Birch Boys’ Park Street business grows
TUPPER LAKE — “Come on in, we’ve got shrooms!” the sign at 123 Park St. reads.
Walking into the Birch Boys shop it is clear the sign wasn’t kidding. Mushrooms sprout from a glass-enclosed terrarium in the center of the room, it bursts from birch trunks around the shop and everyone working there is either chewing or drinking fungi.
The company was started by Garrett Kopp, a 20-year-old Tupper Lake native with a passion for chaga mushrooms. Chaga is a unique fungi, taking root in cuts on trees while they are still alive, feeding on the tree’s nutrients from the inside and eventually bursting through the bark to expose large burls.
The mushroom is known for its health benefits, being the highest producer of antioxidants of any naturally occurring substance on earth, proven to boost the immune system and hypothesized by Russian and Chinese scientists to combat cancer.
Kopp, who has been crushing the mushroom into a power and drinking it as a tea for years, started Birch Boys in 2015 to share chaga with the world. The mushroom grows primarily in the alpine climates of North America, Russia and China. Birch trees — a staple of Adirondack forest land — provides the fungi with the most nutrient-rich environment to grow in.
The store opening on Park Street fulfills Kopp’s dream of having a place where people can always come in and get a cup of hot chaga tea.
“Chaga is a truly authentic Tupper Lake product, it literally comes from here, it goes through the hands of the community throughout our production process and our sourcing,” Kopp said. “I just felt this was the perfect thing to step up and contribute to showing what Tupper Lake has to offer.”
Through the company’s expansion several of Kopp’s friends and fellow entrepreneurs from college have joined the Birch Boys team.
Tom Burke dropped out of school in Connecticut and moved to Tupper Lake to work as the company’s chief information officer. Ann Shumway, Birch Boys’ long-time administrative assistant, is taking on a full-time role and in June. Bard College sophomore Marko Jukic will intern as a chief operating officer through his college.
Kopp himself will decide whether he will continue his senior year at Clarkson University or drop out to run the business without distraction. Last year he took an internship through the university to put nearly 30,000 miles on his car to pitch his product to dozens of company managers personally.
Birch Boys chaga has found its way into over a hundred stores across six states, including the Kinney Drugs pharmacy chain. Currently, e-commerce over the company’s website counts for the majority of his sales, and his only problem has been meeting demand with a malfunctioning bagging machine that’s manual is written in Chinese.
The website and store are only selling the maple flavored tea bags now as the regular flavor is all sold out. Kopp has partnered with Caraway Tea, a tea packing company in Poughkeepsie, to keep up with demand.
Birch Boys is more than just chaga mushrooms now. With the company’s new storefront it has become something of a “mushroom museum.” Displays show the process and tools for chaga harvesting, mushroom-growing kits sit on a cabinet along the wall and a terrarium sprouts from the center of the floor.
The self-sustaining eco-system was designed by Birch Boys creative director Kaitlin Lawless and will be the home for tree frogs, insects and dozens of fungi species: oyster, reishi, lion’s mane, maitake and turkey tail.
Kopp and Shumway talked about the day customers will be able to come in to order a mushroom panini and the chaga weekly special. This week it is golden milk chaga, using coconut milk. Kopp said he is currently doing research development on chaga chocolates, truffles and alternate flavors.
At the shop he sells other types of mushroom teas, friend’s maple syrup products and a chaga-based root beer from Black Magic a company he supplies chaga to. While Kopp started Birch Boys by himself, he said he now enjoys working with a community business partners, employees and friends.
Working with a team has allowed him to focus on preparing the store for its grand opening this week. He built the tables, doors and terrarium himself, designing and decorating the shop with birch furniture, historic photos of Tupper Lake and the first equipment he used to make chaga tea.
“I have learned a lot of real life skills doing this,” Kopp said.
Kopp said he wants the shop to be a hub for creative thinking in Tupper Lake, hosting educational fungi events with the Tupper Lake schools, putting on mushroom growing classes and even holding search engine optimization courses.
Birch Boys closed its crowd-funding campaign after it hit its goal of $8,000. That funded his move out of a chaga dust-covered basement and to the Expo East, the largest natural trade show in U.S., in March.
Kopp has applied to be a contestant on ABC’s show Shark Tank, requesting investment from Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John. His friend John Parker was on the show with his brand of maple syrup products, and though none of the sharks bit, his phone rang off the hook after his appearance.
Birch Boys is also on a waiting list to be put on the natural food shelves of Wegmans and Price Chopper.
Last weekend Kopp got the Birch Boys logo tattooed on his left shoulder, a sign of his dedication to selling chaga, and a celebration of the opening of his new store.