Darling’s Ferments goes commercial

Business expands from craft fairs to Harborside Pizza, Nichols’ Front Door Store

After much success at local craft fairs, where her krauts and kombucha quickly sold out Darling’s Ferments owner Rachel Hoover is branching out to market her creations at Harborside Pizza and Nichols Front Door Store.

The first batch of Hoover’s kombucha on tap at Harborside Pizza is passion fruit. As of press time, neither the folks at Harborside, nor Hoover, knew how much a glass of the elixir will sell for, but it will be affordable.

Darling’s Ferments’ owner, Rachel Hoover, draws the first pour of her passion fruit kombucha from the tap at Harborside Pizza.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

The kombucha flavor will change with every keg, she said, “We plan to keep it exciting.”

Beginning April 16, Nichols Front Door will carry four varieties of Darling’s Ferments – Kimchi, Curry Kraut, Ginger-Beet Kraut and Classic Kraut, at $13.99 for a 16-ounce bag.

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What else does Darling’s Ferments have in store for Cordova’s residents?

“Who knows,” Hoover said. “I’m just very thankful for my customers and where I’m at now. The sky’s the limit.”

The idea to make and sell kombucha on tap at Harborside came from conversations Hoover said she’d had with Harborside owners Lindsay Butters and Brian Wildrick during their children’s swim lessons at the pool.

“We all got pretty excited and then we realized we speak the same language, when it comes to offering Cordovans good food and hand-crafted beverages,” Hoover said.

Rachel Hoover does a test pour of her passion fruit kombucha at Harborside Pizza. Brian Wildrick and Lindsay Butters, owners of Harborside, said they are excited to offer Hoover’s locally made kombucha on tap at their restaurant.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Darling’s Ferments, in its fourth year of business, is named for Hoover’s daughter, Una Darling Honkola, who turns 4-years old in May. Hoover, and her partner, Matt Honkola, also have a 16-month-old son, Sulho Honkola.

Hoover started making kombucha after she moved back to Cordova eight years ago, after about a decade living in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle.

“I loved growing up in Cordova,” Hoover said. “I knew I wanted to raise my kids here.”

Hoover moved back to Cordova in 2009, and took a bartending job at the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, where, in 2010, she met the love of her life, Matt Honkola.

“Matt and I became sober in 2011 – best life choice ever,” she said. “Then kids followed. Matt’s an amazingly talented singer and musician. Fishing runs in his blood. We own the F/V Una Darling.

“Our families are both old, Cordova families, that finally became one,” she said.

In 2014, Hoover decided to try her hand at making fermented foods, after a friend, Amber Wasson, asked Hoover to join her as a merchant at the annual Christmas Bazaar.

“I had nothing to sell,” Hoover said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can make fermented carrots and krauts.’ I’d been reading about fermenting, but I’d never tried to make it before. It was exciting. I was so nervous! I didn’t know if Cordovans would even like the products.”

But they did. Hoover’s krauts and fermented carrots sold out in just over two hours on the first night of the bazaar.

Hoover began making more home crafted batches of her ferments, working on tweaking her recipes and making sure everything was perfect.

“From there I made and sold my ferments at local craft fairs here in town,” she said.

She began to get requests from folks, asking to buy her ferments at other times.

Inspired by the demand, Hoover decided to ask Nichols’ Front Door Store’s Produce Manager, Brian Arnold, about carrying her fermented krauts and kimchi commercially.

“I had built up a pretty good relationship with him, ordering cases of produce every month. He shared my excitement and love for fermented foods. He spoke with the store manager, Steve Graves, who got the ball rolling. I’m very thankful for them both, for believing in my product and helping me take this to the next level,” she said.

Darling’s Ferments are Department of Environmental Conservation approved, and Hoover presently makes her fermented products in Nichols’ commercial kitchen.

Hoover said she follows her intuition, when it comes to making the fermented foods.

“My recipes are all my own creation. Fermenting isn’t an exact art, and every batch is slightly different. I’ve researched through trial and error. Every environment is different – one might be too cold, another might be too warm, one batch may ferment faster or slower. It takes roughly two-and-a-half weeks for a batch to ferment, if the conditions are just right,” she said.

Fermented foods are good for you, too.

Hoover said her favorite fermentation author, Sandor Katz, nails it perfectly when describing the health benefits of the products: “Fermented foods are, to varying degrees, pre-digested, resulting in improved availability of nutrients. In live-culture foods, we ingest bacteria that help digest food and produce a multiplicity of protective compounds as they pass through our intestines. They and their various products enrich the microbial ecology of our intestines, enabling us to get more from our food and discouraging pathogenic bacteria by their presence,” is a quote from Katz’s book, The Art of Fermentation.

Una Darling Honkola drinks from the first pour of passion fruit kombucha, made by her mother, Rachel Hoover, owner of Darling’s Ferments. Harborside Pizza is the first establishment in Cordova to commercially offer Hoover’s private recipe kombucha.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times
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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.