Ann Arbor's Foodpreneurs

There's no doubt that Ann Arbor loves food. This city of foodies is in constant pursuit of new gastronomic frontiers. Fortunately it seems this quest is self-fulfilling, producing a wave of local food entrepreneurs.

Case in point: David Klingenberger, who is fermenting his way into the hot new foods scene in A2. That's right - fermenting. And we're not talking microbrews here. Through his food biz, The Brinery, Klingenberger is revolutionizing the art of pickling by taking it back to its roots.

Salt-free is not an option

"People come up to me every week at the Farmer's Market and say they remember eating out of their grandmother's pickle bucket or sauerkraut bucket in her basement," says Klingenberger. "Lacto-fermentation is an ancient art. It pre-dates refrigeration."

As it turns out, "lacto-fermentation" is a fancy name for putting salt on vegetables and letting them sit in a chilly spot until they're pickled. This simple process is what sets The Brinery's products apart from your everyday pickle or sauerkraut. No vinegar or sugar is used in his brining method, and no water either, as the salt draws all necessary moisture from the vegetables.

"It's much like how fine cheeses are made," he says. "There's not a whole bunch of stuff in there, just milk with specific cultures. I want to feature the fermentation process, just like that. Most of my recipes are very similar."

So how has the public taken to The Brinery's ancient pickling recipes? Pretty darn well. The Brinery products are now being sold at Zingerman's Deli and have built a following at the Kerrytown Farmer's Market and Lunasa Market on Jackson Road. Zingerman's Mail Order has reached out to Klingenberger with regard to including The Brinery in a shipment of their exclusive "Z Club," and Whole Foods has come knocking as well.

There should perhaps be little wonder that Ann Arbor has embraced Klingenberger's culinary offspring so quickly, as his development as a food entrepreneur was entirely local. The Ann Arbor native spent years working on Tantré Farm where, he says, "they cultivate vegetables and people."

The Brinery itself was in fact born of one particularly large surplus of cabbage on Tantré Farm in the spring of 2010. "I looked at that pile of cabbage and said, ‘I'm going to make the heck out of that sauerkraut and make a business,'" Klingenberger boasts. Between his training on Tantré Farms and the connections he'd made over the years with various local food businesses, his support system -- and potential clients -- were in place from day one.

Homegrown Asian

Though their culinary influences may be half a world away, native Ann Arborites Ji Hye Kim and Kristen Hogue Jackson see the city's willingness to eat its own (so to speak) as a boon for their forthcoming San Street. Both are employees of Zingerman's Deli, and are currently negotiating with the local food empire to launch San Street as the next branch of the Zingerman's Community of Businesses. Their vision: to create truly authentic Asian food - a rarity most Americans don't realize they've never had.

"When you go into a Chinese restaurant and you look Asian, they give you the Chinese instead of the American menu," says Jackson, whose mother is Taiwanese. "They think they know what Americans want, so they have their own menus for them, which are full of different types of nuggets with sweet and sour sauce on them."

Apparently, anyone who thought sweet and sour pork was an authentic Asian delicacy has quite another thing coming. For years now, Jackson and Kim have been researching and developing original recipes from a variety of Asian cultures.

"My background is Taiwanese and Ji Hye is Korean, so that is where most of our traditional dishes are coming from," Jackson explains. "It's not a fusion, but it's an assortment of different traditional Asian recipes, like Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese."
And they don't mean they'll be making a more authentic "Beef with Broccoli" either. Among the foods currently under review are the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich and steam pork buns. What the women have been finding in their research is that even the few restaurants that have offered authentic Asian dishes to the public aren't using original ingredients - a habit San Street intends to change.
"We were talking to a local restaurateur about making scallion pancakes, and he told us that though the original recipe uses lard, he makes them with shortening. He even said they don't taste as good that way, but he thinks Americans like shortening," says Jackson. "But people really want real Asian food. So if it calls for lard we're going to put lard in it."
Like Klingenberger, Jackson was born and raised in Ann Arbor, and she credits the existing food community for helping make her culinary dreams a reality. In addition to having built-in mentors and start-up help from Zingerman's, the general population is ideal for supporting her venture. "This area is really open to new things," she says. "It's a huge foodie town, so people really appreciate authentic foods here. And there's a really big Asian population, so that helps as well."


The legendary support network for budding food businesses of Zingerman's extends beyond those that will become a part of the company itself. Though Eric Farrell no longer works for Zingerman's, and his new jam business, Farrell Fruit, is independent of the Ann Arbor food giant, the landmark deli carries his products, and much of what he learned about the industry (and jams) came from the 12 years he spent as purchasing manager for Zingerman's Mail Order.
"Through importing I was introduced to so many different foods," says Farrell. "One in particular was a jam from a maker in the south of France. I went there for an extended vacation and learned how to make jam."
Though the "rustic and chunky" jams of Farrell Fruit differ from, as Farrell calls it, his French mentor's "lovely and refined" variety, the principles of the products are the same. "I basically cook whole fruit and sugar," he says. "There no lemon juice or pectin. All the pectin I use is already in the fruit."
This makes for a whole new textured jam. "Your typical jams are like a rubber ball," Farrell explains, "they'll just slurb out of the can and keep the shape of the container. Mine isn't going to do that. It's kind of chunky and isn't glossy."
And taste-wise? "It tastes like fruit," he says. Which is basically the whole idea. In addition to leaving lemon juice out of the equation --which most jammers use as a preservative-- Farrell Fruit jam also has a higher fruit-to-sugar ratio than your garden-variety offerings.
Farrell Fruit, like the pickled goods of The Brinery, has benefited from both exposure at Zingerman's Deli, as well as appearances at local farmer's markets. "People are really into the farmer's market scene," Farrell says of the Ann Arbor community. "They're really into where their food comes from."
Because of the proximity to local berry farms, Farrell is able to source his ingredients from Ann Arbor, Jackson, and Milan. "The berries I'm using are all locally sourced," he says. "That makes a big difference when you're selling to a community who cares so much about food."
"There's a genuine food culture," Farrell continues. "There is a perfect mix of young, creative people who are into food and help create a buzz, and there are the older people who are into food and actually have the money to buy well-made food on a regular basis."
"It's a great place to make good food."

Natalie Burg is a writer who loves to say good things about downtowns, communities, and the people who believe in making them amazing. Her previous article was DIY Careers.

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All photos by Doug Coombe.


David Klingenberger and a whole lot of cabbage at The Brinery's Liberty Street kitchen.

David adds caraway to the cabbage.

Ji Hye Kim and Kristen Hogue Jackson with the San Street food cart.

Kristen and Ji Hye outside of Zingerman's on Plaza Drive.

Eric Farrell in his Detroit Street apartment.

Eric with some frozen goodies from his freezer.

  Doug had the pleasure of knowing David's father Buzz who was a treasure trove of musical knowledge and hooked Cypress Hill up with many of their classic samples.  Kristen and Ji Hye's food cart looks even cooler in person.  And Doug's favorite flavor of Farrell Fruit is the Michigan Possible Blueberry Jam.