The lightbulb moment that really drove home the potential of the burgeoning kombucha craze for Will and Shoshauna Routley didn't come in a health store or at a farmers' market, but in a 7-Eleven.
The pro cyclists found themselves in the convenience store after a race in Oregon several years ago, and noticed something that seemed out of place for the global chain: a kombucha tap.
"When I saw it there, I thought, 'Wow, this is something that needs to happen at home.' And seven years ago, I don't think there were any kombucha companies locally," explained Shoshauna. "It's still not as popular here, but seeing how popular it is in California, Oregon and other states we had been to, we had a feeling that it was going to grow big here as well."
Last year, the husband-and-wife team decided to put that theory to the test by launching their own organic kombucha company, Healthy Hooch, which is now available online and in close to 60 retail locations across B.C.
The move was a natural one for the couple, who, as world-class athletes, were well aware of the many health benefits associated with the fermented tea beverage.
"We were already hooked on kombucha," noted Will, a Whistler native who was the 2010 Canadian National Road Race champion. "That's the thing about endurance athletes: half of your job is eating well and practicing good nutrition. Cyclists are always excited to go to the grocery store."
But, of course, a career on the international road cycling circuit isn't necessarily the best primer for launching your own business, and the Routleys would be the first to admit it's been a steep learning curve along the way.
"The production of it is very technical. You learn the science side of it, so you're monitoring the sugar content, the temperature, you're looking at all of your ingredients and perfecting the recipe," says Will. "There's also an art to it, and that's really Shoshauna's strength, her palate. So when it came to actually blending batches together to get a consistent flavour, that's what we've learned is one of the biggest challenges for a lot of beer (and kombucha) brewers: consistency is tough to achieve."
Fortunately for the pair of "kombucha kids," as a neighbour affectionately coined them, the Routleys' dogged work ethic and relentless drive to succeed, qualities typical of elite athletes the world over, transferred well to the start-up business.
"Just having that drive and ambition is really good for any job," Shoshauna says. "And if you want to start your own business, having an athlete's mentality is going to help you because you just won't quit until you're successful."
Although there's been some bumps in the road, Will, who retired from competition in 2016, said moving from racing into entrepreneurship has been a natural transition.
"The parallels are that, in sport, you fail on a regular basis. You can lose 50 races and win one, and it's a good season," he says. "So if you transfer that to business, you're not afraid to work toward your goal. You put your head down and just do it."
Now, the Routleys are focused on expanding their production capacity and building up brand awareness. It's hard work — for the moment, Healthy Hooch is a two-person operation — but, just like the long, gruelling training sessions leading up to race day, they know it's an investment with a worthy payoff.
"That's what we keep focusing on: that we have our goals and we're going to be satisfied when we hit more of them. It's exciting, it's overwhelming at times, but overall, we're happy with our decision (to start the business)," Shoshauna says. "Besides, what else would we be doing?"
Healthy Hooch can be purchased online through the food delivery service, spud.ca. The kombucha is also available locally at the Whistler Brewing Company and HandleBar Café and Apres.
For more information, visit healthyhoochkombucha.com.