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St. Pete Entrepreneur Serves Up Kombucha

This week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, July 12 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 17 at 7:30 a.m.), we are talking about entrepreneurs here in the Tampa Bay area.

The show includes a conversation WUSF’s Lisa Peakes had with Tonya Donati, the creator of the Mother Kombucha Warehouse in St. Petersburg. 

The air inside Mother Kombucha is rich with a vinegary-yeasty scent. Long-neck brown bottles are being labeled, filled two at a time with Jasmine Flower kombucha tea, capped, and packed into crates where they’re priced and taped to be on their way to market. 

While kombucha has been used for centuries in Asian countries, it has only been flowing into mainstream American culture for about the last 10 years or so. 

Kombucha is now a hot commodity with sales in the hundreds of millions. Fans of the beverage say it helps with digestion and offers a myriad of other health benefits.

Mother Kombucha was launched in St. Petersburg in 2014. Its co-founder, Donati, said one of the best things the company did early on was to vend at local farmers markets and outdoor events. But the company’s growth was not without sacrifices.

There were many 80-hour work weeks and all night brewing sessions.

“Every single day there’s a different challenge,” said Donati.  “I think you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she said of creating a business.

“It’s a sacrifice but it’s also so much fun.”

One of the biggest challenges she says was going through the SBA (Small Business Administration) loan process.

“It was extremely long and trying.  When there’s a problem inside the brewery we know how to fix it. If it’s a mistake you dump it and you start over. If it’s not good enough-- you just get rid of it and keep moving. But when it’s something that you’re having to do that’s completely out of your control-- that’s the hardest part."

Even so, Donati believes anyone can be an entrepreneur-- as long as they are passionate about their product.

"Make sure that it’s something that you are inherently very excited about and it’s really something you want to dedicate yourself too,” she said. “It really is true that if you find something you love, you never work a day in your life.”

Almost every day, I come before the microphone with the same enthusiasm as the Dani Rojas character in the “Ted Lasso” television series. I do 100 pushups, take some laps around the house, thank my supervisors and audience for giving me the opportunity to do what I love, bellow “Radio is liiiife” from the back steps, and bound back to my garret and get to work.
As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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