Tuesday’s warehouse fire in downtown Olympia destroyed the inventory of a popular wholesale kombucha tea company, derailing production of the drink and jobs for the local staff.
Magic Kombucha rented a portion of the warehouse on Adams Street that was consumed by fire early Tuesday morning. The warehouse served as Magic Kombucha’s only brew house and shipping annex. An estimated $150,000 in product was incinerated when the building caught fire.
“It was a very old, quirky warehouse, but our business took shape around it, and we had six months’ worth of bottled Magic in that building,” owner Rachel Carns said. “The way our operation evolved was dictated around that space. We all grew into it and made it our home.”
Carns, founder of Magic, started brewing kombucha, a fermented, sweetened tea, at her house in 2006, then moved to the back of Quality Burrito cafe in downtown Olympia for a year and a half. In 2008, Carns rented the warehouse and streamlined production with the addition of staff and community support.
Magic became a Northwest staple, shelved at stores not only in Olympia, but in Tacoma, Seattle, Portland and recently San Francisco. Carns said the nutritionist for the Seattle Seahawks adopted Magic as a base for the smoothies she serves to players.
“Apparently they got hooked,” Carns said of the Seahawks.
“This fire happened at an unfortunate time. We were poised to branch out even more,” she said.
Kombucha is a non-alcoholic tea known for its peculiar ingredients and distinct flavor. Nicknamed booch, the drink is said by adherents to be a disease-resistant substance capable of producing lasting nourishment and strength to the body.
Magic’s brew process starts with a mixture of green tea and sugar, then is supplemented with Olympia’s artesian well water. The solution is then put into 5-gallon tubs, along with a vinegar-like culture of bacteria and yeast that feeds on sugar, causing a reaction that produces natural chemicals and acids.
The tubs of kombucha ferment for two weeks, then are bottled, hand labeled and ripened for another three months before being shipped to distributors.
The yeast culture, known as SCOBY (an acronym meaning “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”), is critical to the drink’s claimed nutritional benefits, such as like immune and digestive health, along with vitamin production.
“It resembles snot,” said Magic Kombucha brewer Alex Coxen. “But it turns the tea into a magical drink, no pun intended.”
Carns, 46, will depend on SCOBY residue in remaining bottled Magic to regrow her patented bacteria and revamp her once-expanding business. Local businesses and close friends already have donated their remaining stock.
“We need all we can get,” Carns said. “During the fire, I immediately contacted my housemates to tell them not to drink the Magic.”
Magic’s staff consists of eight local, mostly independent music artists. Coxen said the jobs are coveted because they are flexible, so musicians can go on tour and still keep a paying job during a time of economic woes.
Coxen said he is lucky to have a second job, but is concerned for his coworkers’ future, considering the employees have no safety net.
“That job bailed me out so many times,” Coxen said. “There are times when I really needed the money and that job was always there.”
Stasia Kowaleski, a 23-year-old brewer, loved her work and was stunned when she received a text message from Carns saying, “Magic is burning.”
“I went down there and just watched it burn,” Kowaleski said. “I had really come to rely on that job.”
Carns will be asking for support from the community through online fundraisers. Her priority is the employees; she vows to keep them financially secure while she tries to rebuild.
“They are my main concern,” Carns said. “I want to get something started as soon as possible to take care of them.”
In the wake of Tuesday’s destruction, Carns is grateful for the community’s support for her vision and her determination to rebuild.
“I feel so supported and loved right now,” Carns said. “So many people are offering time, money, energy and emotional support. Olympia is a special place and I feel lucky and grateful to be a part of it.”
How to help
Magic is asking for online contributions at http://youcaring.com/magickombuchafirerelief.
Another fire victim
An Olympia woodworker lost all of his equipment and tools in Tuesday’s downtown warehouse blaze on Adams Street.
Michael Hedges sub-leased a portion of the warehouse for his furniture-making business and is now out of work. Hedges lost an estimated $40,000 in inventory.
A GoFundMe donations site can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/2d9qzx8.