Brewing up a solid business at Lenny Boy

Lenny Boy Brewing Company’s success formula blends organic kombucha with measured, meticulous growth.

Townes Mozer’s first taste of kombucha (pronounced kom-boo-cha) 12 years ago grew into an obsession with the nonalcoholic fermented beverage that he turned into a burgeoning business.

Mozer, 27, is founder and owner of Charlotte’s Lenny Boy Brewing Company, a certified organic microbrewery, and a certified organic kombucha producer.

Lenny Boy’s projected revenue for 2015 is $600,000. The microbrewery produces 4,000 gallons of kombucha monthly and another 2,000 gallons of craft beer, Mozer said. Since their founding they’ve doubled their production space and added an on-premise taproom to get real-time feedback on new flavor concoctions.

Growing market

In 2014, Americans purchased more than $400 million of kombucha, according to Quartz, a digital news outlet. The fermented tea is claimed to aid in digestion and offer other health benefits.

Lenny Boy, named after Mozer’s dog, offers six kombucha flavors, including Mint Condition, Strawberry, Good Ol’ Ginger, Elite Beet, Lost Rose, and Wake-up Call. All use filtered alkaline water, kombucha starter (a live bacteria triggering fermentation) and cane sugar. Retail outlets for the tangy brews include Harris Teeter, Earth Fare, Whole Foods and specialty food shops across the South. Lenny Boy kombucha retails for about $3.50 for a 12-ounce bottle.

Mozer’s foundation for his business began in 2004 in his college apartment laundry room while at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington.

“I visited a friend in Oregon where I first tasted kombucha,” said Mozer. “I was a member of a CSA (community-supported agriculture group) and got all sorts of amazing produce from local farms. I began brewing beer, mead, ale and kombucha in my linoleum-floored laundry room. My friends thought it was great and told me I should sell it. From that point forward I began planning about how I could make a business out of my passion.”

Mozer took his double major in business and environmental science into his first job out of college – a one-year stint at a certified organic farm outside Asheville.

“I lived and worked on the 140-acre farm, which was a ‘seed-to-sell’ operation serving a 120-member CSA,” said Mozer. “I wanted to learn all about seasonal farming, when the fruits and vegetables came in, experience different types of produce, and learn directly from the growers. It was an incredible experience and I established relationships that serve me today.”

Building a reputation

Sales have grown through word of mouth and promotion from other local brewers.

“Places like NoDa Brewing Company carry my kombucha on tap to offer their customers a local craft-made nonalcoholic alternative,” Mozer said.

As he gained shelf space, mostly at health food outlets and local restaurants, Mozer opened his South End brewery, with about 2,500 square feet. It wasn’t long before he added his taproom and began brewing small-batch craft beer.

“Lenny Boy has a wonderful reputation as a craft brewer,” said Kit Burkholder, a certified Cicerone, a trained beer and brewing expert. Burkholder works as the official “beer guy” for Harris Teeter’s Ballantyne Commons store. “Townes knows his bacteria and the science behind brewing. The kombucha is very popular in our store..”

Mozer employs four, with his staff primarily involved in production, distribution (his team delivers locally), or in the taproom. Sales, marketing, administration and operations eat up nearly 70 hours a week for this small businessman, who seems perpetually in motion.

“It is crazy work-wise,” said Mozer, whose cell phone rang continuously during a recent interview. “I just took my first vacation in three years.”

Investor offers

Though Lenny Boy has more than a half-million in annual revenue, most of the profits go right back into the business. Mozer takes a modest salary of less than $30,000 annually.

While he has been approached by investors interested in buying into the business, he’s held off – until now.

“I’m entertaining a couple of very serious offers by people who bring particular expertise to the business, along with investment capital,” he said.

While Mozer is a long way from the micro-batches of his college days, his passion for kombucha burns hot. “I love being able to combine fresh healthy ingredients using the fermentation process and create a completely different product,” he said. “It’s an amazing product.”