After he decided to quit Austin’s drinking scene, UT alumnus and Buddha’s Brew co-owner JP Gremillion was at a loss of what to do with his Friday nights. Gremillion always had a love for making food so he jumped at the opportunity to help his close friend and now business partner, Kimberly Lanski, with her kombucha stand at the local farmer’s market.
Kombucha is an ancient Chinese fermented tea with live probiotics that has been brewed for the last 2,000 years, but only began gaining popularity in the United States in the last 30 years. Kombucha is revered for its metabolism-stimulating and gut-healing abilities.
Buddha’s Brew is Austin’s oldest commercial kombucha brewing company and one of the first in Texas. Founded in 2006, the company began as a small stand at the farmer’s market selling 35 cases of kombucha a week to now pushing out thousands of cases every week for sale at eight farmer’s markets and larger stores like Whole Foods. After being introduced to kombucha by political science professor David Edwards who used to brew the drink in his own kitchen, Lanski felt inspired to start making her own.
“I just loved it,” Lanski said. “It just felt great in my body and really resonated with me.”
Later, Lanski bonded with a vendor selling kombucha at the Barton Creek farmer’s market and offered to take over if he ever retired. Incidentally, the vendor had recently decided to retire and Lanski found herself with her own kombucha stand.
“It was a big hit and it just took off,” Lanski said. “Within a year, I was supporting myself with just the one farmer’s market.”
At first, Lanski was working alone out of her kitchen. As the business expanded, she realized she needed more hands. Her close friend Gremillion offered to start helping her bottle kombucha on Friday nights to get ready for Saturday farmer’s markets.
“I didn’t know what it was [at first],” Gremillion said. “I’d tried another brand before and I had just thought ‘Oh my god, why would you drink this?’ But, when I tried Buddha’s Brew, I was like ‘This is awesome!’ It made me feel really good and healthy.”
When they first began, Gremillion and Lanski did not anticipate the huge increase in demand that would come as the kombucha market took off. When they first began, Buddha’s Brew was one of six commercial kombucha breweries in the United States. Now, they’re one of five in Austin alone.
“Just starting, I was like, ‘Wow, we’re late in the game,’” Gremillion said. “But really, we were there before anybody. We’re the old guys. We have high quality brew and we feel good about providing it to the most people that we can because we put pride in it.”
Sawyer Kinser, an employee at Buddha’s Brew, said their commitment to their local customer base is what makes Buddha’s Brew special. Though they have enjoyed great success, the brand is not interested in selling out to a conglomerate.
“Kimberly doesn’t have any kids so this company is kind of her baby,” Kinser said. “She started in her garage. Just seeing the transition that the company has taken in the last few years alone has been incredible.”
At the heart of the company driving the operation is Gremillion’s and Lanski’s passion for making healthy drinks.
“It’s really authentic to make money and also help people,” Lanski said. “I’m very grateful to be able to do that.”