With their new iced tea brand, Halfday, Rowan University graduates Kayvon Jahanbakhsh and Mike Lombardo say you don’t have to sacrifice taste for a healthy drink.
After Jahanbakhsh was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2016, he had to forego many things he enjoyed—including commercial iced teas. He and Lombardo fondly remembered sipping bottled iced teas as kids, but now they were all too aware of the high levels of sugar in those drinks.
Designing their own drink “evolved out of personal necessity,” says Lombardo, referring to Jahanbakhsh’s digestive disease and his search for a healthier alternative. The idea was spurred by discovering 95 percent of Americans don’t get enough fiber in their daily diet.
“We found that statistic really startling,” Lombardo recalls. “You just have to incorporate it into your diet in some way, and we thought, why not make it easier for people?”
With the same flavor profiles as other iced teas, Halfday packs eight grams of prebiotic plant fiber into each can without affecting taste or mouthfeel. After launching in 2018, Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo completely overhauled the brand, focusing more on incorporating prebiotics and changing the name from Topos to Halfday.
Halfday is now in more than 150 stores across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. Each can is low in sugar and full of prebiotics, which, Jahanbakhsh claims, “helps bolster your gut health and improve overall digestive wellness.”
Table Hopping: Have you two always wanted to start your own business?
Mike Lombardo: I was always interested in that stuff. Even in high school, in my old notebooks my friend and I would make up businesses kind of as a joke, but it was always on my mind. Like, how could I start something that helps people with things on a higher level?
TH: Where did the idea for Halfday come from?
Kayvon Jahanbakhsh: In 2016, I was training collegiately at Montclair State University. That same year I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is a super debilitating digestive disease. I took time off school, I was in the hospital for three months— it was just a brutal time. I had to give up a lot of products I enjoyed, like iced tea. To help my digestive system, I started incorporating prebiotic ingredients or natural herbs into the teas I was making, and they were actually super easy to incorporate.
TH: How did you start making your idea a reality?
KJ: I got back to school and rekindled my friendship with Mike, and we thought of trying to turn this into a business. We went to the Rowan University New Venture Competition and started a really old version of what we have now. In the early days, it wasn’t really focused on digestive health, but we have come to see that it’s become a really big problem in the US.
ML: We were hanging out a lot and just making better, [healthier] food choices. When he shared the drink with me, I thought it was really fascinating. I had done some reports for early marketing classes on beverage brands and writing about their marketing strategy. It’s really cool, and every once in a while you get these products that actually really help people.
TH: What did you do to kick off production?
ML: It was a steep learning curve, but eventually we just learned how to make it ourselves.
KJ: We spoke with one of the professors of food science and entrepreneurship at Rowan, and we talked to her about how to make our product. Her and her husband were food engineers, and they have a brew house and entire food science lab in their backyard, in a little garage they completely renovated. They had so much stuff that was so helpful to us. We spent a couple of weeks there, just making these formulations and using them for help.
TH: When did you launch your first product?
KJ: We got into a store in Marlton in 2018, and we would stand in there for hours just talking to customers and teaching them about our product. People would tell us what they liked and didn’t like, and it gave us a really cool understanding of the industry. We started to grow and expand to more stores. We were able to replicate what we learned and grow from there.
TH: What ingredients are in Halfday, and what are their benefits?
ML: We were really selective in figuring out the ingredients. We wanted to recreate classic iced tea flavors, but we wanted the ingredients to be a lot cleaner. We use organic ingredients like real fruit and real fruit juices. We based a lot of ingredients on what Kayvon was using when he was trying to feel better [dealing with] ulcerative colitis.
TH: What exactly are the prebiotic fibers in Halfday?
KJ: Prebiotics are super cool—they feed the probiotics in your digestive system, and they help everything from immunity to mental health. They are incorporated into our iced teas without anyone noticing. We wanted to make sure people incorporate these incredible ingredients in their daily routine. We kind of snuck them into the drink so it’s something people can really enjoy. One of the most important things we do is educate people on the benefits of prebiotic fiber and what it can do for you.
TH: What flavors do you have?
ML: We have lemon black tea, green tea with honey and ginseng, and peach green tea.
TH: What are you hoping for as your company grows?
KJ: We want to be healthy, no-compromise iced tea. Even deeper than that, just helping people get into their journeys—whether it’s reducing sugar, having better digestive health or anything like that.
ML: We set out to do this to make overall health and wellness a little bit more fun and accessible for everyone. If we can help people enjoy making healthier choices, that’s what really matters.
Halfday Tea Tonics are available online and in stores in NJ, PA, VA, MD and WV, including GIANT, MOM’s Organic Market, Weavers Way Co-op and Murphy’s Fresh Markets. They are also available for 30-minute delivery in the Philly Metro Area through Gopuff. Check their Instagram for updates.Click here to leave a comment