After Kevin Pestell shattered his foot last year while climbing the Bear’s Reach route of Lover’s Leap at Lake Tahoe, his brother Shaun, 27, nursed him back to health with fermented foods. Kevin healed so quickly that the Pestells took another look at their career choices and then took a leap of faith.
In 2014, they launched Cirque du Ferments, a Windsor-based business that produces the kinds of raw, fermented foods and beverages that helped Kevin, 22, recover from foot surgery.
“It was good for my circulation, and it reduced inflammation,” Kevin said. “The doctor was surprised I healed more quickly.”
They opened the company now known as Cirque du Ferments, and in June were among 36 Northern California companies that received a $5,556 grant from Working Solutions, a Bay Area nonprofit that helps startup and existing businesses thrive.
Three other Sonoma County companies — Moonessence in Petaluma, Cookie Take a Bite in Santa Rosa and Little Apple Vinegar in Sebastopol — also were grant recipients.
The Pestells, known as the “two fermented brothers,” now produce their products in the commissary kitchen at Windsor’s Business Park Court. The business park is a hub of food start-ups, including Revive, a craft-brewed Kombucha health beverage company.
The brothers sell their artisan, medicinal sauerkrauts, kimchi, pickles, and sweet peppers, teas and other beverages at the Community Market in Santa Rosa and at farmers markets in Occidental (Fridays), Santa Rosa (Saturdays) and Sebastopol (Sundays).
Until he injured his foot, Kevin worked as a bartender at catered events for The Green Grocer, known for its burgers, BLTs and vegan and vegetarian fare at farmer’s markets. He was studying environmental sciences and business at the Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. He now handles the business aspects of Cirque du Ferments and has decided to postpone his studies because business is taking off.
“I do a lot of reading and self-schooling,” he said. “A degree is not necessary if you’re doing what you love anyway.”
Shaun is the chief fermenter and executive chef who creates flavors and recipes. He has worked at Earthworker Farm in Sebastopol, known for its heirloom tomatoes and artisan salad mixes, and as a line cook for the Green Grocer.
“I gave that up and began experimenting with flavor balancing,” he said. “Green Grocer owner Joe Rueter taught me how to make fermented foods for a wide audience.
“A lot of people are afraid to eat fermented foods because they are not flavorful and don’t have the incentive to get their probiotics through food,” he said. “If I don’t incorporate flavors in fermented foods, I feel it’s missing some tang, or something extra. I needed that extra energy.”
The brothers say business has been so good they want to expand when they have more time, space, money and energy.
“We’re riding a creative dragon right now because the business is growing really fast,” Shaun said, adding that the grant money will help them get their own kitchen facility.
The Working Solutions grant was awarded in partnership with Whole Foods Market, which donated 5 percent of the June 10 sales at Northern California stores. Grant recipients were selected by voters on Facebook. To qualify, applicants had to grow or make their product in Northern California, meet the company’s quality standard and earn a maximum of $150,000 in annual revenue from the product.