Melanie Wade focused her eyes on the ceiling as she lay awake in bed. She had just arrived at her grandmother’s house in Virginia, and as a reward to herself for enduring the stress of an all-day drive, she grabbed a small jar of fermented kombucha tea. It was one of the first times that Wade would try what she’d once dubbed “grandma’s weird mushroom tea.” (There are no actual mushrooms in the drink, but the bacteria and yeast used in the fermentation process resembles a mushroom cap, hence the nickname.)
She wasn’t overly shocked that she found the tart, unforgiving flavor appealing. “I’m the kind of person [who] drinks pickle juice out of the jar,” Wade says.
The rest of the night, Wade couldn’t get kombucha off her mind. She says the vitamins in the drink (kombucha generally contains probiotic bacteria and B vitamins) were exactly what her body had been craving. Her brain was buzzing with ideas.
But with a full-time marketing job, she already had commitments. Certainly not enough time to launch a business.
Too inspired to care, Wade returned to Atlanta with one of her grandmother’s kombucha books—now 96, grandma Golda had been studying and fermenting the tea for about four decades—and soon traded her marketing career for the “weird mushroom tea.” Now three years into the kombucha business, Wade’s oak-barrel aged tea is sold in 113 Kroger locations. She attracts customers from Illinois to Florida and works at up to 15 farmers markets five days each week.
This fall, Wade will open Georgia’s first kombucha brewery and taproom—the third in the Southeast—moving production of Golda Kombucha (named, of course, for her grandmother) from Tucker to a 6,000-square-foot space near the BeltLine Westside Trail.
“My life is on the line,” the 29-year-old says, referring to the 10-year lease she signed with the Lee + White development. “But it’s such a right feeling for me.”
An expanded brewery, taps for kombucha tastings, and space for Wade to teach kombucha fermentation classes will all fit comfortably under the 27-foot ceilings. Wade says other aesthetic details remain up in the air, but that with this space, she’ll be able to add seven to 15 employees to her 10-person staff and work with nearby beverage producers. She hopes, for example, to collaborate on and market a kombucha beer.
Some days have been grueling for Wade who, atop a hectic schedule, must now oversee construction of Golda Kombucha’s new site. But it’s worth it when she sees how important the drink is to her customers. Her company has a partnership with Cancer Treatment Centers of America, where her product serves to promote overall wellness. Her fiancé Alex, a type-1 diabetic, regularly enjoys the drink as something sweet that won’t cause his blood sugar to spike.
But Wade says her top supporter will always be Golda, who so lovingly cultivated the practice. Golda likes to joke that if something goes awry at Golda Kombucha, “It’s got my name on it!”