A Castlegar business gains momentum

Leeza Zurwick of Castlegar hardly has time these days to be amazed at the rapid growth of her home-based water kefir business—she’s too busy filling orders.

“Water kefir is like pop—it’s a fermented, fizzy drink that’s full of live probiotics,” Zurwick says. “I make three flavours and a non-effervescent mix that you add to smoothies instead of juice or milk. You can also make your own fizzy soda with the smoothie mix in 24 hours.”

Zurwick learned about water kefir from a friend and started making the probiotic drink for her own use in September 2016. She was impressed by the positive changes. “I was feeling lots of energy from drinking it,” she says. “My skin was clearing up and even though I was working at the local high school, being bombarded by germs all the time, I didn’t get sick that year.”

When she heard on the news that an American health association endorsed probiotics as beneficial, she decided to take the product to market, naming her business Happy Gut. And apparently, the world was ready for water kefir—since Zurwick made her first sale on August 1, 2017, the business’s momentum has quickly grown.

For support, Zurwick contacted the Trust’s Basin Business Advisors program (BBA), delivered by Community Futures. The program provides free, one-to-one, confidential counselling and assessment services to businesses that are creating and sustaining jobs or bringing wealth into the region.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate to have the Trust be so supportive of my company,” she says. Together, Zurwick and her BBA advisor tackled issues like financial analysis, market analysis and marketing, planning and human resources. “I could never have built my company the way I have without her.”

As part of the program, the advisor also connected Zurwick to a specialized consultant who coached her on how to get into health-based stores. In addition, Zurwick has accessed the Trust’s School Works and Summer Works programs, which have provided wage subsidies to help her hire students. Plus, she took part in the Trust’s Basin Food and Buyers Expo, a fall 2018 event in Nelson that brought together food professionals of all types.

As well as students, Zurwick also employs people with disabilities through the Employ Me! program of the Kootenay Society for Community Living. “Currently I have two women working for me, and I am planning to hire more as the company grows.” And she plans to hire a brewer this fall—thus titled because water kefir is a fermented product.

In addition to selling her kits and grains (probiotic cultures) on her website, she sells to more than 50 grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants in the East and West Kootenays, and to more than 100 additional stores elsewhere in BC and across Alberta

“To watch my company grow is really exciting,” Zurwick says. She expresses gratitude for all the programs that have helped her get where she is today. “We are so, so lucky to live in the Columbia Basin and have access to these programs.”

Watch Now

Leeza Zurwick recently appeared on Dragons’ Den and was a successful candidate of the Desjardins GoodSpark program.

Watch the episode here.