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The brothers behind Cleveland Kitchen grow Northeast Ohio company to a national presence

The brothers behind the company bringing fermented foods to the mainstream are staying true to their Northeast Ohio roots while making a national impact.

CLEVELAND — After a childhood spent among farmers markets and organic produce, it seems brothers Drew and Mac Anderson, along with their brother-in-law Luke Visnic, was always destined to work in the food industry. 

The trio officially started their company Cleveland Kitchen, previously known as Cleveland Kraut, in 2014. But Mac, chief commercial officer, said their story began long before, primarily inspired by their mother’s work. 

Their mother, Donita Anderson, a chef who studied biology, sought out fresh, local ingredients, frequently making trips out to farm country with Drew, Mac, and their sister Emma in tow. Eventually, she went on to start the North Union Farmers Market network in northeast Ohio. 

“Child labor laws aside, Drew, and I were out there schlepping produce, working with farmers, and seeing the natural foods and farm-to-table movement grow,” Mac said. 

Eventually, Drew and Mac went on to pursue different paths, Drew studying statistics and going on to a career in banking, Mac studying economics. But both were still drawn to the flavors that shaped their childhoods in Shaker Heights. Living in the Southeast for work, Drew was dabbling in making his own sauerkraut and taught his younger brother. 

Credit: Anderson Family

“My buddies were, you know, wondering what the heck is going on in our kitchen? What’s that smell? But come barbecue season, they loved the great flavor and fresh crunch,” Mac said. 

Chief Operating Officer Luke had been “roped” into the Anderson’s food ties by way of sister Emma, whom he married, working farmers markets alongside the rest of the family.

Whether through their shared love of Northeast Ohio or a stroke of serendipity, Drew learned that Mac had also been making his own sauerkraut. 

“We kind of came together over a beer in 2013, he pulled out some sauerkraut that he was making, I was like, ‘I do the same thing,’” said Drew. “It’s crunchy, delicious, vibrant. We looped Mac in and built the family business.”

Credit: Anderson Family
Drew and Mac Anderson, founders of Kraut and brothers.

From there, the brothers came together as co-founders, keen on turning their passion for fermented foods into a fully-fledged business. Crafting batches of sauerkraut, they would sell at farmers markets.

“We’d leave our office jobs three, four nights a week at 7:00 p.m., work ’til two in the morning fermenting kraut, and sell on the weekends,” Mac said. “And what really kept us going in the time of little sleep and a lot of hustle was the fact that consumers kept coming back.”

In 2015, the brothers took the leap, the trio quitting their jobs to pursue their fermented food business full time. The leap, it turns out, would be worth it. According to the brothers, Cleveland Kitchen is the number one brand in the fermented food category in the country.

“Every entrepreneur kind of has this struggle at least today, like, ‘Hey, do I leave my grounded job, the recurring paycheck, to make this a real thing and see the opportunity?’ And we just started to see that there was capital coming into the space, that there was an opportunity to build a really big business and have an impact on our local community by, you know, hiring and working with local farmers and, and growing that.”

Supporting the local food ecosystem is something that the brothers have aimed to do with their products. For example, according to Visnic, Cleveland Kitchen goes through about five million pounds of cabbage a year, and one of its main suppliers, Cabbage Inc. is based in Northeast Ohio. 

Credit: Anderson Family
Luke Visnic, cofounder, with his family

“Ohio’s an ag state,” Drew said “We have fantastic glacial till, really good soil right for growing really good produce, we’ve got a lot of big fruit producers out here,” Drew said. “A lot of our early investors were food producers from Northeastern Ohio. Then you’ve got a great labor force, facilities are cheap and you’ve got smart people who are ready to get on the line. It’s the perfect place to start a food company and grow a food company.” 

The company certainly grew, from selling at farmers markets to forging partnerships with local vendors like Heinen’s and Giant Eagle, eventually getting into big box stores like Walmart. According to Mac, their products are now in 14,000 stores nationwide. 

As the company grew, so did their product line, expanding from solely kraut to kimchi, salad dressings, and most recently, pickles, teaming up with Sonoma Brinery in California to develop a number of new pickle products. 

While it may be a challenge these days to walk into a grocery store and not find Cleveland Kitchen products, Mac said not everyone has always understood the appeal of their products, or the probiotic benefits. 

“You were kind of fighting an uphill battle where maybe people consider sauerkraut to be mushy and smelly and something that was maybe eat a hot dog once a year, but it’s really kind of in vogue now, and folks are really understanding the health benefits,” he said. 

“We are the brand that’s changing the way people look at fermented foods,” said Drew. “We are growing the category by providing our with delicious, crunchy, vibrant fermented foods that also have that halo of health, so they’re good for the gut, and they taste good.” 

As the brothers grow the brand, they are also growing their families. Drew and his wife, for example, recently had their first child, a baby girl named Inez who he affectionately calls a “kraut princess.” 

“I go to the grocery store with my son, and he’s super excited when he sees daddy’s brand,” Visnic said. “He goes, ‘oh we’ve got our dressings, our kraut and our pickles.’ He’s always super excited to see that. It makes me proud, for sure.”

From dorm room and home kitchens, to farmers markets, and eventually, to grocery shelves nationwide, a constant force behind Cleveland Kitchen has always been family. 

“We’ll have fierce internal debate knowing that ‘hey, I’ve got to go to thanksgiving with this guy,’” Drew said. 

“To be a Cleveland kid and to be able to, to do something in the community, has been pretty cool and special,” Mac said. “So I see a bright future with my brothers.” 

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