“There is a story here in Cheltenham. One that is seldomly told and it’s about that time to properly share it.”
Cotswold Kombucha was born in Cheltenham, UK on July 3rd 2020. As for it’s founder and owner Stephen Lee, well… not quite.
So let me get this straight, you are from Fremont, California but living in Cheltenham? What Am I missing?
Haha Yep, that’s 100% correct. Let me try and give you some bullet points so we can connect the dots here. I was born and raised in Fremont, California. Went to Arizona State University as an American Football walk on. This basically means you try out and have a better chance of turning water to wine than making it. It is a division I school and the stadium holds over 70,000 spectators.
I was pretty driven though and out early on if someone said I couldn’t do anything well… That was pretty much all I needed to get it done. After a year I realized the passion moved on and I was ready for a new challenge. I studied tourism development and management I remember it being one of the few times I was actually engaged and interested in what I was learning.
“I found it fascinating being able to study the development of a place, the motivations for travel, and the impacts it has on the local economy.”
I soon finished my bachelor’s degree and took a one way flight to New Zealand. Basically, I heard a song on the radio… “Hope” by Fat Freddy’s Drop, and I asked my brother Eric, “where are these guys from?” He said, “New Zealand son!”
More or less, that was all I needed as I pictured this song playing on the radio, driving down empty country roads and the wind in my face, brilliant. I met my now fiancée Claudie in Queenstown and we were fortunate enough to save up a bit after a couple years working hospitality jobs and travel around the world.
That sounds like the dream. What was next then?
Well, after travelling there wasn’t much in the way of a plan. My fiancée said she had a cousin who was moving house in Cheltenham and all we needed to do was pay for council tax. I said great, sounds like a plan! Where is Cheltenham?
Fast forward through an emotional visa process and couple odd jobs later, I found myself working as a Head Concierge for the Queens Hotel. This is where I learned about Cheltenham’s history of being popularized as a spa town in the 1800’s. There is a story here in Cheltenham. One that is seldomly told and it’s about that time to properly share it.
So we’ve almost connected the dots here, but I think there might be a couple details missing still? I’m intrigued by this story you mentioned too…
Right you are. So it was through this job that The Queens Hotel (who is now managed by M Gallery Accor) prided itself on being one of the first purpose built hotels in the UK and they made it clear that the art of storytelling was paramount.
I learned that Cheltenham was popularised in the early 18th century as being a spa town. Not like I’m gonna take a bubble bath or jacuzzi spa type thing but like a natural well situation where people would come here to drink the water that apparently had loads of health benefits.
It turns out there was a well that pigeons flocked to. The location of the well was in Bayshill, nearby to where The Cheltenham Ladies College is situated.
The landowner, a seaman by the name of Henry Skillicorne set out to exploit and expand upon a business venture that was based around the water that came from his land.
Over time this gained national interest and many affluent visitors would come to Cheltenham and take to the waters. You would have various aristocrats, composers, and other people of a certain influence which I feel helped develop Cheltenham into what it is now.
“In 1788, King George III was advised by his doctor to come here and take to the waters after having an issue with his liver.”
It was later discovered that the King most likely suffered from a rare genetic disorder however his visit alone was able to validate this well to be what we now know as, ‘The Royal Well.’ Hence, the story and inspiration behind my first flavour, ‘The O.G. Well.’
You could imagine it didn’t take take long for even more tourists and people of notoriety to arrive here. I mean were talking about people such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. To name a few… I feel it was this period that gave Cheltenham a great position to develop as a place for health, education, and leisure through the popularity of its springs.
That’s pretty impressive. So can I ask, how does cotswold kombucha™ play in to all of this?
Haha, that’s a fair point. Let’s connect a few more of these dots. So, a bit of context here. I’ve always wanted to work for myself and at thirty three years old, I’ve had my fair share of random and odd jobs over time.
When I worked at the Queens, I began brewing kombucha out of sheer interest. I remember seeing GT Dave’s kombucha at a grocery store back in California and perhaps this may have played on the subconscious a bit.
“What was once a hobby turned into a passion and now it’s a full blown obsession… dare I say lifestyle.”
So cotswold kombucha™ is here to pay homage to the roots of Cheltenham. Each bottle has ‘Salubritas et Eruditio’ written on it which is the motto for Cheltenham. This stands for Health and Erudition. In other words, the crest or coat of arms for Cheltenham is based on this story too and erudition to me lends itself to what some might consider the educational advantages that Cheltenham has from the likes of The Cheltenham Ladies College, Cheltenham College, and Dean Close School.
I’d like to consider coKo to represent Cheltenham and elevate it’s roots into the 21st century for what it has always been known for. A sort of modern approach on it’s history of health, leisure, and education.
Our mission actually is to ‘Elevate and awareness of self, education, and health through kombucha so that people can feel empowered in consuming a local product.’ One key factor for myself and the business (naturally) is to ensure Cheltenham’s inclusivity.
Cheltenham is marketed as a Festival town and there are so many cultural festivals than happen here.
“This place really does come to life during the summer months and the quality of life here is remarkable.”
It’s been great to be warmly welcomed here especially not only as a minority from another country, but to introduce coKo and it’s products here whilst sharing the story of Cheltenham, and a bit of my own along the way.