Founders: Matt and Chong Choi
Year founded: 2011
Product description: Cabbage gone badass.
Yearly sales: Declined to comment.
Is it profitable?: Declined to comment.
Available at: New Seasons, Whole Foods, Market of Choice, Green Zebra, Zupan's, Uwajimaya, Food Fight and other local stores
Price: $5.99 per jar.
Choi's Kimchi started with a spat.
In 2011, when Matt Choi and his mom, Chong Choi, were preparing to take their first batch of kimchi to the Portland State University Farmers Market, probiotic foods weren't yet trending in the United States. Choi guessed they might sell 10 jars.
"I woke up the morning of the market and she had made 150 jars," he says. "I got super-pissed because it seemed like waste of effort. But by noon we were sold out. I remember thinking, 'She's right. We really have something here.'"
Choi's mother, whom he describes as "the heart and soul of this company," moved from Seoul, South Korea, to Portland in the late '70s and was uninspired by the city's kimchi offerings.
"In Korean communities," Choi says, "there's usually a person who makes really good kimchi who supplies everybody. My mom was that person."
The kimchi recipes Chong Choi uses have been handed down through multiple generations, and her mastery of the craft is evident. Unlike other mass-produced fermented foods that can become oversalted jars of soggy mush, Choi's kimchis are zippy, still-crunchy ferments with impressive ranges of spicy, salty and sour flavors.
The move from farmers market to supermarkets occurred when a Whole Foods representative stopped by the Chois' stand to ask if they could make kimchi for Portland stores.
"I didn't even know what it meant to supply wholesale," Matt Choi says. "I went home and Googled it and threw everything together."
Choi makes four different kimchis—napa, white napa, radish and green cabbage. Except for the white napa kimchi, all of the jars are seasoned with generous amounts of red chili pepper, which create the telltale, top-of-the-tongue zest kimchi is known for.
Guilty pleasure snack: Choi is partial to Kettle Chips and Bluebird Bakers Chocolate Chunk Cookies, but says his mom likes more "far-out shit," such as spicy shrimp crackers and ojingeochae, a Korean dried squid snack.
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