The Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for interesting fermentation projects. This family-run operation in Bellingham, Wash., is a prime example of the merits of turning local produce into delicious probiotics-rich products that are good for the gut. Let’s take a look around Pangea Ferments.
Meet the founder
Braeden Kaemingk was a teacher living in Bend, Ore., when he first started playing around with fermentation, making kombucha more than a decade ago: “I was digging some of the flavors I was turning out, making many with fresh fruit juice. I’d started playing with the idea of starting a kombucha company while also beginning to play with foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and whatever other seasonal veg caught my eye. Food preservation became a true passion, I was finding inspiration everywhere and a plan began to take shape.”
He and his wife, Chika, moved to Whatcom County in 2013 to be near family and test the waters on launching the company. Kaemingk loved the opportunity to support small local farms that the region provided.
During his due diligence process, he found a growing body of evidence that fermented foods had health benefits and more people were embracing those type of products: “We are passion-driven people who like the flavors of fermented food. Let’s see who else might be with us,” Kaemingk said.
Clearing a few hurdles
It’s no easy feat to launch and then run a company, especially when you’re doing it as a small family operation.
What’s the biggest hurdle faced by a small business? “The biggest challenge has undoubtedly been the ever increasing costs of doing business. Glass, shipping, distribution, refrigeration and raw vegetables to name a few… it’s all gone up. Margins are slim as a wholesale food business for sure.”
Still, there are plenty of rewards.
“The joys remain greater than the sum of the challenges,” Kaemingk said. “Crafting new flavors of fermented food definitely brings me a great deal of joy as does rolling in more and more fresh local veg. It’s with great pride that we can tell our customers exactly where we’ve sourced our organic vegetables. The majority of our vegetables come from farms within 30 min of our kitchen in Bellingham including Ralph’s Greenhouse, Boldly Grown Farm, Well Fed Farms and Hopewell Farm to name a few.
Tasting the difference
I first discovered Pangea Ferments products at the Bellingham Farmers Market, where Kaemingk talks about his passion project with curious newbies and a steady stream of regulars. I’m a big fan of the kimchi, the curtido sauerkraut and the fiery parsnips, while I try to keep a bottle of the sauerkraut brine in my fridge for the best possible savory sipper.
The wide range of products are also featured at various restaurants in the region.
“I definitely recall one of our first great showcase spots Keenan’s at the Pier in the Chrysalis Inn & Spa in Bellingham. Chef Doug had concocted this Reuben sandwich with the garlic dill kraut and made a remoulade with our kimchi in it,” Kaemingk said. “It sounded bizarre when he introduced it to me, but it was undoubtedly one of the best sandwiches I’d ever had. It’s been on a seasonal menu some seven years running!”
Another outstanding example of an off-beat Reuben is the Beet Reuben at Otherlands Beer made with… you guessed it! Pantega’s fermented beets.
Growing the business
After more than seven years working in shared commercial kitchen spaces, Kaemingk jumped on the opportunity to get into his own place.
“I’d been really struggling finding a suitable space and the financial means to see it happen for some years. It only became possible with the help of some private financing and a grant made available by the Washington State Department of Agriculture,” he explained.
The build out in a newly contructed warehouse “condo” complex took about six months and “a tremendous amount of energy.”
“A business like mine is without need of cooking equipment, so it boiled down to permitting, plumbing, electrical, some framing for the ferment and storage rooms, HVAC for refrigeration, added sprinklers and a minor amount of mechanical,” he said.
He’s been working in the space for a few months now, his wife occasionally pitching in on the prep. “I came out of the process perhaps glad that I’d only lost a minimal amount of hair, but so very grateful to have a clean dedicated space in which to grow. The biggest advantage I have in the space is just that… space. I’ve room to house glass, more bubbly drums and a spacious walk-in cooler with a pallet door to receive more local veg,” Kaemingk said.
To meet the growing demand, he might also look to add staff someday. During a recent busy stretch, he worked a 64-hour week processing 2,400 pounds of veggies. Good job!