Durango resident Dax Berney’s new kimchi and sauerkraut business, Best Kind Ferments, was founded on his passion for food and fermentation.
Berney said he has been making kimchi for years and started dabbling with sauerkraut recipes more recently, but he hadn’t considered starting a business making fermented foods commercially until March, when he realized how much fun he had making it and how delicious the product was.
Watching the process of fermentation and how the science of it all works together was fascinating, Berney said.
“I’ve always, always wanted to start my own food business,” Berney said. “And something about this process is and was just so much fun to do.”
There was a hole in the local food market for homemade fermented food, he said, and that, mixed with his passion, was how Berney settled on kimchi and sauerkraut.
As a first-time commercial cook, knowing how and where to start was the first challenge, Berney said.
He wanted to start his business with a good base, built not only on a quality product but also on a solid business foundation. For that, he was able to turn to another Durango resident with experience in professional small-batch production.
Berney met Justin Matherson while working at CJ’s Diner. Matherson is the owner of Rez Meets Urban Salsa, another Durango-based company that makes authentic New Mexico-style salsa.
Matherson was able to offer Berney pointers on Colorado health codes, good business contacts and the more logistical side of the business, Matherson said.
“It’s all that little stuff that can make starting up something new so hard,” Matherson said.
Through this exchange, Berney also developed a tomatillo salsa for distribution by Urban Meets Rez.
Berney had been making kimchi and sauerkraut for himself for a long time but went looking for more inspiration when it came to the recipe for what he’d be selling, he said, particularly in his kimchi.
After reading as many recipes as he could get his hands on, Berney narrowed them down to one featuring his favorite flavors – a traditional ginger, garlic and hot pepper recipe, he said.
To make his kimchi, Berney begins by putting cabbage in salt water for a day. This is the first step of fermenting any food, he said, because the water creates an anaerobic environment that allows lactic acid bacteria to proliferate.
Lactic acid is what lowers the mixture’s PH, causing fermentation, and also creates an environment in which so much healthy bacteria can thrive, bad bacteria don’t have room to grow, Berney said.
Next, he drains the cabbage, adds his extra ingredients, and then lets the mixture sit for three weeks at room temperature to ferment before it’s ready to eat or sell.
Berney’s kraut follows a similar fermentation process and is a traditional recipe centered around cabbage and salt.
Berney began first selling kimchi and sauerkraut in Nature’s Oasis in May, after working hard on a professional label and pitch that showcased his product in a way that other start-ups can miss, he said.
Some new businesses only focus on the product, Berney said, and he wanted to make sure his business worked from a marketing standpoint while also providing a good product.
For production, Berney uses the commercial kitchen space available at Durango Artisan Foods, where he also began selling his product in early June.
Durango Artisan Foods makes most of their products in-store, Manager Alysa Zion said, but they also rent out their kitchen space for local businesses to use for their own products.
“We are a local business, “Zion said. “And so we really try to offer our support to other local businesses.”
Best Kind Ferments is owned and operated by Berney alone, a challenge that inspires him to work harder.
“It’s all 100% me,” Berney said. “So that motivation has to come from me.”
Being a new and unknown company has been the most difficult part of the business, Berney said, and trying to get his name out there and his products on store shelves is his main priority.
Berney has been working hard to stock up his inventory in the meantime, he said.
Best Kind Ferments was created out of a passion for food and healthy eating, Berney said, and he wants people to think more about eating any kind of fermented food.
“I’m really into fermented foods because of how healthful they are,” Berney said. “And they’re really just such a good way to prevent food waste and help your body digest.”
Looking into the future, Berney said he hopes to take things slow and take any opportunities as they come.
Getting Best Kind Ferments into a regional, Four Corners distribution in the next five years is his main goal, but he also wants to maintain the local aspect of his business, Berney said.
From his initial Durango market, Berney has branched out, and Best Kind Ferments can now be purchased at P&D Grocery and Zuma Natural Foods and General Store in Mancos and the Dolores Food Market in Dolores, in addition to Nature’s Oasis and Durango Artisan Foods.
“We spend so much time eating so much food,” Berney said. “It’s just nice sourcing locally and eating small-batch foods that really centralize the food supply.”
Mainly, putting food in front of people that they enjoy is what excites him, Berney said.
If I can put down a plate of something that people are going to like,” Berney said, “that’s all I’m really looking for.”