East Gate Water: A Family Vision
By Melissa Mendonca
Giving Feet to DreamsMay 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Hickok
When Linda McIntosh first arrived at her husband's family ranch, her senses were set ablaze. Nestled off Highway 36 East about 11 miles outside of Red Bluff ’s city limits, smells of fresh air rustled up an earthy tone when the weather changed; a wide creek provided delightful sounds and sights; a breeze would caress the face.
Th ere were wonderful tastes, as well. Water bubbled up from a natural spring and arrived gravity-fed to the ranch house, where Linda enjoyed what she deemed the best drink she’d ever tasted. Her sights were immediately set on having it tested to see if it would be viable to bottle for sale. It was that good.
“Th at was in the ‘80s,” she says, when people laughed at the idea of buying bottled water. Nobody would do it, they said. “That’s the kind of feedback we got.”
A dream was deferred and Linda set about a career as a youth pastor, traveling the world to develop leadership skills in young people. Locally, she joined forces with daughter Loni to develop Live Empowered, a non-profit organization that uses creativity and artistic endeavors to help develop and nourish dreams and life skills.
Encouraging young people is Linda’s passion, but the work has come with some barriers. “The most difficult part,” she says, “was that these kids would hang on to your every word—how to live happy no matter what your circumstances are. Th e response would be just unbelievable. But when I’d get home I’d get these emails and the kids were just distraught.”
“There has to be a way to reach more kids,” she thought. “I want them to know how to live, to thrive.”
Th at, of course, takes resources. So about eight years ago, she set about unpacking that dream of bottling water. It took years of muddling through state and local regulations, determining optimal equipment for the way the springs function and, finally, unpacking machinery and putting it together piece by piece, much like a puzzle. “We taught ourselves mechanical engineering,” Loni says with a smile. It was all out of pure necessity, as Linda adds, “It was just hard to find people who knew any more than we did. So we just learned it.”
The water is so naturally pure and the bottling regulations so steep that the team has opted for those that don’t impact the taste or quality. “We make sure that whatever we put in the water won’t chemically change it at all, so whatever comes out (of the bottling process) tastes exactly the same as what went in,” says Loni. Th e bottles “are completely rinsed, filled, and capped without any human touch. I make sure the machine is running, but I have to stand outside of it.”
The first bottle rolled off the conveyor belt in September 2014.
While Linda says, “My vision goes absolutely gigantic,” her sights are set right now on setting up the North State with locally sourced bottled water which will fund local youth development efforts. “It’s just limitless to me as to what I could fund,” she says. “Th ere are other people out there who love kids and are doing good for kids. We're trying to give local first and to develop local.”
Part of the fun of East Gate Water is the custom labeling Linda and Loni will do for other businesses. “Usually she'll design one and I'll design one because we think so different,” says Linda of their work. “It's almost like an in-house contest by now.” They particularly enjoy creating new labels every month for Red Bluff High School. “Th e high school
is very fun because they have ideas,” she adds, showing off holiday-themed labels and a Spartan mascot label.
While East Gate Water is Linda's baby—she's CEO and sole proprietor—it’s a business she’s building up with the help of Loni, 32, Tracy Yoshima, 33, and Chad Kirch, 26. “I believe they can run it and should run it,” says Linda.
Loni sure seems game. “We’re really enjoying working within the community and with people who care about the community.”