NOLABA Small Business Spotlight: Big Easy Bucha
NOLABA connects New Orleanians with the support and resources they need to achieve economic prosperity. This includes providing information for small businesses like local resource providers, certification opportunities, and a strong, talented workforce. In a series of small business spotlights, we’re highlighting New Orleans businesses who use these resources to grow their businesses in the city. Big Easy Bucha is the largest commercial kombucha brewery in the Gulf South (located at 4040 Euphrosine Street), and founders Alexis Korman and Austin Sherman explain why they’ve chosen to tap into New Orleans’ STRIVE alumni population to grow their workforce.
1. NOLABA: How did the partnership originate with STRIVE to hire local program graduates?
Alexis Korman: My husband and co-founder Austin reached out to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office when we were leaving Edible Enterprises in Norco (a commercial kitchen) and moving Big Easy Bucha to our current facility in Orleans Parish. Part of our mission – in addition to making kombucha – has a social component. We had it in our hearts to want to give back to the community. We go to St. Jude / Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and are volunteers at the St. Jude Community Center. Our priest had mentioned there were some programs locally that trained and hired homeless, unemployed or recent parolees looking for a second chance, so that opened our mind to those possibilities through our business.
Austin Sherman: We got in touch with Rebecca Conwell, Mayor Landrieu’s senior advisor for economic development, and they recommended the STRIVE program in 2016. We attended a STRIVE graduation, and that sold us on the concept. It is incredibly moving and motivating to hear some of the graduates’ stories!
2. NOLABA: Tell me about your experience hiring and working with the graduates so far – how many have you hired, and what are they like as employees?
Alexis Korman: To date we have hired 6 STRIVE graduates. Byron Hughes has been with us the longest (a little over 1 year) and has received multiple promotions. He’s now a supervisor! All of our STRIVE employees are incredibly polite, hard working and communicative. They also have a positive attitude – I can’t tell you how much that positivity can motivate other employees. They’re also habitually the first to show up each workday.
Austin Sherman: We ended up hiring four stellar STRIVE graduates at a job fair following a recent graduation. We were so impressed with the fire in some of these folks that we started two that week!
3. NOLABA: You said you want to hire 100 employees in the next year. What’s prompted you to give the first right of refusal to STRIVE graduates?
Alexis Korman: We are launching a new brand this summer, and are continuing to grow and scale our business and expect to have a workforce of 100 by 2019. Austin and I want to try and source as many STRIVE graduates as possible, and every time a spot opens up on our production floor (where all employees start) we send a job description to Amy Bryant, who has been terrific matching STRIVE candidates to our needs. Seeing the impact of the program has inspired us to double down on our commitment to give folks a chance to find meaningful employment and earn a living wage.
Austin Sherman: One of the Mayor’s passion projects was the STRIVE program, so part of this was our way of saying thank you and continuing that legacy.
4. NOLABA: What does it mean to you personally to be tapping into this population of workers to fill jobs at your business? Do you feel like you’re giving back to the city by engaging this hard-to-hire population?
Austin Sherman: I think supporting initiatives like STRIVE is forward-thinking. It benefits all parties involved, and by focusing on STRIVE graduates it showcases how small businesses can scale and support positive change in our community at the same time.
5. NOLABA: As far as your business, what else would you like to share about Big Easy Bucha and how you’ve grown and expanded to 13 states? Did you tap into any of our city’s small business resources along the way?
Alexis Korman: We’re excited to launch Lil Easy Kombucha Shots in all Publix markets this summer (and hopefully in our local area too). They’re 4-ounce probiotic shots that are first to market in the functional beverage category. Like the rest of the Big Easy Bucha beverage lineup, which makes an effort to buy produce from small regional farmers and donates a portion of proceeds to regional charities, Lil Easy also has a big heart. We’re hoping to tell the story of our commitment to community by hiring a team entirely of STRIVE graduates to make Lil Easy Kombucha Shots.
Austin Sherman: We haven’t explored all that the city has to offer in terms of small business support but plan on doing so as we continue to grow.
*Pictured in the photo are STRIVE graduates Byron Huges, Edwin Mareno, Kates Jackson, Elliot Cobbins, Brandon Young.