Sometimes, the most unexpected choices propel us in the right direction.
Such is the case for Omar Rios, whose career path has been paved so organically, it’s almost amazing that he didn’t originally intend for it to lead him where he is now.
Omar graduated from UT Austin with a business degree, but after a stint in corporate America, he realized it just wasn’t for him. “I more enjoyed studying the marketing aspect of it,” he remembers. So after college, he enrolled in paramedic school and began working as an emergency medical technician within Austin’s esteemed EMT system.
“I really wanted to be involved on the prevention side – keeping people healthy rather than just fixing things.”
In his twelve years as a paramedic, Omar saw many people suffer from preventable diseases and conditions. “You’re working with people and seeing different body shapes and different things that people have going on and it’s an amazing job — but you really see the back end of chronic diseases and things that people just shouldn’t be so sick with,” he says. “I really wanted to be involved on the prevention side– keeping people healthy rather than just fixing things at the end once they become an emergency.”
He decided to venture into holistic health care by becoming a licensed massage therapist at The Lauterstein-Conway Massage School. During his studies of the effect of movement on the body, he also developed an interest in yoga and incorporated its practice into his own life. “It really changed me in every way,” he says. “That’s when I really wanted to start showing people what it can do.”
Two years into his own practice, Omar completed yoga teacher training and began teaching at Breathe & Body Yoga. A friend who practiced at the studio used to bring homemade kombucha in to share after class. It was the first time Omar and his wife Mina had ever tried the fermented, effervescent tea known for its purported laundry list of health benefits – and they were immediately fans.
“She was about to stop making it and we wanted to keep drinking it, so we started to tinker with it,” Omar remembers. “All of a sudden people liked what we were making! So it started from literally just our friends and people digging what we were making.”
Suddenly, they had a small kombucha operation in the making, and Kosmic Kombucha was born. Starting from an oolong and green tea base, Mina layers herbal, botanical and fruit infusions to concoct one-of-a-kind flavors like Purple Haze (grape juice, lime, cinnamon, lavender, clove, agave), Cherry Bomb (black cherry, maple, chocolate) and Texas Blues (blueberry, basil, lime, agave).
“We always wanted our kombucha to be very pleasing to the palate and to the senses when you first encountered it. Because a lot of people don’t know kombucha and maybe had some batches that were very intense,” describes Omar. “We wanted it to be, really, something you savor. Not to gulp it like a soft drink, but to drink it and get the aroma of it and enjoy it.”
Anyone who’s had a sip of the Rios’ kombucha would find it hard to believe neither of them has a culinary background. In fact, Mina has a degree in molecular biology and a masters in education, and just recently quit her job teaching to dedicate herself to the kombucha craft. “The making of the kombucha is working with liquids and things that you weigh, so it’s a lot of mathematics and ratios and time intervals,” says Omar. “So Mina is oddly really suited to it, in that she has that mathematics and statistics experience.”
This summer, Kosmic Kombucha will be four years old. However, it was two years ago when they started to offer their (now 15) flavors in 18 oz bottles instead of the 67 oz growlers they started out bottling. At that point, “things really went bananas!” laughs Omar. “We went from 5 locations to 70-plus in the past two years.”
Now with more orders than they can fill, they’re planning a move to a bigger facility this summer. Right now, they can only accommodate 2,000 gallons at any time, so within 24-48 hours of being ordered, the tea is bottled and on shelves.
“It’s interesting, “ says Omar, “because it’s not like you can brew it faster. It’s a growing thing — it’s a living thing. So it’s very akin to farming. You have to have more space to have more tea and just let it do its thing at its own pace. It’s interesting in that way — it teaches you patience.”
Despite their rapidly growing kombucha business, Omar still manages to teach three classes a week, now at BFree Yoga, and commits to his own practice at least two to three times a week, if not four or five. How does this yogi entrepreneur find his own balance?
“To have such radically different environments to go to is helpful,” he says. “You can sort of separate from one and go to the other. I leave the kitchen, which is a very hectic and time-driven environment, and then go to a space where I’m helping people and guiding people to be still and to be calm. The teaching keeps me grounded.”
And the day doesn’t stop when they go home: Omar and Mina are parents to a two and a half year old as well. “Then to go home and be with our little boy Saia is like a complete check-out from reality itself. It’s all imagination and playing and getting to be with him.” He beams just thinking about that time of day. “It’s nice to have those real special places to be. They’re connected to each other, but they’re very different.”
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