How a horticulture hobby grew into a burgeoning microgreens business in the valley
Peak Microgreens began as an idea, but is now producing a tangible product that’s topping the dishes at many local restaurants
Most people have at least one great idea for a business. And yet, these million dollar ideas, ideas we can’t believe someone else hasn’t thought of yet, often remain just dreams, something to pursue if only we had enough time, money or energy.
However, locals Chace MacDermott and Dave Curulewski didn’t let their idea fade away — they decided to pursue it, chipping away until it became a fully realized small business. And as with many business origin stories, it started out as a hobby in someone’s spare bedroom, Curulewski’s bedroom in this case.
MacDermott and Curulewski met as servers at the Red Lion in Vail, both with a passion for the environment — Curulewski graduating from college with a degree in biology and MacDermott with an environmental studies degree — and a dream of doing something in the restaurant industry outside of serving and bartending.
“We were both very interested just in general in the natural field — we both wanted to grow stuff, get our hands in the soil,” Curulewski said.
At first, the duo was interested in growing gourmet mushrooms. However, when MacDermott began researching them, it led him down another path — to microgreens, something that initially neither knew anything about.
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Microgreens are young vegetable greens, harvested in the early stages of their growth.
“At that stage they’re more nutrient dense and flavorful than the fully-grown counterparts,” Curulewski said. “That makes them perfect for people as garnishes on dishes and in the health food world as well.”
And in Eagle County, MacDermott and Curulewski realized that there was a small, but vibrant niche for microgreens.
MacDermott said that with over 100 restaurants in the valley, many of them were sourcing their microgreens from Denver, California and other farther away destinations. However, with microgreens — due to their short lifespan — the more local, the better.
“We can harvest and deliver them the same day; right here in the valley, five minutes down the road,” he said, adding that with the short grow-time and quick delivery time, they knew they could also be agile and customize their crops to the needs of these local restaurants.
Hobby to business
Initially, in what the business partners call the “hobby phase” of this horticulture venture, MacDermott and Curulewski went to Home Depot to price out what they would need to make it happen — and left with just enough to get started.
“I think we work really well as partners because I never would’ve come up with this idea; this was totally Chace’s idea, but I am very much a go-for-it kind of guy,” Curulewski said, adding that when McDermott brought him to Home Depot and wanted to start thinking about microgreens as a business venture he just said, “‘Let’s go, let’s jump in head first and do it right now.'”
Which is how, in Curulewski’s spare bedroom, Peak Microgreens was born.
“We went home that night [from Home Depot], set it up in my apartment and we would just grow one tray at a time,” Curulewski said. “We started with arugula first, and we had some problems in the beginning, but we just grew one tray over and over again until we got it perfect. And then we got broccoli, grew one tray until we got it perfect. And slowly expanded into this full menu.”
And through this, MacDermott and Curulewski became self-taught experts on microgreens: reading books, scouring YouTube and going through a lot of trial and error.
Eventually, they took their microgreens to a local chef and found their first client in The Fitz in Vail. Shortly after, The Slope Room also began purchasing their microgreens. By which point, the operation had spread from Curulewski’s spare bedroom into his living room.
“It was time to move on,” Curulewski said.
Now, the duo is growing a wide variety of microgreens from a office space meets science lab in EagleVail. Lining a row of metal carts are trays upon trays of microgreens in various stages of growth — from germination to the first sprout to the harvest-ready, two-leaf stemmed microgreen. Filling the trays are microgreens including arugula, broccoli, several radish varieties, kale, wasabi, cilantro, sunflowers, sweet peas and more.
And twice a week, they are delivering these microgreens to a host of restaurants around town including Fall Line, Matsuhisa, Up the Creek, Pepi’s, Hovey & Harrison (where customers can buy locally grown microgreens mixes) and more. Plus, over the summer, their schedule included weekly visits to the farmer’s markets in Edwards, Minturn and Dillon.
This success, while hard earned, is also still surreal. “We started with basically one Home Depot packet of seeds and now it’s taken off,” MacDermott said.
The entrepreneurial mindset
For both MacDermott and Curulewski, this business, which started from an idea, has taught them both a ton about business, entrepreneurship and going out on their own.
“I’ve always been trying to think of ideas, but this was the first one that took off and made sense,” MacDermott said. “A lot of people have ideas, good ideas, but are sometimes a little hesitant to jump in and I think it’s just so worth it. We’ve learned so much about ourselves, about business and the communication, so many different things and it’s been worth every minute.”
And while for the time being, the duo are keeping their second jobs, waiting to see what the winter brings, they’re almost ready to take the full leap.
“It’s been a struggle to get here, but at this point we’re starting to reap the benefits of that work,” Curulewski said.
For the future of Peak Microgreens, the business owners are looking forward to keep growing their business — toward more restaurants, toward home delivery, toward more customers and even toward gourmet mushrooms one day. But mostly, they’re looking forward to doing it on their own.
“We’ve had a few offers to take some investments but we really just want to do it ourselves,” MacDermott said. “We created this from nothing and for someone to come in and own part of it, we’re not really ready yet. Maybe, potentially down the road, but as far as now, we’d like to keep bootstrapping.”