Small Town Cultures eyes bigger space in Lake Placid

Cori Deans (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — Cori Deans, a Lake Placid native, Keene resident and owner of fermented food business Small Town Cultures, wants to bring her fermented fares to a Main Street storefront next year.

Deans has put in an offer on Bowlwinkle’s Bowling Alley, but the purchase is still pending. It’s unclear if current operations within the bowling alley, including The Other Side night club, will continue in that space or elsewhere. Current owner Sonja Barney declined to comment for this story.

Deans appeared before the town-village Joint Review Board on Wednesday to present her renovation plans for the bowling alley. The review board scheduled a public hearing for the project on Oct. 6.

The renovations, which would occur in phases over several months, would create space for Deans to scale up her fermentation business and open a restaurant, where she said she wants to share the benefits of fermented foods with the Lake Placid community.

With dishes like kimchi pancakes and real beef burgers, Deans hopes to deliver comfort food with a fermented twist. She said she wants people to see how easy it is to incorporate probiotics into their diets, which can be as simple as throwing a few fermented jalapenos on a burger. She even wants to offer cocktails like kimchi bloody marys and margaritas with jalapeno brine.

A new home

Small Town Cultures, a locally-run operation that ferments raw foods from locally and regionally sourced produce, has gained some national recognition in recent months.

When Deans got an email from Whole Foods Markets that expressed interest in carrying her probiotic goods, she thought it was spam.

“I didn’t know if it was real,” she said.

Whole Foods found Small Town Cultures through Google and reached out to Deans unprompted. She said there’s been a void of ferments in the food market, unless you’re looking for kimchi or sauerkraut, and Whole Foods was looking to fill that void. Now, Small Town Cultures’ glass jars of probiotic vegetables are sitting on Whole Foods shelves across the Southwest. The national chain recently extended Deans’ contract to include stores in the Northeast. Small Town Cultures is now available at the closest Whole Foods location to the Adirondacks, located in Albany, in addition to independent grocery stores in the Tri-Lakes.

Deans said that the growing demand for their products is “way beyond capacity” for their current production site.

Small town beginnings

Deans created Small Town Cultures when she needed a better solution for her chronic illness, Crohn’s Disease. She said Crohn’s disease can make it painful to eat, and challenging to digest food properly. Her medication wasn’t working for her anymore, and even after extensive treatment doctors told her she’d likely go into remission. She decided to do her own research.

“I didn’t always want to identify with being sick or in remission. It was super draining to always feel terrible,” Deans said.

That’s when she started healing with fermented foods. Raw fermented vegetables and fruits are packed with probiotics that can improve digestive and gut health, and Deans said she wanted to try resetting her gut biome. She went on an elimination diet, cutting sugar and processed foods in favor of whole foods, and she repopulated her biome with wild, fermented foods. After only one month of eating fermented foods, Deans said she no longer needed her medication to manage the pain because the pain was gone.

“All of the sudden I had energy, I felt good,” she said.

She said she hasn’t taken medication or experienced an episode since.

At first, she was fermenting for herself, but she noticed that she was creating a niche product that stores didn’t carry. She reached out to Cedar Run Bakery and Market in Keene in hopes they’d want to carry Small Town Cultures, and the market agreed to a tasting. But while Deans was at the tasting with the Cedar Run employees, a distributor happened to be there too; suddenly, Deans said she had a distributor before she even had a product.

“We’re always running before we walk, and it just keeps happening,” she said.

Deans said it was actually more challenging to break into the local farmer’s markets than to find distributors; when she first started Small Town Cultures, she’d show up at the Keene Farmer’s Market, products in tow, just hoping a vendor wouldn’t show up. Now, she’s got a coveted spot at the Troy Farmer’s Market, which she said can get up to 10,000 visitors. She also has a team of employees who support the mission, and she said every employee has a stake in the company.

“It’s made for a great atmosphere, because everyone is a partial owner,” she said.