Heart Beet Organics expand from the farm to new storefront in Charlottetown with kombucha on tap and produce to go

Stepping into Farmacy + Fermentary on Great George Street in Charlottetown, the cosy atmosphere entices you to pull up a stool and order a drink at the bar but be prepared, the latest watering hole to open in PEI’s capital is not your typical licenced bar.

Interesting flavours on tap include cucumber mint, strawberry jalapeño, blueberry lavender, raspberry lemonade, and black currant—but here at the Farmacy, those drinks on tap are kombucha, a fermented tea drink.

Along with the eight flavours of kombucha on tap, there are two guest taps reserved for local craft beer and cider.

Amy Smith, co-owner of Heart Beet Organics and Farmacy Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Though kombucha itself is non-alcoholic, it works well when mixed together with beer and cider to create cocktails, which are being called ‘kombeercha’. “When you do half kombucha, half beer, and cider, it’s kinda like the idea of a Shandy,” Amy Smith explained.

“We want to use the kombucha to play with alcohol and without alcohol. We do offer a lot of cocktails, but we’re also going to be offering a lot of mocktails. Using fresh herbs that we’ve grown on the farm and different flavour kombuchas, so far it’s been a lot of fun… we wanted to introduce people to the idea of blending them.”

Smith and Verena Varga own and operate Heart Beet Organics, a small certified organic farm in Darlington, PEI. They started making kombucha about five years ago, and never expected that it would grow to become half of their business, but that’s exactly what happened.

“In 2018, it actually accounted for 50 percent of our revenue,” Smith said. “So it’s become a significant part of our business.” That success comes as a bit of a surprise.

“We did not start a farm thinking that we’d become kombucha brewers,” Smith laughed. “But it’s been great. Across the country, across the globe, kombucha has been taking off in popularity.”

First selling their product at their stall in the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, the business then moved to providing kombucha on tap at spots like Riverview Country Market, or restaurants like My Plum, My Duck.

As demand grew, Heart Beet Organics started offering more flavours of kombucha as well as increasing the types of fermented foods they produce.

“We do love changing the flavours throughout the year as new foods and herbs become available,” Smith said.

That increase in demand for kombucha and fermented foods sparked the idea to open a retail location. Originally Smith thought the spot would be a dedicated production facility for their ferments and offering refills of kombucha, but like many business ideas, the scope of the plan grew. Farmacy + Fermentary opened in mid-August and is part production facility, part bar, part restaurant, and part grocery store.

Just inside the door there is a fridge and cooler, brimming with vegetables, salad greens, the farm’s fermented products like kimchi and kraut, and other foods. Much has come from Heart Beet’s farm but other local producers who meet that organic criteria have space in the cooler, with clear labelling as to their source. They also offer bread from Splendid in Summerside.

Verena Varga, co-owner, prepares fermented green beans Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

“Since we have the organic vegetable farm, we knew that this location downtown would give us an opportunity to be able to sell our produce throughout the week. We’ve had customers asking for that,” Smith said.

The next logical step was to take that food and create ready-to-go meals with it.

“It just seemed to make sense that we should take some that fresh produce and turn it into fresh salads, soups,” Smith explained.

Combining the new location with their farm means the team is putting in long hours but it also means that the food being served is exceptionally fresh. “So we’re open super soft ‘farmer’ hours,” Varga said. “We’re open 11:30 to 5:30, so in the morning I can harvest a little before and come in… I’ll make a list of the vegetables I need [for making lunches], and we can pick those in the morning, and then I come early enough in order to prep them for lunch.”

They are offering sit-down service but also do take-out and have reusable containers for those interested in take-out meals but are open to people bringing their own. “The other thing I want to work towards is having people bringing their own containers,” Varga said.

All the food served is vegetarian and comes from their own farm or other local organic producers. The menu will vary naturally with the seasons, as the business uses what is readily available, for example, fresh herbs and greens in the summer months, and roasted vegetables in the fall.

Varga also looks forward to extending the business hours for those who want an evening cocktail or mocktail, and offering foods like fermentation sample platters, with dehydrated vegetables, kimchi chips, hummus, pickles, and other ferments. She joked that here in the land of the “non-spicy”, Heart Beet Organics’ kimchi is their most popular ferment. “Kimchi kills it!”

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

View All Posts