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Month: August 2022

East Coast Kombucha Company

Case Studies & Success Stories

East Coast Kombucha Company

Steve Gaskin, CEO/Co-Founder

East Coast Kombucha Company, located in South Norwalk, is an artisanal-brewer of organic, probiotic-packed kombucha, which is fermented tea. Partners Steve Gaskin, Glynise Gaskin and Claudia Duvall are committed to brewing and distributing kegs, bottles and cans of the best-tasting kombucha available using only the finest ingredients (locally sourced whenever possible) – with a portion of their sales being donated to local charities.  Their mission is to make a positive impact on their community, their customers’ lives, their employees, and on the environment.

The spectacular brewery and tap room is located in a historic textile factory built in 1903 – just steps away from the SoNo train station and a few minutes from The SoNo Collection shopping center. For decades, this building housed the Park-Kit Safety Equipment Company, which manufactured first-aid kits.

The brewery and tap room are available for private parties and events, offering creative packages where guests can do private tastings and take a behind-the-scenes brewery tour. Free  tours are offered every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and take about 30 minutes. Visitors are invited to sign up and make a reservation in advance.

Co-Founder and CEO Steve Gaskin spills the tea on how East Coast Kombucha formed a fruitful,  healthy business in Norwalk.

“I live in Weston, our business partner is from Wilton and so we knew we wanted a place relatively close to us. We really started looking at different spaces in 2017. We knew we needed to have a certain size. Then, as we progressed, we figured we would need a bit more space to build bigger and grow into it, as opposed to starting smaller and having to keep moving. So, we had a unique set of parameters for the space because it had to be a certain size for the amount of tanks that we have. The space also had to support the weight of the tanks when you put all that liquid in. So, you see there’s a lot of limitations. We were looking for kind of a needle in a haystack as it were. On top of that, we wanted a location to have a tasting room where we could interact with the community and make it a destination.

We looked at a bunch of places on the I-95 corridor. As a manufacturer, being near the highway was important to us. Norwalk is good for us because of the location and the vibe. We like the history of Norwalk, all the past generations that have done what we do here. I’m from  Detroit, so there’s a lot of that manufacturing history here that I like personally.

I won’t lie. It’s been challenging with the pandemic and all. The good news is that we’re now in a lot more retail locations thanks to our sales rep, and we’re starting to see all the positives coming in from a growing company. We’re really happy with that. At the same time, there are still a lot of challenges with supply chain, pricing inflation and getting good staff.

We’re certified USDA organic. We buy as much of our ingredients locally as we can, as well as hire locally. We currently have five employees. It fluctuates during the summer with attending farmers markets and that type of thing. We are distributed primarily in Connecticut with a bit of distribution in New York and Massachusetts. We have a distributor helping us get into more locations.  Most people are buying kombucha primarily in the grocery store. But deli is also a big market for us, especially with high-end delis around here. If you’re going to spend $14 on a nice sandwich, you don’t want to wash it down with a sugary soda. So, we’ve doubled our production and sales each year so far.

Our brand is really built on taste.  Our big point of difference is that ours doesn’t have that vinegary taste a lot of people associate with kombucha. So, no matter how many times we say it and how many Instagram and Facebook posts we put out, unless people taste it, we’re just barking at them. So having an opportunity to get in front of them, hand them a cup and say ‘try it,’ that’s everything. Farmers markets are really good venues for that because we get a very targeted audience experiencing a nice, relaxing day and they’re looking for answers. We want to be the company that has answers for them.

Our tasting room is another option. Getting people to come here and see the building. It’s such an incredible, amazing place to get excited about. Being able to show people this very unique production process that’s unlike anything else because you’re actually growing something. So, I think these things are the right combination. It’s a nice to have people come on a Friday or Saturday afternoon and experience something very different. And hopefully have them leave with something that’s going to help them with their life and promote better health and well-being.

We formulated some of the original flavors in our basement and then branched off into other flavors. We still have some of the core flavors and then we try to rotate to seasonals, so that we always have six to seven offerings. The seasonals offer a little bit of variety to our consumers and the retailers like to have something different each month that they can rotate, and that sets us apart. The blueberry ginger flavor is our bestseller. That initial recipe has always been the same. Four months is the shelf life, as long as it’s refrigerated. It’s never going to spoil but it will keep fermenting over time and that could change the taste a little bit.

It all has to be refrigerated when sold. Obviously, that’s a challenge right there. We’re limited by the places that can take it because it’s even harder to get refrigerated space than shelf space. So we’re constantly fighting with other brands to get that little piece. We really try to go in and say, ‘Either you have a kombucha or you don’t. If you don’t, then give it a taste.’ We switched from bottles to cans during the pandemic, which was a good thing for us. Because at that point, most competitors were in bottles.

It’s an easier entry when retailers don’t know our brand for us to come in and say we’re local. And if they don’t have a kombucha, it’s easier for them to at least try it one time and gets us on the shelf. Once we get on the shelf, then people start trying it and then hopefully enjoy it and buy it more.

The ideal kombucha consumer? That’s a good question. We’re really still trying to figure that out because it’s all over the place a lot of times. I think it skews a little bit more toward females 18 to 40. We have a lot of a lot of college-age women come in with their moms, and they say, ‘Hey Mom, try this!’ Then very health-conscious people who take care of their themselves. Kombucha is going to rebalance your gut system. It’s going to help with your immune system and it’s just going to detoxify you and hopefully make you feel better. Without the calories and without the artificial things.

Sometimes we’ll get people who are just looking for answers and they say, ‘I’ve been drinking soda all my life. My doctor said I need to change.’  Or, ‘I’ve heard something about it, let me try it.’ We have doctors, some trainers, a bike store setting up accounts. We have a lot of products in a big chain of gyms that have juice bars. That’s been a really good partnership. Places where they sell fish are also really good for us, because I think it’s that same demographic of people who are really conscious about what they put in their bodies.

It also makes an amazing cocktail mixer, and that’s a huge market for us as well. Plus, its’ nice to have Spacecat Brewing right next door. The brewing community has been really fantastic. It’s a real community of sharing ideas and equipment. It’s almost like this brotherhood/sisterhood of people just trying to make something that is not processed. And it’s kind of an old-school process when you look at it. A bunch of metal and clamps and hoses. It’s almost out of the 1800s, right? It’s an old-school manufacturing way that doesn’t use a lot of computers. You’re pumping in your liquids and you’re adding ingredients and then you’re letting nature do its thing. There’s something really special. We all take the same pride in our product and our processes and anytime that we can, we help each other.

We have a lot of regulars that come in every Saturday religiously. We love the customers. We love to talk to them. It’s so satisfying when people come in and they say, ‘I drink it every day, and it’s making me feel better.’ It’s really rewarding for myself and for my team who work so hard, just to get that one-on-one feedback. It personally energizes me.”

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Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts

Case Studies & Success Stories

Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts

Danny Loftus George, President

The mission of the Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts is to provide exemplary arts education to aspiring professional students, make a positive impact in the local community of arts, and create connections in the music, theatre, and film world that will last a lifetime.

Founded in 2018 by industry creatives Danny and Ricky Loftus George with the goal of creating a college that was equal parts training and opportunity, it was initially known as the LINK Program and has developed into a full two-year college conservatory known as “NoCo” today. With close proximity to New York City, many students working on Broadway and television, a faculty of pivotal artists, small class sizes, and a curriculum built for today’s industry, it is envisioned to become a premier college of the arts.

The Conservatory plans to welcome its first class of two-year-program students to live and study at its Norwalk campus in August 2022.

NoCo and The City of Norwalk have also launched an annual Broadway in the Park summer outdoor concert series in Mathews Park, welcoming a slew of incredible performers to sing favorite Disney classics. With the beautiful park setting, food trucks and some surprises for kids, Broadway in the Park is a not-to-be missed summer event in Fairfield County.

NoCo additionally presents an annual haunted house adventure held in partnership with The SoNo Collection, with immersive events created in the spirit of Halloween.  Produced by Broadway artists and crew members, these live-performance-art events can put a scare into even the bravest of adults, while also delighting young children, to get everyone in the Halloween spirit.

Co-Founder and President Danny George set the stage for how NoCo found its home in Norwalk.

“I have been working in higher education for the last 10 years. I’ve done quite a number of different jobs for a bunch of different schools. I work with over 40 colleges presently, doing everything from producing senior showcases, to bringing in new professors, to connecting them to the industry, to writing curriculum. You name it. And so, for the past five years, we’ve been building programming to launch a proper four-year college. It’s what was referred to as the LINK Program. It’s now obviously called ‘NoCo,’ as we picked Norwalk as our home.

We wanted to be close enough to New York City but still give students a safe and suburban atmosphere in which to learn, and in which to fail, and in which to succeed. So, Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport started to make the most sense.

We felt that Bridgeport was too far away because our faculty is coming in from New York City. We’re bringing in big casting directors and agents and directors and choreographers and really big names. We want our students to work with the best, and so Norwalk won us over. It’s perfect. It’s quaint and still charming but also a big and growing town, and we wanted to be a part of that growth.

Ultimately Stamford has UConn and we thought Norwalk was really primed for a college or university. It’s getting to just about 100,000 residents and that is typically the point when you see a college or university enter a city.  So, Norwalk is ready for something like this to accelerate its growth.

In Norwalk, we’ve built relationships and collaborations. We work with Stepping Stones Museum for Children quite a bunch. We’ve worked with the City. We work with the Wall Street Theater. We work with The SoNo Collection, which is a big partnership.

We have six different buildings. Our main building is called ‘The Flagship,’ and that is just for NoCo use. Right next to it, we have ‘The Vault,’ and that’s a partnership with Juice Media. There we teach kids how to shoot commercials. Next door, we use for classes and performances. Right across the street is the gymnastics and cheerleading academy where students learn how to tumble. So, our dancers learn how to tumble and our television and film students learn how to do stunt work. We work with Factory Underground in the back behind us. Students learn how to do voiceover work there. And also The Spot, which is a big dance studio space for us.

We’re about to start renovations on our dormitories. These kids are 18 years old and we need to make sure that they’re safe and secure. So, there’s ID access and resident advisors and all those things that a traditional school has. We don’t have a traditional meal plan but we are partnering with several restaurants in the downtown area. The idea is that students can use their card at certain restaurants, so it helps them a bunch. And our students get to eat some great food, too. And we’ve been very strategic about our partnerships there, about which restaurants make sense. We want to be inclusive of all types of cuisines and all dietary requirements. We want to make sure that we have something for everybody and proximity is important.

We are a true not-for-profit organization. We are here for every dollar to go towards helping kids who can’t afford to go to school. So, organizations that support that mission we tend to flock to and cling to. Especially restaurants.

In terms of our student population, we do pre-college, which is a chance for high school students to see if this is a fit for them. And then we have full-time college. So year one, which starts in August 2022, we’ll have 50 students. About a third of those students are from pre-college, already enrolled. The other two-thirds will come from our national auditions tour. We offer two-year programs in three areas of study. Hopefully we will be granted accreditation to become a Bachelor’s program. If that happens, then we will expand to a four-year college.

Our goal is to really reinvent the Wall Street corridor. We would like to just build an entire campus there. We think it’s the perfect area for a campus. Our goal is to have 1,000 students by year five, and about 3,000 students by year 10.

I’ve never built a college from scratch before and there are so many things that you can’t even imagine that just come up, that are so difficult. If you’re running a not-for-profit, raising finances and capital is always the biggest hurdle. But we know that our next big hurdle is going to be accreditation. Our funding is almost completely private. Our biggest way of fundraising has been big events, Broadway in the Park and the Haunted House. Those events generate quite a bit of income and they’re big fundraisers for us. So that is that is how we’ve been able to stay afloat. We’re about to bring on a director of development and that’s an exciting change in terms of opening up a lot more grants and public support.

We’ve actually been very fortunate in getting a lot of in-kind donations as well. Some have been incredibly generous. The SoNo Collection. Norwalk Hospital. Stop & Shop. Home Depot. It’s a lot of small things here and there but small acts of kindness lead to greater things. I think we’re getting the City to understand the value, and I think that a lot of individuals have been tremendous and understanding of that value. Sabrina Church and Jessica Vonashek are just the bee’s knees.

I have been an actor for the majority of my career in New York, on tour, in London and everywhere. And I started a program for postgraduate studies 10 years ago. That became big very quickly. We ended up having 6,000 students in New York City. We also opened in London, Paris and Amsterdam. I got sucked into higher education and I haven’t looked back. In the arts, there are not a lot of people who run programs that look like me, that are my age, that are my ethnic background. And so, to be able to highlight that and really focus on the next generation of artists that are similar, that excites me quite a lot.

You know, doing something like a Halloween haunted house seems trivial. But ultimately, to make it a full production, Broadway-caliber, that’s exciting, interesting and, to me, great!”

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