Neighborhood Flavor profiles the people behind the familiar restaurants, bars and food businesses of the Eastside
Echo Park -- Two fermentation-loving high school friends from Virginia have turned their love of wine into a business.
Issamu Kamide and Andrew Lardy run Wonderkwerk LA, a side hustle and creative outlet. They operate the online shop and wine company from their home in Echo Park and make their wine from all over California.
Lardy, who dropped out of graduate school in neuropsychology to study viticulture, is also Head Distiller for The Spirit Guild in the Arts District. Kamide is a Senior Brand Manager for Health-Aid Kombucha.
Here’s what Kamide and Lardy said about running their own business.
What's Wonderwerk’s story? How did it come to be?
Andrew Lardy: - I may or may not ;) have been bootlegging hard cider out of my freshman year dorm, and fermentation science slowly proved a more natural fit for me than neuropsychology research. We spent a couple years popping bottles of Corsican rosé and chasing a disco sound system called Despacio. It was such a lovely pastime that we felt we should share it. The following year (2017) we introduced Discovino Donna Rosé.
Issamu Kamide: - Donna Rosé was our first wine and our first love! But we knew we eventually wanted to keep expanding on what we were doing, exploring areas outside of wine as well, and so Wonderwerk was born.
Wonderwerk is named after an important cave in South Africa that has some of the earliest evidence of cooking - a nearly 1 million year old hearth - the first instances of humans manipulating nature for food/consumption - something that we felt connected well to the idea of fermentation and our own place in that story.
How did you decide to stay in the food/wine industry?
Andrew Lardy:- A compulsion - I feel empty if I’m not capturing and toying with flavor and aroma.
Issamu Kamide:- Out of all of our other ideas, this was the one that took off and we’re most happy doing.
What is the best part of owning your own business?
Andrew Lardy:- You can be the strange you wish to see in the world.
Issamu Kamide:- Being able to be as creative as we want, putting things out there that have our stamp on them or are expressions of our personality, way of thinking, philosophies. Seeing our creations come to life and lots of people digging on them as well. A lot of those “what if we … ?” moments, you know?
What is the most challenging part?
Issamu Kamide:- The part where you try to grow and actually run the business, that part.
What's your favorite memory since opening Wonderwerk?
Andrew Lardy:- Picking a single favorite is a big ask! We’re inherently inclusive. Two of our favorites are pouring our wines at Chainsaw (Echo Park) and opening night at Tilda (Echo Park) - we love our friends and family above all.
Issamu Kamide:- All the new adventures and new buds along the way, kind of the point really! Everyone we work with for labels, for photography, whatever, it’s all friends who are willing to give their labor and time to help make an idea come to life, it’s really amazing to know that kinship and energy is there. Y'all know who you are and we ‘preciate y'all so much.
What is your favorite wine at your shop? Can you describe it?
Andrew Lardy:- Mid-fermentation Riesling, aka sturm. There is an ethereal aromatic fraction that is lost to the atmosphere by the end of fermentation and does not make it to bottle. I can’t find real words to describe it, but I can say it’s a sappy perfume of electric jasmine, lemon tea, and perfect love. It’s off-menu and we legally can’t sell it; you’ll have to come to our harvest parties.
Issamu Kamide:- ENZO. Sparkling Freisa. Sneakily tasted a bunch of Italian somms on it and they couldn’t believe we made that here in good ol’ California. And Free Your Mind, of course, the wine that let us stop thinking so rigidly and caring about what others were doing. The wine that let us get loose with it.
What is something you wish new customers knew about Wonderwerk before they buy from you?
Issamu Kamide:- That Wonderwerk is for everyone, it’s disco, it’s funk, it’s a good time. Everything we put out we try to make playful and well-executed.
Can you share a wine tip or recipe for the readers?
Issamu Kamide:- Always keep a bottle of bubbles chilled and ready to go, helps you stay positive or have something to look forward to, you never know when you’ll need to celebrate.