Right before Teton Pass is a little gas station and market called Basecamp. It's where I regularly stop on my way back from Jackson - usually to grab a beverage before heading back over the pass. One day, the Ascent Kombucha cans caught my eye -they're very colorful and have cute branding. Plus they incorporate really cool flavors like rosemary and juniper berries! After trying one, I consistently picked up their kombucha in stores where I could find it.
When I realized Ascent was local to Driggs, I knew I needed to eventually reach out to Mollie. We split shooting photos into two days - one for brewing and preparation, one for canning. I loved meeting both Mollie and Mark - they are so kind and welcoming. Mollie's passion for kombucha is so apparent, it's inspiring.
Q: I know “how did you get started?” Is a really typical question, but I’d love to know about your creative journey. When did you start creating & when did you decide this was the career path for you?
Mollie: I've been interested in all kinds of foods and beverages as long as I can remember and have been curious to learn how they're grown and created. I worked on an organic farm in Colorado for a time and have experimented with making lots of different foods, like yogurt and cheese, before I became a vegan and started making milks from all kinds of nuts. I've done the most experimenting with juice and smoothie recipes, and when I started making kombucha, my knowledge from working with fruits, veggies, herbs, and superfoods was really helpful.
I started drinking kombucha in the late 90s in Boulder, Colorado before moving to Jackson in '05. I've been wanting to start a kombucha company here since around that time and everything finally came together a few years ago. I became really inspired to create a delicious craft beverage alternative when I quit drinking alcohol almost six years ago. When you're a non-drinker, you get tired of the choice between water and soda at restaurants and bars pretty quickly. I believe more people would choose not to drink, or drink less, if they had more options. I create my recipes with food pairing in mind and look for a smoothness that is enjoyable by the pint.
Q: How has your business changed from day 1 to where you are now?
Mollie: Our brewery started in a little 7' x 14' room we built in the back of a restaurant where we made 50 gallons a month that we distributed locally in kegs. And now, less than two years later, we're operating out of a 1200 square foot warehouse space, brewing around 500 gallons a month that we can and keg, and it's being distributed throughout Montana, in addition to locally in Idaho and Wyoming.
Q: Was anyone a pivotal person/mentor in terms of inspiring why or how you make kombucha?
Mollie: The person I get the most inspiration from when I'm making kombucha is my grandmother Goldie. She is the most incredible woman I have ever known and passed away a few years ago at age 102. She was a farmer in Fargo and a mother of seven children. The stories she told me of how hard she worked blew my mind, and I remember them when I'm working and getting tired. She was a gifted and passionate baker of bread, cookies and donuts and had dreamed of opening her own shop, but it didn't happen. I'm grateful for the opportunity I have in owning a business and feel I am manifesting her dream along with mine.
Q: There’s so much background work that goes into becoming successful on your own. What your day to day or week to week look like?
Mollie: It helps me to lay out weekly schedules for myself and for kombucha production. Mondays are office days. On Tuesdays, I do deliveries to Jackson and pick up the produce I ordered from Barrels and Bins for the kombucha I flavor on Wednesdays. I deliver to Teton Valley on Thursdays, make tea to top off the fermenters, get our shipment ready for our distributor to pick up, make production orders, and place orders for ingredients to make kombucha the next week. On Friday, I wrap up anything that needs to be finished in the brewery, make sales calls, and catch up on office work. I try to take Saturdays off before I spend all day Sunday in the brewery canning and kegging the kombucha I flavored on Wednesday. I find having this routine helps me to be more efficient with my time and energy and less likely to forget things that need to get done.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your whole process?
Mollie: My favorite part of this whole adventure is creating the product: the company name, the logo, the brand, the packaging, the flavors and flavor names. It's fun and exciting to see where it leads, and it feels limitless. That's what I love about being an entrepreneur; the only limitations are ones that you put on yourself, consciously or unconsciously.
Q: What's the most difficult part of working for yourself?
Mollie: Everyone knows the first two years of a business can be the hardest, and I have spent some very long and hard days alone in the brewery, wishing I knew someone that could relate to what I was going through. Spending time with friends really helps, but I barely had time to do that the first year when I was working a part time job in addition to starting this business. It got pretty lonely at times. Now that I am working solely for the business, I have a bit more time to socialize, and it's so uplifting. I'm so grateful for the support I've received from my friends and family.
Q: If you could have people/your audience know one thing about Ascent or you as a person - what would it be?
Mollie: Unfortunately, I have never been motivated by money. I say unfortunately because my finances reflect this fact, but luckily, I also love to live simply. I'm an experiential learner and pursue new experiences professionally and personally and am only able to pursue what is in line with my values. This has made my life more challenging a lot of the time, but it also is an asset as I am able to accomplish a lot when things fall into these two categories. I like to call Ascent Kombucha a business adventure rather than a business venture. It's a wonderfully exciting new experience, and it's in line with my values of promoting health. Thankfully, I have a business partner who is financially savvy and knowledgeable about business planning and expansion.
Q: Tell me about work-life balance. What does that mean to you? Do you struggle with it or does it come naturally?
Mollie: It's hard to have work-life balance with a new business, but I am doing better with it the second year because things are getting easier since it's not brand new. I'm not taking the time to figure everything out for the first time, which takes a lot of trial and error. For me, balance is gained through self care by exercising, spending time in nature, connecting with friends and family, and playing upright bass in The Balsamroots, an all woman string band.
Q: What are your thoughts on social media? Does it play a big role within your business?
Mollie: I'd like social media to play a bigger role with our business than it does, and I'm to blame for that. I can't wait to pass it off to a professional when we're able to hire someone. I think social media offers amazing opportunities for businesses that weren't available before its existence.
Q: If you were able to go back and offer words of wisdom to yourself at the beginning of starting your business, what would they be?
Mollie: The knowledge would be very practical, not philosophical, and it would be how to design and build a kombucha brewery. It is easy to find answers for how to make a small batch of kombucha at home, but no instructions seem to exist on how to make it to scale. The learning curve has been painfully laborious at times, but looking back, those times made the funniest memories.