A retired chemical engineer, the ex-manager of a record label, the host of a podcast and an advocate for mental health seem like an unlikely cast of characters to be featured in a food magazine, but that’s the beauty of food. When the pandemic left many uncertain about the future of their livelihoods, these four makers saw opportunity and used their past experiences to pursue their passion for making the best quality products.
While the items they make range from jams to kimchi, there’s an underlying theme to their success. Here’s a hint: It boils down to their desire to share delicious food with people they care about. Food that brings people and their communities together … one bite at a time.
Virgil Dickerson—A first-generation Korean American who’s adept at marketing and a lover of all things music and food, he’d be the first to tell you he never imagined kimchi would become his personal success story.
“KREAM Kimchi began as a project to share kimchi with friends during Covid-19,” he says. “It’s my mom’s recipe so it’s made with love. When you share what you love with your community, you can make an impact.”
After personally delivering 500 jars of spicy, fermented goodness to friends—on his bike, no less—and receiving overwhelmingly positive responses, he made the decision to turn KREAM into a bona-fide business. In October he moved his operation from his home kitchen into a commercial space, which will allow him to sell beyond farmers markets. He’s partnered with local restaurants on kimchi popup events and plans to begin selling jars at retail locations in 2021.
Eric Chiappetta—Minga Provisions was born out of the pandemic when founder Eric was craving a Chicago-style beef sandwich. A chef for 35 years, Eric doesn’t cut corners in the kitchen, so he whipped up a batch of giardiniera to complete the dish. When he posted his culinary creation to social media, there was an outpouring from friends asking for a jar of his pickled veggies. So he made an even bigger batch. When those sold out in minutes, he knew he was onto something.
His culinary background instilled in him a settle-for-nothing-less-than-success work ethic, but it also left him with an itch to constantly try new things.
“The name ‘Minga Provisions’ was absolutely intentional. I knew I would get bored if I just made giardiniera forever, so ‘provisions’ gives me an opportunity to expand to an assortment of items,” he says. “Imagine you’re a chef and your mom and grandma are sitting in the dining room, but you don’t know which table. Every plate better be perfect. Same with Minga: Every jar should perfect.”
With that sentiment in mind, Eric now sells a variety of pickles, sauces and dressings online, as well as a custom line of fresh-pressed juices specifically developed for Alfalfa’s.
John Hinman—John has been a fixture in the Denver culinary community for two decades. He’s weathered ups and downs, even battling with addiction. Nearly 10 years sober, he’s keen to talk about the mental health issues that plague the restaurant industry. When he’s not busy raising funds for therapy sessions for food industry professionals—his nonprofit, CHOW, has given away 700 one-hour sessions during the pandemic—he’s busy baking. While John has a talent for all baked goods, his passion happens to be pie.
“Sticking to the basics and doing them exceptionally well is important,” he says. “So I stick to pies.”
After a brief phone conversation with his cousin who mentioned that he was heading to his local pie shop to pick up a savory potpie because “it was great for feeding the family,” John was struck with an aha! moment. With restaurants closed for dine-in services and families juggling working from home, distance learning and the pressures of a pandemic, he knew people were looking for comfort food that could be prepared quickly.
So John began creating savory pies. Chicken potpies were the obvious choice, but he soon added a variety of savory pies, including pork green chile, to his lineup. You can find all his flavors, both sweet and savory at the Farmers Market on Larimer Square.
John says Covid-19 has allowed him to “navigate into new channels and live the dream of owning a pie company.”
Saba Parsa—An Iranian American immigrant with a decade of experience in the biotech industry, Saba began producing jam in 2010 as a way to share the abundance of the San Francisco Bay Area produce with friends. She attributes part of her jam-making success to the discipline of critical thinking and analysis of the preservation process—skills she learned during her time working in labs.’
She is currently based in Boulder, where she works closely with local farmers to source organic fruits picked at the peak of their season. Highlighting what she calls “nature’s jewels,” she combines these fruits with a variety of spices and herbs to create uniquely flavored preserves such as tomato saffron, cantaloupe cayenne and peach Earl Grey. Each small batch of jam is handcrafted in copper pots, resulting in 10–20 jars per batch.
She’s constantly creating new flavor combinations, depending on seasonality and availability. “The colors, smells, textures and the combinations have become a much-needed creative outlet,” she says. In September she launched 25 new flavors.
As for many people, Covid-19 presented Saba with several hurdles—the largest being her supply chain of jars. There were a few months when she didn’t have enough jars to produce at all. But the new era of staying at home has allowed her to focus more on production and she has seen an increase of business to her online shop.