Last year, River Forest’s Bridget Connelly and Luna Bay, her all female-run brewing company, launched a line of “hard kombucha,” a boozy rendition of the centuries old fermented beverage that contains probiotics, the live cultures found in yogurt and pickles and believed to support immunity, a special concern during this time of Covid-19.
Luna Bay, unlike many other brands of kombucha, contains about 6% alcohol by volume, making it a boozy kombucha, or as we young people refer to it, “booch.”
You can purchase Luna Bay at Sugar Beet, Whole Foods, and other local and national retail outlets.
Ironically, this healthy beverage comes at a time when the nation is facing an unprecedented healthcare crisis. These times are especially hard for start-ups like Luna Bay, and it’s on that topic that I started the questioning with Connelly.
How have you worked with the Luna Bay team to respond to the challenges of this pandemic?
The alcohol industry is centered around relationships. With the lack of travel, lack of face time, and the inability to get out in the field to meet consumers, we’ve had to find creative ways to grow within our markets. We’ve had to lean on social media more than ever. Zoom isn’t quite the same as face-to-face, but we’re trying to make it work with our key partners — and amongst ourselves! The Luna Bay team is spread out. We had envisioned traveling this year to see each other and visit new markets, but that’s not our reality. I feel so fortunate to have a smart, nimble team who is finding new ways to build relationships with customers.
Has the pandemic been in any way a boost for your business?
During the pandemic, there’s been a significant increase in alcohol sales. We’ve also seen increasing consumer awareness of what they’re putting into their bodies. Having a product made with all non-GMO ingredients, one that’s low in sugar and is also vegan, gluten-free, and probiotic has been attractive to consumers looking for smarter options. While hard kombucha may have started in California, we are now seeing a demand for it in new markets. We’re in 7 states (6 of which were added since the pandemic). The environment is different, but Luna Bay is forging forward.
What has the first year in business been like for you?
I never could have dreamed we would be where we are now. That said, it has been an incredibly challenging year. Being a young CEO, managing a team during this time, the hyper-growth and my own personal/work balance is ever a rollercoaster ride. Thankfully, I have a strong support system, wise and thoughtful mentors and advisors, and a team that makes me very proud. I’ve learned that with enough passion, grit, and determination, you can achieve far greater than you could imagine. I also know that joy and kindness should never get lost. I have learned that it’s important to ask for help when you need it. That you won’t always have the right answers. That one way isn’t always the right way. That time disconnecting and surrounding yourself with what makes you the happiest is essential. That even if things don’t go as planned, even if you have setbacks and heartbreaks, there’s another way, a better way, and because of those detours, you will be transformed for the better if you allow it. I am proud of the product we have made with honest ingredients, the communities we have connected, the growth we have achieved in one year. I’m excited for all that is to come.
Is there any way that your upbringing in the Oak Park/River Forest area has prepared you for the business of making hard kombucha?
Absolutely. There is something very special about growing up in Oak Park/River Forest, a community that has made me feel that anything is possible. In addition, it’s a place where people like to have fun! Growing up Irish Catholic, having a big family, and having gone to St. Luke and Fenwick, there were always a lot of people together, a lot of celebration and a lot of fun to be had. I was very thankful to receive a great education, and from my family, I was taught at a young age to have a thick skin (three brothers will also do that!) and a strong work ethic from a lineage of very hard workers who paved the way for us. Combine Chicago grit, an unstoppable community, and a heart for a good time – starting a boozy booch, I’d say, was a natural fit!