Food & Drink

Miami man gets healthy drinking a different kind of draft, now brews and sells it

Ariel Pinho and Michael Chow make their Betta Bucha kombucha at Hidden Kitchen in Miami Beach.
Ariel Pinho and Michael Chow make their Betta Bucha kombucha at Hidden Kitchen in Miami Beach. Photo provided by Betta Bucha

The beer brewery business has been thriving with microbreweries springing up all over Miami and Broward. Michael Chow and his business partner, Ariel Pinho, decided to join the beverage market, but by selling a different drink on draft.

Like many Americans, Chow was working long hours and traveling often for a software company he helped manage. Eventually, neglecting his diet and making poor eating choices caught up with him and his digestive system suffered.

“I was super stressed out with shipping deadlines. My mom’s a nutritionist so I’ve always been eating clean and super health conscious, but when you’re stuck on the road or hotel room and you’re working around the clock you don’t have access necessarily to the right type of nutrients at the right time,” Chow said.

He underwent different procedures and tested out different diets seeking a solution.

“I was having all sorts of stomach pains and digestive issues. I thought I had an ulcer. I got checked out, went to the GI, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Enough is enough I thought.”

Chow, who was living in New York at the time, decided to embrace the holistic lifestyle. One day after his morning yoga, he discovered kombucha on draft while at his regular breakfast spot.

For him, the catch was introducing probiotics into his diet while avoiding dairy.

“I ended up trying 15 different flavors. I became friends with the guy behind the bar, sort of like your daytime bartender. He would always ask how the flavors tasted and it was just a really cool conversation,” Chow said. “I was just there in my mornings having my healthy meal. And instead of just sitting there having my healthy meal, I could have a beverage and have a relationship with this guy during the day which was really interesting.”

Kombucha is a vinegar-based drink produced by fermenting sweet tea with “SCOBY,” the acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, and has been used by people looking to introduce probiotics into their diet as an alternative to diary or lactose-based products.

Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that help balance out the bad bacteria in your stomach and help in aiding digestive ailments such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and skin conditions such as eczema.

After a year-and-a-half of drinking commercial kombucha and implementing a healthy lifestyle, Chow’s health improved, but the cost hurt his pocketbook. What stuck with Chow was the way people related food to relationships and he wanted to come up with the equivalent of beer or coffee, offering a healthy beverage as another option. Putting his biochemistry background to use, he decided to brew at home.

“The reason why Starbucks is so successful is because they give people a place to be. The current setup is, ‘Hey, let’s go grab a beer or grab some coffee,’ but I can’t do four coffee meetings back to back,” said Chow. “I wasn’t drinking at the time and I was sitting there thinking where can I go to have a drink? People are always trying to get a beer or a drink and go somewhere so I was trying to find a healthy alternative at places and be able to build a community around it.”

For the last year, Chow and Pinho have been brewing 20 gallons of kombucha a week at Hidden Kitchen in Miami Beach, and wholesale to various retailers at the point of consumption.

Now, they have five places serving their two flavors, Lemon Ginger and Berry Hibiscus, which include locally sourced teas and honey, on draft kegerators including Love Life Wellness Center in Wynwood, House of Movement in Brickell and Cold Pressed Raw Kitchen in Brickell. They also sell glass bottles at the locations, which people can refill to enjoy at home.

The costs vary by retailer, but average about $5 per serving or about $20-$25 per bottle.

Chow and Pinho are working on expanding their business so more people can enjoy kombucha and make it a part of their daily lives without having to compromise their budget.

“If you do it the right way, there’s a very positive and natural way that you can use biology and biochemistry to improve lives,” Chow said. “That’s the vision.”

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To find some kombucha near you, visit www.bettabucha.com or find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @bettabucha

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