We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Van Tassell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I have IBS and I was looking for a more natural solution to managing my digestion. I went to Doctor Google and found that fermented foods and drinks were a great place to start. Kim Chi, Sauerkraut, Yogurt, Kefir, and Kombucha. Kombucha made the most sense to me because it is a drink you consume first thing in the morning. I was doing grocery store brands for awhile and one from a farmers market too. But I was looking to reduce the sugar I was consuming. I figured, “I’m a scientist. I like to cook. I can do this.” I found someone who knew someone that had a SCOBY (the culture used to make kombucha). I set up my experiments to see exactly how much sugar I can use to feed the culture without starving it. My kitchen was transformed into a lab. You should have seen all the bottles taking over my back counter. I found a raw kombucha recipe I liked and began experimenting with flavors. Eventually friends and family convinced me that I should sell this stuff. I looked into it. It does not fall under the cottage law so I needed a commercial kitchen, manufacturing license, food managers certification. I thought long and hard about it. Kombucha has helped me so much. I decided to take the leap so that I can share this product with others so that it can help them as well. I juggled with day job and Mad Scientist Kitchen and Farmers Markets for about 5 years until I decided to take another leap and focus my attention full time. Now I am truly doing something that I love and helps others.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The name Mad Scientist Kombucha isn’t just a catchy name. I am actually a molecular biologist with a BS in Genetics from Texas A & M University. Later I earned an MBA, but I have always been a scientist at heart – even as a child. I fondly remember my first chemistry set. I have worked in the science field as a molecular biologist for 15 years. I have a creative and analytical mind, which has helped me as I have developed and grown Mad Scientist Kombucha. I enjoy the thrill of discovery and now that I have more time to focus on R&D in the kitchen. There is so much more to come soon! Finding the right Farmers Market was by far our biggest hurdle. Not every market is a “kombucha market.” Kombucha is not the easiest product to sell. I am not blind to the fact that it does not appeal to everyone. But we have found our homes at Farmers Market on Tamina in Magnolia and Memorial Villages Farmers Market in Houston. Our customers are amazing and come back every week to refill their jars, the market managers are great, and we love the comradery of our fellow vendors.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love the museums in Houston. The Houston Natural Science Museum always has neat traveling exhibits, but the Wiess Energy Hall permanent exhibit is my favorite. As far as art museums go, the Menil Collection always has a great showing. You can’t come to Houston without going to NASA. Johnson Space Center Houston rounds out the museum experiences. As far as night life is concerned, I enjoy the speakeasy atmospheres. For a fun experience I would take them to Anvil Bar and Refuge and check the list of 100 cocktails that you have to try before you die. They offer a craft cocktail experience and each glass is a piece of art in the making. Food in Houston has endless possibilities. Houston isn’t called the “Foodie Capitol” for nothing. I would round out the week with a visit to the local Farmers Market and encourage them to shop from our local vendors. These Farmers, Artisans, and Makers are what makes this city thrive. The unique offerings are something to take home and show off.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have to give a huge shoutout to my husband, John Van Tassell. He has been the lifter of heavy pots and my spirits from day 1. He has been by my side in this journey every step of the way. From setting up my first kitchen, attending farmers markets, giving me the courage to “divide and conquer” and split up to do 2 farmers markets on Saturdays. He is my sounding board and test subject for new flavors and makes me smile and brings me up when I feel discouraged. It took us a long time to get where we are now. He has encouraged me to take this last leap to focusing on the business full time. Small businesses during these trying times have seen volatile markets. It is a scary time to transition to self-employment. But he has supported me and encouraged me as I have made this decision. Thank you John Van Tassell! Employee of the month for 60 months strong!
Other: TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@madscientistkombucha/?
Images provided by: John Van Tassell