After working for eight years as a bookkeeper, Branden Janikowski of Orcutt figured out he would rather start a business selling mushrooms.
“I had always wanted to be a farmer but didn’t have enough land for vegetables,” he said. “Then I discovered I could grow mushrooms in a greenhouse, which requires much less space.
“I had been growing them in my backyard as a hobby. I’m a vegetarian and really into mushrooms.”
In 2013, Branden’s Gourmet Mushrooms was launched, and business has been booming ever since. He sells them to three restaurants — Bell’s in Los Alamos, The Spoon Trade in Grover Beach and the Hilton in Lompoc — and at three farmers markets — Saturday mornings in San Luis Obispo and Wednesday mornings and Saturday afternoons in Arroyo Grande.
He’s also a regular at Bedford Winery’s annual Mushroom Festival in Los Alamos, which is usually held in January or February, depending on the weather.
He charges $5 per basket.
“There are hundreds of different mushrooms, but I only grow 10 of them in my backyard where I built a greenhouse and in a sunroom in my house that I converted into a clean room for incubation,” said Mr. Janikowski, who was born and grew up in Santa Maria. “They are grown in sterilized sawdust and originate from different countries.”
The varieties he sells are shitake, chestnut, pioppino, lion’s mane, beech, blue oyster, black oyster, yellow oyster, king and maitake.
“Each have different tastes and textures. The pioppino is known for its intense forest flavor and soft, silky texture. The stems have a texture similar to asparagus. The chestnut has a nutty flavor, and the lion’s mane has a lobster-like flavor and texture,” he said. “Shitakes have a steak-like flavor, which is great for stir-frying or sauteing. They can all go with anything, really. It just depends on how you cook them.”
The pioppino can be cooked in almost any method, but he recommends sauteing, broiling or baking.
“The mushrooms are excellent on their own, with pastas or red meats,” said Mr. Janikowski.
His favorite is the shitake sauted in butter and eaten as is or on mashed potatoes.
“I don’t do anything complicated to them. I just saute them in butter, and I think they’re really good,” said Mr. Janikowski, who confessed that his wife, Amy, doesn’t like mushrooms.
Although mushrooms are frequently sliced before they are cooked, they can be pulled apart, too, or left whole.
“It’s not necessary to cut them,” he said.
Mr. Janikowski’s decision to change careers couldn’t have come at a better time because of the growing trend toward plant-based diets.
“Mushrooms have become more popular, too, as people learn about their medicinal properties. They’re finding how great they are for one’s health,” he said.