The Chai Hut will close its doors on Friday after an eight-year run of producing their signature pepper brews that began in the Evo's Coffee Lounge and ended in a converted Pizza Hut.




"We found ourselves in a place where we are just behind on our bills," said Elizabeth Bretko, who owns the store along with Chad DeRosier. "We are a community-oriented company, but we're in the big leagues now. We're serving Whole Foods and we need to have the capital to support that."




This year, the company expanded into Seattle and Northern California and doubled their sales of the tea brews they marketed as an energy drink alternative.




But the local investor they had been hoping for never materialized. The latest potential investor pulled out, citing only "astrological concerns," Bretko said.




In the last few years, five larger companies have offered to buy the Chai Hut and employ the founders, but Bretko said she would rather give up her dream than work for someone else running her company.




"It's not that I feel like I need control of ownership, but I started this business with a vision of community," she said. "We wanted to take on the soda industry and say, 'No, no, no, no, no. No poisoning our people and our land and our relations with other countries.'"




Bretko considered closing up in January, but friends encouraged her to give the community a chance to support the venture, and the store launched a "100 by 100" campaign, asking 100 people to give $100 each. In three months, the store collected just $3,000, not enough to keep the company afloat.




Hudson Soules and his friends from the Bay area visited the caf&

233; for the first, and likely last, time on Monday afternoon. They sampled the Thai coconut smoothies made with Rooibos tea from Africa and served in a coconut shell.




"We were just talking about how cool it is," he said after he learned of the store's impending closure.




Brent Willett said he felt as if he were visiting a friend's home when he entered the store and would be sad to see it go. Carter Moonflower added that she hoped the store would leave a lasting legacy.




"I hope that it's just reverberated out and inspires other people to convert Pizza Hut into a beautiful sanctuary," she said.




The company will continue local distribution of their products until supplies run out, and Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative CSA pick-up will continue on Thursdays through September.




Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .