The Foodpreneuer

Augustana University graduate Kylene Guse is co-owner of Gyst, a fermentation bar in Minneapolis.

Gyst co-owner Kylene Guse ‘03 presents the“Mother,” a fan-favorite featuring cheeses, meats, pickled and fermented vegetables, and fruits served on a rustic wooden board. 
(Photo by Jackie Adelmann '14)

Meet Kylene Guse ’03, co-owner of Gyst Fermentation Bar in Minneapolis.
Fermented golden beet with orange and ginger, anyone?

While living in Brazil more than 20 years ago, Kylene Guse ’03 fell in love with a different way of eating.

Immersed in the country as an exchange student, the Sioux Falls native woke most mornings to a light breakfast of fresh fruit, cheese and homemade bread.

Her mid-day meal – what most Americans call “lunch” – was typically the largest meal of the day, both in food content and time. While lunch for Americans often means a quick sandwich or burger from a drive-through window, Brazilians enjoy fresh, homemade mid-day meals that can linger for hours through multiple courses over good and lively conversations among family and friends.

For Guse, that farm-to-table experience of enjoying locally grown, homemade food would stay with her for the next two decades, eventually influencing her decision to open Gyst, a fermentation bar in Minneapolis, along with her sister, Mel.

Gyst (pronounced gist – as in the essence or, the point) specializes in “all things fermented,” including artisanal cheese, craft beer, wine, cider, kombucha, pickles, vegetables, salami, yogurt creations, chocolate, coffee and more.

The staff does all of its fermenting in-house and is committed to working with local producers and suppliers.

“Our goal is to work with producers who’ve nailed the art of doing things like cheese, wine, coffee, beer and cider,” Guse said. “We’re buying fresh produce to serve to our customers. Our wine program focuses on smaller production wines from around the world. When it comes to beer, we don’t have just any beer on tap. We try to think about its history and how it’s made. For our cheeses, we’ve worked really hard to find U.S. artisanal cheese makers and we try to work directly with farms as much as we can.”

Guse says Gyst’s approach – from the types of food it serves to how it chooses its suppliers – makes it the ultimate creative food business.

“The fermentation bar is one aspect,” Guse said. “But, it’s really the idea that we collaborate with our community.”

Finding Her Way

For Guse, the path to becoming a food-and-restaurant entrepreneur was long and winding.

She majored in sociology and Spanish at Augustana and, after graduation, took a job working for Planned Parenthood, first in Portland, Oregon, and later back in Sioux Falls. Eventually, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in sexuality studies at San Francisco State University. Her research earned her a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Rio de Janeiro, where she further examined gender inequality and how it relates to health, disease and
socio-economic conditions.

After grad school, she took a position with the University of Chicago working on a project for the Center for Digital Storytelling. The initiative chronicled the lives of young people in the context of gender inequality – examining how it affected their lifestyles, health and daily living conditions.

It was rewarding and inspiring work, Guse said, but deep down, she missed San Francisco.

So, she returned to the West Coast, did some consulting work, and became roommates with her sister, Mel. At night and on the weekends, the pair talked about their dream of owning a business together.

Following the death of their grandfather, the sisters realized just how short life really is. So, they decided to make their dream a reality.

After doing some research, they chose Minneapolis as their market, began building partnerships with wine and fermentation experts, and did site visits at different creative food venues, including Shed in Heraldsburg, California, a locally owned, nationally known shop featuring everything from fermented products such as kombucha and vegetables, to spices and salts, to housewares and more.

They secured a location in what Guse described as “a vintage building in an up-and-coming neighborhood” near downtown Minneapolis. From there, the sisters organized a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money necessary to refurbish the building. Gyst officially opened for business in November 2014.

A Food Community

Guse describes a fermentation bar as something that “celebrates the benefits of preservation in food and beverage. Fermentation creates diverse tastes, health benefits and food sustainability.”

Diverse tastes, indeed.

In addition to fermented food, the menu at Gyst also features fan favorites such as the “Grilled Cheese,” made with artisan cheese and sauerkraut; the “Sandor,” featuring peanut butter and kimchi; and the “Mother,” an eye-catching collection of cheeses, meats, pickled and fermented vegetables, and fruits served on a rustic wooden board.

The foundation of the menu, Guse says, is the restaurant’s commitment to buying and serving locally grown food.

“The idea is to create really great experiences for our guests, as well as our farmers, community, and local food economy while building a global food culture.”  

“At the end of the day, there’s just a huge difference in taste,” she said. “If you grow your own produce, you can taste the difference. People want to eat real food. People want good food. I truly believe that. And, once you’ve experienced that, it’s hard to go back.”