With old and new fermentation skills, Fine Feathers Kombucha looks forward to new horizons

Side strEATS is a monthly multimedia series by Long Beach Post staff that aims to highlight unique food businesses across the city. To contact us, email Visuals Editor Thomas R. Cordova at [email protected].

Claire Kim still remembers the first time, a few years ago, that she tried Fine Feathers Kombucha. She and her husband Brandon Sugano tried the lemon-cayenne and ginger flavors at Steamed on Third Street. Immediately, they sought to get the fizzy, sweet fermented tea on tap at their Korean restaurant, Sura Korean BBQ & Tofu House.

Now, the couple stands in the Fine Feathers shop on Long Beach Boulevard, bottling growlers of the Rose Lemonade kombucha and in charge of the whole operation.

The business distributes bottles, cans, growlers, meowlers and even kegs of their drink to local shops and restaurants in and around Long Beach. Customers can also walk into their store to buy booch and brewing supplies from their storefront on certain days or from their website.

Claire Kim boxes up 32oz bottles of Lavender Chamomile kombucha while working at Fine Feathers Kombucha Company in Long Beach, Thursday, November 5, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Fine Feathers is known for its locally brewed craft kombucha with its light and delicate flavors such as lavender, jasmine peony and lemongrass oolong. In September, its founders, Jay and Jodine Penev, announced the closure of their storefront and the possibility of their operations shutting down entirely. Kim and Sugano quickly stepped in and bought the business from the Penevs, seeing a match made in heaven.

Fermentation is already a familiar process to the couple, who make and sell kimchi, fermented habañero salsa and dongchimi at Sura. They had to jump right in, taking over at the beginning of October, because the fermentation process for Kombucha takes several weeks and runs in cycles, Kim said. The Penevs showed the couple the ropes for the Fine Feather operation and they immediately began working to keep the quality and unique flavor.

Fortunately, Claire said, there are similarities between what’s required to make kimchi (fermented vegetables) and what’s required to make kombucha.

“I think half the book was already written inside of us from all the hours that we’ve done,” Sugano said. “It’s been quite a natural progression.”

The pace is different than their restaurant, where they’re used to juggling dozens of employees in a face-paced environment. At Fine Feathers, their head brewer Bill Hytop hums and sings as he cans and labels the drink one can at a time in the back of their store among vats of kombucha in varying stages of fermentation.

“Everything’s fine-tuned here,” Kim said. The couple spends about half their days in the store and the rest of their time at their restaurant.

Brandon Sugano and Claire Kim stand outside of their Fine Feathers Kombucha Company in Long Beach, Thursday, November 5, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

They are looking at bringing back old favorite flavors, like lemon-cayenne and sage. They already brought the rose lemonade flavor back and are experimenting with new combinations. They may also partner with a local distillery to make a different kind of drink.

“We’ve taken all the knowledge they’ve given us, alongside our knowledge of making kombucha and we’ve been able to replicate the steps,” Sugano said. “That was one of our first priorities was to keep the quality of the product extremely high, not cutting any corners and keeping everything the way it was.”

Sugano said he’s ready to try new business strategies to get their kombucha out to more people.

Prior to the news that Fine Feathers would be possibly selling, Claire said they were looking to take on a health venture of sorts in addition to their restaurant. Kim said she wants to expand their health and wellness offerings to the local community.

“Our customers when they have our product, they’re literally getting good probiotic drinks for their body and they’re not leaving a lot of carbon footprint on earth,” Kim said. “All of those things make me really excited to provide that to the community.”

Fine Feathers Kombucha Co. is located at 2296 Long Beach Blvd. To order, click here.

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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.