On my regular Sunday walk through the Leucadia Farmer’s Market, there are certain vendors where there is always a line of enthusiastic customers patiently waiting their turn.
Happy Pantry is one of those so I finally decided to stop by to see what all the fuss was about.
Happy Pantry owners, and husband and wife team Mark Stogsdill and Rebekah, describes themselves as a “small family owned company that explores the mysterious and wonderful world of wild fermentation. We often refer to our products as the forgotten food group, and are dedicated to reviving this ancient art form. While our focus is on the many varieties of sauerkraut we produce, we are always working on unique seasonal creations.” I love sauerkraut and pickles so I spoke with Mark Stogsdill to learn more.
Do either you or Rebekah have a culinary or farming background?
Rebekah was in restaurant management for ten years. I worked in restaurants for years as well before moving into sales. Food was always a passion and our hobby that we did together. We were/are huge “foodies”, and even before the creation of Happy Pantry we spent quite a bit of our down time wandering through various farmers markets.
How did Happy Pantry happen?
I was working in large format printer sales when the economy came crashing down in 2008. I found myself unemployed fairly quickly after that whole mess went down. To be honest, I was a terrible salesperson that probably wouldn’t have lasted very much longer had the economy been fine. I hated it. I felt like it was sucking the life out of me. Through a random series of events, Rebekah lost her job a few weeks later, so we decided to use the down time like any responsible couple would. We went traveling abroad. We were in Indonesia when I told Rebekah that I was going to start Happy Pantry. I knew that the next chapter in my life was going to revolve around something that inspired me. When we got home from that trip, the ball started rolling and it never stopped.
How did you decide on your product mix of sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi and seasonal pickles?
Our company is based on raw living foods. Simply put, we are bacteria farmers dealing in rotting vegetables. We create environments that encourage beneficial bacteria to flourish, thus upping the digestibility and nutritional value of the raw veggies that we started with. Fermentation is both so simple and so complex at the same time. Simple in that the process is incredibly easy- which makes us nothing more than glorified prep cooks. We put together the elements of life and wait. That is where the complexity comes into play. The bacteria come to life seemingly out of nowhere and transform what we started with into the final product that you see at the farmers markets. In that regard I see us as the creators of tiny universes, with each and every batch being home to trillions of good bacteria.
Describe the processes of making each and the different varieties available
I always recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz to people interested in the process. The process has been a part of humanity for thousands of years. In fact, before refrigeration fermentation was a powerful partner when it came to preserving food. It wasn’t until the food system became industrialized that we got away from eating fermented veggies like sauerkraut. Talk to older generations- most of them had a grandparent or parent that had a ripe crock full of delicious sauerkraut/pickles in their basement at all times. We got away from that and our health as whole has suffered tremendously. It’s really exciting to see the fermentation revival that is occurring now.
What are some of your favorite ways to pair your products with different foods?
Sandwiches, salads, wraps, and as a stand-alone side. The ways to eat our products are only limited by the imagination of the person preparing the food. Sauerkraut is an amazing salad condiment. We throw it into our salsas. Sort of like when you go to sushi and they put some pickled ginger on your plate, serve a small side of fermented goods with every meal. Your body will thank you! We want our products to inspire people to reinvent the way that they think of kraut. We want people to rediscover this incredible forgotten food group. It’s one of the most amazing super foods on the planet!
You are primarily at farmers markets currently, what are your plans for expansion?
We will be moving into retail locations starting this year. We finally opened our very own commercial kitchen for manufacturing. For both production and storage, it’s a total game-changer that will enable us to expand our core products into regional treasures. I see us available at select retailers throughout Southern California by the end of 2014. Our “Power Krautage” is a finalist for the Good Food Awards. Winners will be announced on January 16th in San Francisco. This is a really big deal. Check it out here: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/winners/
Check out current Happy Pantry locations at www.happypantrysd.com