Launched by brother-and-sister duo Amy Rothstein (Steinhardt ’14) and Peter Rothstein (Stern ’21) in 2014, Dona is a spiced-based beverage company focusing on tea concentrates and small-batch sodas. As a graduate of the MA in Food Studies, Amy handles the recipes, product development, marketing, and sales, while Peter crunches the numbers and oversees business operations. This year, they were featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Food and Drink.
What inspired you to start your business? What was the ‘aha’ moment?
Amy: Back in 2013, when I was a food studies student spending a lot of time in coffee shops, I started asking baristas what chai they were using, and often times it would be a startling question. They would pull out a syrup or Oregon chai that’s not local. I noticed a gap in the market: No one was making a high-quality masala chai concentrate for the New York City coffee shop scene.
After starting to plan the company with my brother – it’s hard to find someone you trust in a business partner! – I called our dad, who had started his own business, and told him about the idea. “Is there a need for it?” he asked. I said yes, and he said, “okay, do it.” We started with chai, and then two years ago we launched a turmeric concentrate. Earlier this year we branched out into sodas as well.
What makes your company different from others in the industry?
High quality and unique flavors – we’re brewers. We source spices from collectives around the world, and we begin the brewing process with whole spices that are ground fresh per batch. Then the spices are steeped slowly to build complexity. After brewing, we compost our ingredients locally. We also use less sugar than our competitors.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Being a food producer! There’s no guidebook on how to start a chai company. If you want to become a coffee roaster, you buy a machine that roasts coffee, but there’s nothing like that for chai. So we’ve built our DONA-specific brewing facility in Gowanus, Brooklyn on trial and error. We started in an incubator in Long Island City where we had to figure out how to grind, strain, and bottle our spices. It’s taken us five years to get our brewing process stable and efficient. We bought custom machinery and moved into our current space last spring.
What has surprised you most about running a business?
Peter: I drive a forklift and work in a warehouse. I never thought I would do that. And I was totally lost in the kitchen at first!
Amy: I didn’t realize how creative the work would be. Every single part of it requires creativity.
How do you balance schoolwork with being an entrepreneur?
Peter: I try and find balance in other aspects of my life. I’m a runner, and I carve out time to spend with my fiancée. Time is a luxury these days!
What advice would you give to other students who are thinking about launching their own business?
Ask for advice! We have made it this far because we have sought help from other people in the industry. And we've made so many friends because of it.