: What is your favorite thing about Portland, and why?
Forest Park, of course. An old-growth forest steps from the downtown of the biggest city in the state? That’s awesome. I also like how Portland feels more European than American – people look each other in the eye with open hearts, not enshrouded by fear of strangers; it feels like a big family and I knew I was home within the first few minutes of visiting.
UN: What part of town do you live in, and what do you love about it most?
St. Johns is pretty great. Forest Park, the best bridge in town, both rivers come together. It feels like a little town off on its own and it seems like most people know each other, at least by sight, but there’s still access to the big city. Plus, there’s a kombucha bar!