2019 CIFT Ohio Signature Food Contest winners Amy Pausch of Alexandria and David Brooks of Dublin. Pausch won with a nonalcoholic shrub beverage and Brooks won with a New York deli-style cheesecake.

Have you ever had a shrub to drink? Or a switchel? 

Perhaps not in Ohio, unless you’ve met Licking County Farm Bureau member Amy Pausch of Alexandria.

Pausch is the founder of Dandy’s Handcrafted Shrubs & Switchels, a new company that’s manufacturing and selling the beverage concentrates, made of fruit, vinegar and sweetener. 

Drinks, along with some very special cheesecakes, were last year’s winners of the Ohio Signature Food Contest, sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) and Ohio Farm Bureau.

Its aim is to promote innovative Ohio food products by providing two annual winners help with business development, nutritional analysis, label approval and food-safety training. Winners also get other assistance, including the use of a commercial kitchen.

For Pausch, being a 2019 winner has meant having experts at CIFT walk her through the steps she must follow to create beverages that can be sold to the public. 

“They want you to succeed,” Pausch said. “There is no question I can ask that they won’t help me with.” 

A shrub or a switchel

Pausch became interested in making shrubs and switchels several years ago when a friend gave her some drinking vinegars from California. She experimented, adding fruit, sweeteners and spices to Italian balsamic vinegar to make concentrates she mixed with plain water, seltzer water and cocktail mixers. 

Shrubs, she explained, are infused for three to seven days before use while switchels are mixed and used immediately. Dandy’s flavors include cardamom peach and lemongrass mint with echinacea.

A year ago Pausch let customers at Lynd Fruit Farm in Pataskala sample the drinks and was encouraged by the positive response. Today she makes several flavors in a commercial kitchen.

“We’re in our infancy and we want to develop a full line of flavors,” she said. She hopes to produce a probiotic line and possibly frozen treats as well as a version with no added sweetener. 

“Once we get our bottling into mass production, we can expand more places,” Pausch said.

Cheesecake redefined

The second winning product from last year’s Signature Food Contest is more familiar – cheesecake – but the story behind it is no less unique. 

After working as a high-end restaurant chef for more than two decades, David Brooks of Dublin in Franklin County started Dave’s Artisanal Cheesecakes in 2013. 

“I love to bake cheesecake,” Brooks said. “I can’t say it any better. It’s my passion.”

His first client was The Crest Gastropub in Clintonville, and from there he expanded sales into other local restaurants. When his own home kitchen became too small to accommodate rising interest in his product, he moved into the Food Fort, 737 Parkwood Ave. in Columbus, where he can produce 110 cheesecakes a day. 

“I just shake my head when I think of how far I’ve come,” said Brooks, who began his food service career as a bouncer at an Ohio State University bar in 1980. He became the manager at the bar and, after graduating from Ohio State with a journalism degree, began working in various other food-service jobs.  

Currently he’s a one-man band at his company, working 90 hours a week. On Sundays and Mondays he preps his crust and his egg-vanilla mixture. On Tuesdays he bakes and on Thursdays he removes the pies from the pans and boxes them up. A local company distributes them on Mondays.  

Since winning the food contest last July he’s gotten help with ingredient labels and nutrition paneling, feedback from focus groups on his cheesecakes and their packaging and advice on expansion.   

That’s in the works. He planned to begin shipping his cheesecakes to individuals and companies nationwide in April and to have a cheesecake production plant up and running in 18 months.

“I’m starting to reap the rewards of those long, late nights,” he said. “Soon I can bring people in and train them how to make cheesecakes.”

2020 food contest deadline is June 30*

As part of CIFT’s mission to help the growth of new food industries in Ohio, the organization, along with Ohio Farm Bureau, conducts the annual Ohio Signature Food Contest to find and promote the best new Ohio food products. 

Entry forms and rules and regulations for this year’s contest are due June 30 and are available online. Products do not need to be fully designed or ready for market to enter the competition.

Food industry experts will judge each product based on its viability, commercialization potential, marketability and overall appeal in the marketplace, as well as the entrant’s business strategy. Finalists will be asked to make a presentation before a panel of judges and the winner will be announced in late July. 

*Editor’s note – The original published due date of May 31 has been updated.

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