WATERLOO — A new downtown brewery is on the cutting edge of one of the country’s hottest beverage trends.
Verve Kombucha Kitchen and Bar opened quietly this month in the Waterloo Public Market, holding soft openings Thursdays through Sundays while waiting for its industrial brewing equipment to arrive.
“We’re definitely in working-out-the-kinks mode so far,” said Andy Fuchtman, who partnered with Alex Hottle to open the business centered around a fermented tea beverage whose popularity has been skyrocketing among U.S. consumers.
“We’ll be the largest kombucha brewery in Iowa,” Hottle said. “Our goal is to bottle and distribute all across Iowa. We’d like to be in Hy-Vees and places around here and continue to grow from there.”
Fuchtman, who runs Sidecar Coffee, and Hottle, one of his employees, began brewing kombucha at the coffee shop with initial plans to sell it there.
“I drank it before because I ran,” said Hottle, a Waterloo native. “I’ve always had stomach problems so that’s why I started drinking it.”
The two entrepreneurs, with help from developer Brent Dahlstrom and SingleSpeed Brewing Co.’s Dave Morgan, beat out two other proposals last year to lease the vacant, city-owned public market building at 327 W. Third St.
Verve also brings a trendy “shared plates” dining concept, which is popular in many places but relatively unique in the Cedar Valley.
“If two people are coming in together they’re going to have two to four plates at their table,” Hottle said. “Our menu is designed for you to reach across the table. We want you sharing and talking, continuing to order things, continuing to order drinks.”
Chef Luke Benson is a Cedar Falls native who cooked in higher-end restaurants in Portland, Maine, before coming home to craft a globally inspired menu that ranges from Mediterranean to Asian to classic American dishes.
“Simple food elevated,” said Hottle, noting the restaurant is trying to source its ingredients locally and has a number of gluten-free and vegan options.
Verve also serves up its kombucha, craft cocktails and beer to diners or those who just stop in for beverages. Current kombucha flavors include carrot ginger lime tumeric, passion fruit pear cayenne, hibiscus pineapple, and blueberry ginger lemon.
While many brands of kombucha are alcoholic, Verve is stopping the fermentation process of its tea before it reaches a half-percent of alcohol by volume. It also is certified organic.
“We’re not making any alcoholic kombucha,” Hottle said. “It tastes good enough, and its good enough for you, we think anybody should be able to drink it.”
The business sees its location in the RiverLoop Expo area near the Cedar Valley SportsPlex as ideal for those with healthy, active lifestyles.
“We’re in a pretty good spot,” Hottle said. “You can go to the SportsPlex, go to the yoga spa, bike shop. You can be all sweaty and come in here to get a kombucha as a recovery drink.”
It took Hottle and Fuchtman longer than expected to get Verve up and running. The business had to work with state officials on licensing for the kombucha operation, needed a fire sprinkler installed and a larger refrigeration unit.
The dining area includes tables constructed from a former bowling alley. Large windows will give diners a view of the brewing tanks.
Hottle, Fuchtman, Benson and bar manager Ted O’Brien all have strong local ties to the Cedar Valley.
“We’ve all decided to stay around because we like the community and think this can be and is something awesome,” Hottle said.
Verve is currently open Thursday and Friday from 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full hours are expected to begin following a grand opening event sometime in October.