Longtime Impact Hub members Myounghee Jo and Alexander Bachinger have just launched Bubbles & Kraut, a social venture addressing the food waste problem through fermentation. They offer workshops and sell their very own fermented products such as kimchi and kombucha and hope to build a community focused on food sustainability and preservation.
With their first workshop just around the corner, Jo and Alex sat down to talk about the very beginnings of their venture, the plans they have for the future, and the ongoing mystery of who is Bubbles and who is Kraut.
What made you two start Bubbles & Kraut?
Alex: We both had certain ideas of what we wanted to do. Jo wanted to do something with food, community building, and cooking workshops. She wanted to bring out the social and communal aspects of cooking. I always wanted to do something with fermentation and sell fermented products, especially kimchi because it’s one of my favorite things in the world.
Jo: Since I’m from Korea, kimchi is my soul food and that’s where we connected and found our common ground. After I met Alex, it was clear to both of us that kimchi could form the foundation of workshops and that we could sell it so it was a natural synergy of our passions that allows us to fulfill our independent ambitions together.
How did you come up with the name? Were there other names that you considered?
Jo: We had a fun brainstorming day and the list got pretty long. There were a lot of funny and nice names but we narrowed it down to two. We were actually leaning more towards something else: it’s a combination of our names and it also means: “I like it,” in Korean. It sounded perfect! We loved the meaning behind it and how it represented us both but through our research it became clear that Bubbles and Kraut had more appeal.
Alex: We tested the two names. I’m a huge fan of testing and Bubbles & Kraut won out. There were also practical considerations such as the surprising number of restaurants with the other name. But, once we decided on Bubbles and Kraut, it grew on us very quickly and now we can’t imagine it being anything different!
Why are the services and products you’re offering important for today?
Alex: Food waste is a big problem these days. In Austria, 760,000 tons of food is wasted every year. Through our workshops and our products, we’d like to raise awareness about the food waste issue and share our skills and solutions. Fermentation allows you to preserve food longer and our hope is that sharing this knowledge will have some measurable impact on food sustainability.
Jo: There’s also the community aspect. We want to get like-minded people to interact with each other and share solutions, and enjoy food in the process.
Alex: A quick definition is that fermentation is the process of using the microorganisms that are naturally in the air to change the sugars in food into acid which helps preserve the food.
What are some of the health benefits of eating fermented foods?
Jo: In Korea, there is a belief that eating fermented foods is anti-aging so we believe that it’s good for your skin, and helps your body age gracefully.
Alex: It’s good for your gut flora which helps in having a strong immune and digestive system. You feel less bloated or uncomfortable on a given day. There’s now some theories that the health of your gut flora influences many aspects of your body including your thought process and clarity of mind so it could help with productivity as well.
What’s the working dynamic between you two? Who brings what to the table?
Jo: My background is in graphic design so my strengths are being used for the visual aspects of our business like website design and branding.
Alex: I’m handling more of the communications side of things. I’m also the scientist trying to create interesting new flavors and flavor combinations. I think we’ve settled into our natural roles. So far so good!
Jo: We try to be honest and communicate. We’re both creative people so we’re always bouncing new ideas off each other. If there are any disagreements, we both try to focus on the fact that we’re both bringing our best and want what’s best for this venture.
What are the values of Bubbles & Kraut?
Alex: Sharing and sustainability. We both care deeply about these values. We want to share our knowledge about fermentation and food waste. On a practical level, we are trying to partner up with local farmers and use so-called ‘misfit’ vegetables that cannot be sold in regular markets. We also don’t want to waste our products so we’re going to try a made-to-order model. We will produce as much as our customers demand. We’d like to call this: FAIRmentation!
Jo: I’d also say creativity and community. Because we are going to be using seasonal and local produce, we are going to get creative with the kinds of kimchi we will be producing. I know Alex is excited but I’m also excited to explore the new possibilities! And we are both really eager to build a movement and a community around these values.
Even though you’ve only just started, have there been any challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Jo: I think every day is a challenge for us. Everything is a first for us so we’re always trying to figure out the best way to get things done. I think we’re where we need to be and now it’s a matter of doing the work.
Alex: Coordinating workshop venues, customers, and suppliers, even for a venture as small as we are can be logistically complicated. We know we need help and one challenge was reaching out to people and asking for help and realizing that It’s OK not to know things.
Alex: I hope that we can teach people about preserving food. Fermentation has been used for hundreds of years but people all have fridges now so the art of preserving food through fermentation has gotten a bit lost over the years. We’d like to bring that back and show people what they’re missing.
Jo: I’d like to see us having an impact in expanding the variety of food that is typically eaten here and opening up people’s minds to the wonderful diversity of food.
What is it about fermented foods like kimchi that gets you so excited?
Jo: For me, it’s such a big part of my life and my culture. Kimchi reminds me of home and I think it’s the perfect side dish for everything–not just Korean food, but European food as well. In Korea, we say that it has a cool flavor which is hard to explain in English. It’s kind of like, tasting a bit of the ocean.
Alex: There’s a tangy and fizzy quality to kimchi that I just love. It has an incredible combination of flavors that I feel is like a taste explosion. It can be salty, sweet, and sour all at once. There’s also so many different kinds of kimchi. You’re never stuck with one kind so it never gets tiring.
How can Impact Hub members help?
Jo: We’re very open to everyone becoming our customers! Try our kimchi and join a workshop!
Alex: We’re still looking to optimize our production process so if anyone knows of any farmers or shops that might be interested in working with us, please let us know. We’re also looking for maybe a restaurant or a kitchen that would be open to the idea of letting us use their kitchen downtime by allowing us to produce our products.
Last question: who is Bubbles and who is Kraut?
Jo: Technically, I am Kraut and Alex is Bubbles contrary to everyone’s expectations. But I feel that I’m a bit of both at times. Sometimes more Bubbles and sometimes more Kraut. Sometimes I feel like my head’s in the clouds and sometimes I feel more grounded.
Alex: I like that. It’s a balance between the two. I think at the end of the day, we’re all Bubbles and Kraut.