Two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs give kombucha a champagne-colored makeover.

Entrepreneurs: Alison Zarrow, sociology grad student at Stanford University, and Caleb Cargle, former Stanford business school research assistant.

Startup: The pair launched Gourmet CA Raw Foods in 2009. “Our first investor was my best friend Visa,” Cargle quips. Since then, friends and family have contributed enough to outfit a small kombucha factory with floor-to-ceiling brewing tanks–no mean feat in Silicon Valley, where startup culture revolves around tech.

What possessed them: “We’re not big drinkers, and we thought there needed to be a healthy, high-quality alternative to alcoholic drinks,” Zarrow says. Enter Top Shelf: clear, champagne-colored kombucha in a fluted glass bottle–“perfect for mixing,” Cargle says. “We’re like the Grey Goose of kombucha.”

Kom-what? Fermented tea high in B vitamins and probiotics, popular for its touted medicinal benefits. Often associated with granola types and health nuts. (Warning: It’s an acquired taste.)

Kom-why? 2009 industry sales were an estimated $100 million, and the market experienced double-digit growth over the last few years.

“Aha” moment: On a plane, post-Vegas weekend. ‘Nuff said.

Customers: To promote the lifestyle beverage, they’ve gone after local accounts like Equinox Fitness, an upscale gym, and Garden Court, a luxury boutique hotel in Palo Alto, Calif.

Philosophy: “Work until it’s done.”

Recommended recipe: The Dark and Stormy, two parts kombucha, one part light rum, one part ginger beer and lime juice.

What’s brewing in 2011 (and beyond): “We don’t want to get in over our heads, so we’re taking it slow,” Zarrow says. They’re aiming for regional distribution in one year, and nationwide in three. Cargle is experimenting with flavors, such as blueberry, mango and lemonade.

By: Jennifer Wang (Entrepreneur)


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