There are a number of dishes and drinks that characterize Cleveland's gastronomic culture — pierogies, corned beef and craft beer among them. Sauerkraut also should be included on that list. Until recently, the fermented food was available to local shoppers only in its more conventional form. Now, future brothers-in-law Drew Anderson and Luke Visnic are turning traditional sauerkraut upside down with their new startup venture, Cleveland Kraut.
The two met when Luke began dating Drew's sister. As the pair got to know each other, the men discovered they had something unique in common: They both enjoyed making their own sauerkraut. "One night we were hanging out, drinking some other fermented products," says Drew. "We were sampling some of our sauerkraut and said, 'This stuff is really good, way better than what you can find in any store.' We started to wonder, 'Is there a business here?'"
So they began testing kraut recipes and experimenting with ingredients to create different flavor profiles. They also did some market research, during which they discovered that homemade sauerkraut was seeing a resurgence in California. "There's this theme where California will do something very cool with food and the nation will follow along a few years later," says Drew. "So we knew we could be on to something good."
The pair connected with Cleveland Culinary Launch and began to utilize their space for production. They currently make and sell four varieties of sauerkraut; Classic, Sweet Red (made with purple cabbage and brown sugar), Curry Kraut and Gnar Gnar (their best seller). "We were experimenting and said, 'Let's make a really spicy one with chili flakes, habanero, hot sauce... Let's get weird with this one,'" says Luke. "We smelled it as we were making it and said, 'Man, this is going to be some gnarly kraut.' We started joking around and calling it Gnar Gnar. We really didn't expect it to work out, but it's fantastic."
Cleveland Kraut currently can be found at North Union Farmers' Market in Shaker Square and soon will be available at the Crocker Park location. It's also being sold at the Cleveland Flea. The men say customer response has been great. "It's Cleveland," says Drew. "People know sauerkraut here. It's part of our culture, so it's not hard to convince people to try it. But we're doing unpasteurized kraut and it's full of good bacteria. So not only is our kraut tasty and different, it's also got those great health benefits." Luke adds, "I think that combination is really hitting a nerve with a lot of people. We're growing faster than we ever expected."
Cleveland Kraut can be used in many non-traditional ways too. "Part of our job is to expand the realm of what people will put sauerkraut on," says Luke. "It's definitely not just for pork anymore." For instance, Sweet Red makes an excellent salad topper. Gnar Gnar can take burgers to the next level. Curry kraut and ground pork in a wonton wrapper creates a quick and delicious egg roll.
The men say they are planning to increase production as soon as possible. "We're both diehard Clevelanders," says Drew. "We want to create a great local product that can be a staple and support local jobs. There's a special place in our heart for this city. We want Cleveland Kraut to be a part of its growth."