We had the good fortune of connecting with Eleana Hsu & Kevin Gondo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Eleana Hsu & Kevin Gondo, what do you attribute your success to?
We have been tremendously fortunate for all the success our business has achieved thus far. While we attribute a lot of our success to consistently staying true to our company’s mission and a heaping spoonful of luck, the most important contributing factor to our success is our community’s support and belief in what we are doing. Our community is made up of passionate food lovers, fermenters, and foragers who constantly inspire and awe us with their support. Our incredible customers, vendors, and restaurant partners allow us to sustain ourselves doing something we love each and every day. Our family, friends, and mentors have always been the most resilient source of emotional support, guidance, and inspiration as we traverse the journey of growing our business. Without our community, we would not be where we are today.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Shared Cultures is a small business in San Francisco specializing in using koji, an ancient fungi, to create modern fermented food products. Inspired by traditional fermentation methods, we are creating newly imagined, alternative soy sauces, miso, and marinades using the magic of koji. It all started from our passion for mushroom foraging. This hobby led us to discover the art of preservation and fermentation in an effort to preserve nature’s bounty. While exploring the world of fermentation, we came to learn about koji – one of the oldest wild fungi in existence. Koji has been used for centuries as the catalyst to ferment important foods in our cultural backgrounds such as soy sauce, rice wine, and miso. Our combined passion for fungi and fermentation has revived an important part of our traditional food culture, while driving our curiosity to reimagine and share these traditional foods with a modern approach. Our mission is to share and reimagine our cultural food traditions with a modern approach. We hope our products will encourage consumers to view traditionally Asian foods, such as soy sauce and miso, through a lens that crosses cultural barriers. Why are these sauces and ferments only used in Asian dishes? What if we brewed a sauce with lentils instead of the traditional soybean, and substituted the wheat for quinoa? By changing the base ingredients, while still honoring tradition, we hope to cross multi-cultural barriers with a re-envisioned condiment. These questions and sentiments are what we hope our products will inspire people to ask themselves as they contemplate the ever-evolving dynamics of food culture. Fermented ingredients such as koji are exclusively featured as the backbone of flavor in notable fine dining establishments throughout the world. By growing our business, we hope to make these ingredients accessible, while inspiring people to rethink tradition and push flavor boundaries at home.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We live in San Francisco and there is no shortage of fun things to do. A week-long trip would have to entail exploring and camping along the Northern California coast to go mushroom and sea foraging. There are so many great wild mushrooms to pick such as porcini and chanterelles, as well as urchins, mussels, and wild seaweeds that are bountiful in the area. After a few days of relaxing by the coast, we would recommend spending some time checking out and eating at the local farmer’s markets such as the Ferry Plaza Market held every Saturday in San Francisco and lounging around Dolores Park or Golden Gate Park. We personally love eating at Rintaro, Saru Sushi, Tartine Manufactory, and Restaurant Nisei in SF, but if you are ever in the East Bay, grabbing local snacks at Magnolia Mini Mart, shopping at Preserved for fermentation essentials, and then wining and dining at Snail Bar is a must-do.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are so many people to give thanks to, but it all starts with family and friends. The Koji community is filled with unbelievably inspiring makers, including Jeremy Umansky, Rich Shih, David Zilber, Kirsten Shockey, and Sandor Katz. Their books on fermentation were what initially inspired us to get started on our fermentation journey and our business. We would like to recognize Earl Shaddix and the wonderful team behind Bayview Makers Kitchen, an initiative to transform a vacant restaurant into a thriving community hub that features local food vendors with a meaningful connection to the Bayview community in San Francisco. The Bayview Makers Kitchen was made possible by Economic Development on Third through funding from OEWD that focuses on building economic empowerment opportunities and preventing displacement of Bayview businesses from a historically black neighborhood. Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bayview Makers Kitchen has given us the opportunity for our business to remain open. The space has also allowed us to meet and work alongside some exceptionally talented entrepreneurs in the community, including Anica Wu at Bonjerk, Jorge Islas and Kim Truong at Frank Grizzly’s, and many more!