In Wellfleet, shrubs to savor at Lola’s Local Food Lab
WELLFLEET — Important things first: There’s no Lola at Lola’s Local Food Lab, which is tucked behind the Lighthouse Restaurant on Main Street here.
Owner Kim Shkapich, who sells bright tasting, vinegar-based shrubs in flavors like blueberry basil, inventive rubs, addictive cold-brew iced coffee, and celebrated Lighthouse blueberry muffins from a basement space barely able to contain her creativity, says she picked the name because she likes the alliteration. And, she says, because she’s “interested in the chemistry of food and preservation.”
A near constant presence in her red-and-white-polka-dot apron, Shkapich is always thinking up new products, flavors, and combinations to stimulate customers’ palates. A former architect who has been cooking since she was 7, Shkapich (pronounced SKAH-pich) says, “My relationship to creating a food business here started rather organically.”
Shkapich, 59, was director of the Architectural Archive at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York for nearly 20 years before settling in Wellfleet in 2004. She and her husband “visited every beach from the tip of New Jersey to Maine,” looking for a home near the ocean. They chose Wellfleet for its wealth of public beaches and, she says, the town’s “reputation for being an interesting, artistic community.”
Initially, Shkapich thought she would get a job in one of the Outer Cape’s small museums or cultural nonprofits. She worked for a while for AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod and has been active in arts organizations in Truro and Wellfleet.
In 2011 she began making jams and jellies, renting kitchen space in Wellfleet Preservation Hall. Rather than the standard strawberry and raspberry, she mixed in herbs and wines to create unexpected flavor combinations. It was a natural start, “because I had done canning my whole life,” she says. To go with the fictional name on the packaging is an image of Shkapich’s mother, Betty, who taught her how to preserve food when she was growing up in Chicago. “That’s a good entry point for food entrepreneurs. There’s not a lot of regulations for jams and jellies,” she explains. She sold her preserves at the Wellfleet farmers’ market, engaging in “the marketing research that comes with interacting directly with customers.”
From there Shkapich moved on to shrubs, or drinking vinegars, popular in Colonial America and sometimes added to spirits. Shkapich’s mother made shrubs that she turned into “soda” for her daughters, who were not allowed to drink the commercial stuff. Shkapich describes her mother’s method: mashing fruit, then adding sugar to draw out the juice, followed by vinegar to taste. These fresh shrubs were usually drunk immediately, and could last up to a week.
In order to seal the bottles — Lola’s shrubs last for up to nine months, refrigerated after opening — Shkapich had to comply with food safety regulations. “Over the course of the years, I’ve developed my own recipe,” she says. The shrubs are Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points-certified, meaning the products have been sent to a lab and analyzed for their pH levels. Shkapich also wrote an HACCP plan for each flavor that includes the manufacturing and bottling protocol.
Made with local fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are in season, her shrubs are less like her mother’s, she says, and “more like a syrup.” Her products “reflect the terroir of where they’re grown,” she says; flavors include Rose Farm rhubarb (named for the Truro farm that grows the fruit), black cherry, pear-ginger, and cucumber-dill. They are delicious added to sparkling water, sparkling wine or spirits, or salad dressings.
As for Lola’s spice rubs, says Shkapich, “People become addicted to them.” Some of these small-batch, hand-blended rubs are made from ingredients in her own garden. They have names like “No. 1 Universal Magic Dust,” which contains chiles, mustard, and Spanish paprika and might be used not just to flavor meat, but also to roast nuts or season popcorn.
When Joe Wanco, who owns the Lighthouse Restaurant, asked her to bake his eatery’s blueberry muffins, Shkapich, who is not a professionally trained baker, baked more than 1,000 muffins before settling on a version that uses hard red-wheat flour with barley malt. This departure from the original recipe makes the muffins less white but no less delicious than their predecessors.
This season, Shkapich installed a soda fountain and starting in the late afternoon she offers shrub-based sodas with accompanying snacks. (Unlike her mother, she has a CO2 canister behind her counter.) On a recent Friday, a black cherry soda with Italian cherries and another drink with cucumber-dill and plump, salty caper berries are the perfect antidote to the day’s heat and humidity. Customers leave dreaming of the next morning’s cold brew and blueberry muffins.
“I’m working 16 to 18 hours a day and I have a million ideas,” says Shkapich. “I wish I could clone myself.”
Lola’s Local Food Lab
317B Main St., Wellfleet, 508-349-1700, www.lolaslocalfood