COVID-19 meant the end for many small businesses.
Over the summer of 2020, Brandon Sugano and his wife, Claire Kim, stepped in to save Fine Feathers Kombucha from becoming yet another small business that has fallen victim to the pandemic.
Sugano and Kim, both former environmental science majors, are Long Beach business owners. They own a restaurant, Sura Korean BBQ & Tofu House, where they have been serving Fine Feathers Kombucha products for years.
“Climate change and other sustainability issues have been one of our forefronts of what we try to incorporate in our businesses that we run,” Sugano said. “Before we acquired Fine Feathers Kombucha, the owners Jay and Jodine also emphasized sustainability.”
Jay and Jodine Penev launched Fine Feathers Kombucha in 2012, two years before they would officially establish the brewery in the heart of Long Beach.
Fine Feathers Kombucha is a part of the California Green Business Network. This network partners with small businesses who pledge to practice sustainability and work together to create a greener future.
Over the summer, Sugano and Kim learned that the Fine Feathers Kombucha storefront would be closing and potentially ending operations altogether.
“My wife and I were looking for another business to run, and we really liked this kombucha product,” Sugano said. “It was kind of like a weird timing thing. We were kind of saddened; that was one of our core drink products and our customer base really liked that product. It only took like a week for us to decide that we wanted to take over and start running this business as well.”
According to Sugano, maintaining the standards of sustainability and quality that had been established by the Penevs was a priority, but an incredible feat amid the pandemic.
Even through the pandemic, when many businesses have been forced to readopt single-use products, Fine Feathers Kombucha has figured out a way to maintain its sustainable habits while keeping customers and staff safe.
“We do a lot of things to incorporate sustainable living both in our businesses and our daily lives,” Sugano said. “We try to minimize all of these things just to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s really tough to have to do all of this ‘disposable culture’ right now with COVID, but we do hope that we can start getting rid of the disposables.”
When entering Fine Feathers Kombucha, you’re greeted by a battalion of greenery, speckling every inch of the walls and counters. Everything is reusable, recyclable or repurposed. According to an employee, the palette, which holds one of the many plants, is in its second life and was once used in a warehouse before finding its new home in the front corner of the Long Beach Boulevard store.
According to Sugano, the team has been able to adapt to additional hygiene procedures without compromising its commitment to sustainability.
Customers have the option to try six different flavors, bottled or in a compostable cup with a hay straw, as well as switch to the growler program. As members of this program, they’re able to purchase a growler and refill it periodically with kombucha at their leisure.
“We just try to think first before we do,” Sugano said. “We do everything in small glass jars and vessels. We’re not a huge kombucha company, so we’re given the time to really let the fermentation process do its thing and make sure our product is of its highest quality.”
They hope customers walk away having had a unique experience as well as a quality product to help enhance their quality of life. A key thing, according to Sugano, is changing “the perception of what kombucha can be.”
Brendan Pattee, an employee at Fine Feathers Kombucha, attests to the quality of the product as well as the feeling of “helping out” the environment as a part of this operation.
“I had the kombucha at a local coffee shop and I liked it so much [that] I just emailed them and asked if they had a job,” Pattee said. “I love the sustainability [and] the composting of everything we have.”
As the curve starts to flatten in California, Sugano emphasized his eagerness to get back into sampling and restarting practices that were sacrificed during the pandemic.
“Long Beach [is] this community,” Sugano said. “That’s been really helpful for us and growing our businesses as well.”