There’s a story behind all our favorite foods: who made it, why it was made, and how it connects us to others. When sisters Kylene and Mel Guse started brewing up plans to open their own restaurant, they were strongly inspired by such stories behind artisanal fermented foods. The sisters joined forces with Jill Mott and Jim Bovino, opening GYST Fermentation Bar in November of 2014 with the hopes of connecting people to the stories behind their foods.
Conveniently located in the Eat Street Neighborhood, GYST’s bright red exterior raises the curiosity of many passersby. And the people who venture through the doors are in for a treat; GYST serves some of the finest (and most fun) noshes available. While fermented foods may bring back memories of grandma’s pickles, there’s more to ferments than classic pickles. Wine, beer, chocolate, cheese, and even some meats go through fermenting processes rich with history, culture, and (of course) stories.
Though the stories about the products can be very complex, the story behind GYST Fermentation Bar’s name is simple; gyst means “the essence” or “the point.” Through some deeper digging, Mel revealed that gyst is also an old English word for yeast, a key ingredient in the fermentation process. This may just seem like fun trivia, but the definition gets down to one of the core practices of the business: serving simple, natural fermentations in a fun, minimally processed way.
Guests are encouraged to approach GYST with an open mind, since the GYST experience more accurately aligns with the philosophies of a creative food business than a traditional restaurant. Kylene explains, “GYST is a creative food business that pairs experience with expertise to make food personal.” Inspired by their passion for stories and personal connections to products, the GYST team hopes to encourage people to think beyond the spread in front of them and celebrate the craftsmanship behind each item.
The leadership team certainly brings high credentials as well, backing up their passion for their products with the knowledge and expertise required for stellar selection and presentation. Both Kylene and Mel (a certified sommelier) have an extensive history with Bi-Rite Market, a San Francisco-based company that is known for its local and organic selections. Jill Mott, an internationally certified sommelier and instructor known for her previous work with The Bachelor Farmer, brings her unrivaled knowledge to the beverage program. Rounding out the team as the director of food and fermentation is Jim Bovino from California Street Farm, a local urban garden.
Combining their passion and knowledge, the GYST team has carefully crafted a fun and evolving menu that highlights the joys of fermented foods. In addition to some global products, an impressive range of artisanal cheeses from the United States is available, due in part to GYST’s desire to support the growing artisanal cheese movement. Kylene adds, “Cheese is really important and has value; we can be innovative with our selections because we are still defining the American cheese palate.”
In addition to a diverse range of cheeses, the menu highlights GYST’s partnerships with other local producers, such as Red Table Meat Company and The Lone Grazer Creamery. And the produce that appears in both fermented and fresh forms is gathered from local urban farms, such as Night Owl Farms, Twin Organics, and Stone’s Throw. These partnerships not only guarantee that the selections are fresh and local, but they are also evidence of GYST’s commitment to sustain and improve the local food system and the local economy.
While there’s something for every palate on the menu, Kylene suggests people try The Mother board, which contains a vast array of cheeses, meats, pickled and fermented veggies, and other accompaniments. Kylene adds that the spring and early summer are a great time to test some early batches of amazing goat cheese. And if people are in more of a sandwich mood, the grilled cheese with sauerkraut or The Sandor (peanut butter and kimchi) sandwich are popular choices. Though The Sandor seems like an odd combination, Kylene says the pairing provides a strong Thai flavor profile that keeps people coming back for more.
As if the fermented food specialties weren’t tempting enough, GYST also has a beverage program unlike any other in the Twin Cities, thanks to the help of Jill Mott and Mel Guse. Instead of a large and static wine list, GYST has developed rotating wine campaigns, meaning that the current wines are all chosen based on a particular theme. Currently, the selections are natural selections from the Loire Valley region, and future campaigns plan to highlight coastal wines and wines produced in different vessels. These campaigns give guests the opportunity to try rare wines within a themed mindset.
The other key element of the wine list is that all the wines are considered natural wines. Mott explains that natural wines use sustainable, organic, or biodynamic practices in the vineyard. Natural producers also pick grapes by hand and use all indigenous yeasts in their production processes. When Mott sources wines for GYST, she verifies that they are using low to no sulfur (an additive that easily covers up any impurities in wines).
Mott also emphasizes the importance of transparent business practices when choosing the wines for the campaigns: “We can call some of the winemakers our friends; we know they’re being honest both in the vineyard and the cellar.” While many producers attempt to latch on to the trend of natural or organic wines, Mott cautions that true natural wines take a while to cultivate. “It’s not a practice that producers can quickly latch on to; it takes a lot of time for a vineyard to actually become dynamic and organic.”
But the beverage program gets even more special: GYST offers several wines that are not available anywhere else in the Twin Cities. In their latest campaign, Mott estimates that around half of the wines are not available anywhere else in the Midwest. This limited distribution allows for each wine to be “an adventure and a revelation, guests might find a whole new favorite wine.” Mott adds: “People are excited that we have these flavors available, and they know that they are getting the upper echelon of quality when they try our wines.”
With a certified sommelier always on staff, guests can be certain to experience the wines in a much more complex way than they may be used to. Mott emphasizes GYST’s commitment to telling the stories of their products: “It’s the stories behind these producers and wines that give the guest context. With the wine campaign, guests can’t help but notice the context, they can’t help but ask questions to understand more about what they’re drinking.” And Mott’s personal connections to the vineyards and cellars allow her to bring some personal touches to the wines, making a seemingly simple glass of red wine a truly unique experience.
GYST’s personal connections expand out into their community, where the creative food business feels strongly supported by the Whittier neighborhood. GYST also plans to celebrate Pride with our GLBT community by offering a special Pride Wine Flight (red, white, and rosé for $15) during Pride week. Be sure to check them out on Facebook and drop in for what guarantees to be a unique experience with fermented food and drink.