From farmers market stand to global brand: Cleveland Kraut

Drew and Mac Anderson were interested in fresh produce at a young age. After all, their mom, Donita, a chef with a biology degree, co-founded North Union Farmers Market. She brought her sons with her on outings to area farms to help gather vegetables that would be sold at market. The family’s goal was to prioritize providing affordable food to lower income clients.

As Drew and Mac grew older, they decided to make a food product of their own that could be sourced largely from Ohio farms. The only question was: what would the product be?

Drew and his brother-in-law, Luke Visnic, were chatting over a beer one day, when Luke produced jars of sauerkraut he’d been fermenting at home, describing his cabbage-centric creation as something of a family tradition. His grandmother, he said, “always had some sauerkraut bubbling away in her cellar.”

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After Drew tried the batch of sauerkraut, he knew that he, Luke, and Mac had found their collaborative dream product. The sauerkraut they created together not only would pay tribute to the local farms and market they knew so well, but to their German and Croatian heritages as well.

The trio set to work chopping cabbage and experimenting with recipes. For Drew and Luke, there were many sleepless nights after they cashed in their savings to construct their first test kitchen on Cleveland’s Lakeside Avenue. Meanwhile, Mac’s small but pungent fermentation operation garnered him curious looks from his housemates at Miami University, at least until barbecue season rolled around and they understood the delectable quality of the sauerkraut he was busy making. The fermentation of cabbage unlocks its natural umami, releasing strong smells but also exciting flavors, Drew says.

Each batch of Cleveland Kraut is crafted using a proprietary process that involves shredding cabbage, placing it in a fermenter with salt (along with other herbs and spices), and then waiting for the magic to happen. Bacteria partially digests the cabbages’ sugars during fermentation, creating intense flavor as it does its work.

On average, the process takes about a month. Each package of Cleveland Kraut ends up loaded with gut-friendly lactobacillus. “Cabbages have the highest natural count of lactobacillus of any food,” Drew says. This makes sauerkraut not only mouth-wateringly tasty, but a powerhouse of nutrients.

Cleveland Kraut is available in seven varieties: Beet Red; Roasted Garlic; Classic Caraway; Whiskey Dill; the Curry; Cabbage and Cukes; and the zesty, complex Gnar Gnar, the latter inspired by Donita Anderson, who pronounced its zippy flavor as gnarly upon tasting it for the first time. Confident in their roster of diverse flavors, Cleveland Kraut officially launched in 2014 at farmers markets around Cleveland. “People were coming back every week for more. It was very unusual,” Drew recalls. Soon, Heinen’s was onboard, selling jars of the preservative-free, deliciously crunchy Cleveland Kraut at their locations. Not long after that, culinary giant Michael Symon came knocking, and the Andersons’ work began showing up on the menu at the Mabel’s in Cleveland and in Las Vegas.

Currently, Cleveland Kraut churns out more than 50,000 pounds of product per week, now working out of a 30,000-squarefoot facility at Central Kitchen’s Food Hub on Carnegie. Through partnerships with supermarkets such as Whole Foods, they’ve been able to dramatically increase their geographic footprint.

One of the biggest challenges of being a single-item producer has been the temptation to make other products, but Cleveland Kraut’s creators were determined to stay with their sauerkraut until they were sure it would succeed. As Drew puts it, “Just like fermenting, the business takes time.” As their business has grown by 400% in 2019 alone, the time is right to expand.

Just like the past, Drew says, “the future is fermented.”

Sauerkraut is a delicious complement to other vegetarian and vegan dishes. You can find several plant-based recipes that incorporate Cleveland Kraut on their website at ClevelandKraut.com.