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Food producers find their niche in west Windsor

Friday, February 15th, 2013 | Posted by

Juan Villalobos stirs a cabbage dill mixture at WildBrine in Windsor. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

By JAMES LANARAS / Windsor Correspondent

Windsor has begun to attract enough small food producers that an enclave has developed in a nondescript suite of warehouses on the west side of town.

From the Shiloh Business Park, off Shiloh Road near Home Depot, entrepreneurs are busy producing such things as table olives, seaweed chips, fermented tempeh, chili jams, salsa, chipotles and kombucha, the fermented Korean tea.

Most adhere to sustainable environmental practices, and their organic and fermented food and drinks can be found in Whole Foods and Oliver’s stores, the Community Market in Santa Rosa and in restaurants throughout Sonoma County.

Sean Lovett, 36, of Windsor, started making kombucha at home but moved his Revive Drinks business to a warehouse at the Shiloh Business Center in June 2010. His mother moved from Chicago to become the company’s chief financial officer, and his wife left her job at Whole Foods to join the business.

“Revive is brewed like beer but in a kettle,” Lovett said.

Organic black tea and sugar are fermented with kombucha culture, a white rubbery pancake of yeast and other microorganisms. They consume sugars, tannins and caffeine during fermentation and, in the process, create probiotics that aid digestion.

The 16-ounce brown Revive bottles ($3.99 at Whole Foods) have snap-shut tops and are exchangeable at the 140 Northern California locations where they are sold. Consumers pay $2 deposits on each bottle, an enticement to wash and exchange them.

Revive Drinks collects the bottles and reuses the labels, snap-shut lids and seals.

“We have eight employees. There’s no profit yet, but it’s on the horizon,” Lovett said.

More info: revivedrinks.com, 536-1193.

Cole Meeker, 45, of Sebastopol, and his business partner are behind The Great and Wonderful Sea of Change Trading Company, which opened in August. They harvest seaweed from the Sonoma Coast in the spring and summer, and buy seaweed from harvesters in Nova Scotia, then use it to make baked snacks. The seaweed is sun-dried on a farm in Sonoma County.

They have had only one commercial harvest, so the snacks are only sold at natural food stores in theBay Area and at selected west coast accounts.

“We plan to distribute to major markets in the United States and Canada,” Meeker said.

More info: seaofchangetrading.com/word, 838-8766.

Chris Glab, 54, of Santa Rosa, and his business partner Rick Goldberg, 58, of Windsor, started Wildbrine in 2011. The company, with seven full-time employees and a few temporary workers, makes four varieties of sauerkrauts, pickles and Thai, Korean and Japanese kimchi in its 4,000-square-foot warehouse. The products sell for $6 to $7 for 18 ounces in whole and natural foods stores.

“We’re still in the building stage but we’re growing fast. We pay most of our bills,” Glab said.

More info: wildbrine.com, 657-7607.

Since the summer of 2011, Steven “Stem” Kent, 27, of Sebastopol, has been making organic, handcrafted tempeh, cultured soy food that tastes like Southern friend chicken but has twice the protein of a hamburger and no cholesterol. His Alive and Healing company has four part-time employees and delivers to local restaurants, markets and homes in the Bay Area. It’s motto is “Helping Culture Grow.”

Online, the company also sells tempeh nuggets, $5 for 8 ounces; “crumbles” to mix with sauce and spices for tacos, lasagna and salads, $6 for 16 ounces; and half-pound tempeh blocks for $4.75. It can be grilled, baked, steamed or pan fried until golden brown.

More info: aliveandhealing.com, 447-8316.

Kent said he heard about available kitchen space for rent at the business park through word of mouth. Kent, Glab, Meeker and Lovett rent space in Tierra Vegetables catering company’s kitchen.

Tierra Vegetables has been in business since 1980. Its products include chili jams, chipotle, salsa dried beans, corn meal and popcorn. The company grows its vegetables on 20 acres in Windsor and Santa Rosa.

More info: tierravegetables.com, 837-8366.

John Fritschen, 55, teaches business classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and started his Branch and Brine table olive business in 2010. Three months ago he moved to a 500-square-foot warehouse at the business park.

“These are business condos,” he said on a recent tour. The small business model is the same, he said.

“You build sales then boost production, build more sales and boost production. It’s a right foot, left foot deal. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Sonoma County.”

He buys ripe Manzanilla olives from a family orchard south of Healdsburg and brines them in sea salt. “Our goal is to make a fresher, crisper tasting olive that is different from what you buy in a bottle or can in a store,” Fritschen said.

His gourmet line includes smoked olives, $9 for 12 ounces, $5 for 6 ounces; blue cheese and garlic stuffed olives, $6 for 4 ounces, $10 for 8 ounces; and olives processed while still on the branch, $5 for six branches and $9 for 10 branches. He sells his products at farmer’s markets.

More info: branchandbrine.com, 322-5806.

Tami Miller, general manager of Weiss Enterprises, manages the eight-year-old Shiloh Business Park, which has 64 warehouses totaling 65,000 square feet.

“It’s very rare to have this many food processing businesses in one spot,” she said about the impromptu cluster of similar endeavors.

“The word went out about Tierra Vegetables, and the location is perfect. It’s right off the freeway.”



Writer Spotlight

James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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