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Business Incubator Helps LIC-Based Kava Tea Company Take Root

LONG ISLAND CITY — Something relaxing is brewing in Long Island City.

A pair of entrepreneurs from the neighborhood who started brewing a line of kava root teas is getting a taste of the good life — with their products being sold at Whole Foods thanks in part to an organic foods business incubator that helped keep costs low.

Former roommates Nick Haycock and Ben Berdan, both 26, are the entrepreneurs behind King Kava, a line of organic plant-based tea drinks believed to fight stress.

They brew and bottle the drinks at a commercial kitchen space in Long Island City, supplying the teas to 30 stores citywide, and just started selling them at the Whole Foods in TriBeCa last month.

"It's exciting," Haycock said. "It’s a pretty big milestone."

The men have been friends since going to the same high school in Cambridge, Mass. Haycock went off to study business at NYU, while Berdan went to college in Ohio.

Living together after graduation, they got the idea to start their own herbal tea company after Berdan — a professional chef by day — took a trip to Hawaii and discovered Kava.

A plant found in the Pacific, kava root is used to brew teas believed to have a de-stressing effect.

"Kava is really popular in Polynesia," Haycock said. "It has a mild compound in it called Kavalactone, which when you drink it, it helps you feel more relaxed."

King Kava imports kava from an organic farm in Hawaii. The drinks are caffeine-free and certified organic, and are available in two flavors — mint lemon and ginger citrus — though Haycock said they plan to add more to the line up.

The company launched just this past June, after the duo set up shop in the Organic Food Incubator in Long Island City, a large commercial kitchen tucked amidst the warehouses on Borden Avenue where start-up food companies can rent space by the shift.

Both men have other jobs — Haycock works part-time was a waiter at a restaurant in Fort Greene, while Berdan cooks at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square — so the flexibility of the space rental worked with their schedule.

"The fact that you can rent the kitchen stuff for a day at a time greatly reduced the cost of starting a business," said Haycock, who said they spent less than $20,000 getting the venture off the ground. "When we found this space, it basically made it feasible."