Step Right Up!

Deven Penn sells a cure-all tonic in old-style apothecary bottles to large outdoor crowds. In other words, he's an old-timey tonic hawker and proud of it. “I just need a top hat and a soapbox to stand on,” he jokes. But instead of being run out of town like the con-men quacks of yore, Penn has built a growing and faithful clientele who keep coming back for his immune-boosting True Blue Tonic. “When you feel yourself coming down with something, take three shots a day and your body realizes this is the real deal,” the karate instructor says in a decidedly non-salesy voice. He notes that in his experience if you’re already getting sick, the tonic can make your infection less severe and also help prevent it from rolling into additional infections.

Working with young children back when Penn taught school wrecked his immune system to the point that he developed a bacterial strep infection in his heart and wound up in the hospital for a week. He attributes his recovery, in part, to a recipe a friend found, which by some accounts dates as far back as the Middle Ages. After some tweaking, he shared the blend with friends, and the response was so positive that he started selling it in 2-ounce, 8-ounce and 16-ounce bottles at the Texas Farmers Markets at both Mueller and Lakeline. Eventually, stores such as Thom’s Market and Peoples Rx picked it up, too.

In his industrial kitchen space, Penn ferments a blend of garlic, onion, ginger, horseradish, habanero, turmeric, oregano and kombucha for two weeks, producing an elixir that’s part spicy, part bitter, part sour and all memorable. “Most people learn to love the flavor,” says Penn. The tonic has the consistency of vinegar and works the same taken straight or mixed with something to help it go down.

In the past, versions of this concoction were called Fire Cider, Master Tonic and Super Tonic. Penn himself couldn’t land the trademark for “True Tonic,” which he’d used in the first two years of business, so he inserted the “Blue.” A newcomer to running his own business, he’s had to wing it like that, but he believes in his product so much that it’s worth it to him. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this stuff,” he says.

By Steve Wilson

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