Ellijay Mushrooms Innovates With Lion’s Manes, Shiitakes

Ellijay Mushrooms founder Howard Berk tells us how mushrooms are being used in bourbons and whiskeys along with being turned into creme brûlée toppings.

by Phillip Mlynar
PHOTO: Ellijay Mushrooms

Howard Berk has deep mushroom roots. Early on, the Georgia-based Berk experimented with growing mushrooms on toilet paper and phone books, before turning his interest in mycology into the 2 Fun Guys home-growing kits.

Now, Ellijay Mushrooms has become the next stage in Berk’s journey. Situated at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Ellijay, Georgia, the venture aims to supply eye-catching shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms to chefs, stores and home cooks alike.

Taking a moment out from mushroom duties, we spoke to Berk about the appeal of mushroom powder and the demands of trying to be a mushroom genie. We also touched on the trend of using shiitake mushrooms in bourbon.

DIY Mushroom Growing Trials


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“Ever since I guess when my kids were younger, I’ve always liked growing different mushrooms,” recalls Berk. “I’ve learned how to grow them on toilet paper, phone books and cardboard—kinda just learning about mycology at that time. You can grow oyster mushrooms on phone books pretty easily.”

Building From the Ground Up

A long-standing interest in gardening led to Berk helping to install a garden in his kids’ school. “That kind of started my real passion for it,” explains Berk as he looks back over his farming adventure to date.

“I helped start a farmer’s market here in Georgia 13 years ago, met my first mushroom partner there and created 2 Fun Guys,” he continues. “Those are the kits where you take the plugs and inoculate it. To make a long story short, five years ago my new business partner found me through 2 Fun Guys and we started Ellijay Mushrooms to supply restaurants, grocery stores and people like you and me.”

The Mushroom Genie

Early on, Berk says that “figuring out the timings and the scalings and logistics” was the trickiest part of launching Ellijay Mushrooms.

“I kinda had no clue what was really going on,” he admits. “So we kinda just dived in head first and learned trial by fire. How do you keep up with production and guess what your customers want to order ahead of time? It’s like being a mushroom genie, so to speak. You’re trying to predict the future!”

The Joy of Lion’s Mane

When it comes to the most distinctive mushrooms that Berk grows, he says lion’s manes always catch the eye first. “We’re just in a big phase for lion’s manes right now. Then the second one is our shiitakes because they’re so thick and meaty and look very plump. Most people just see their shiitakes at the store being flat and having no texture.”

Mushroom Bourbon!

“The recent trend is a lot of people are using our shiitakes with bourbon, whiskey or rum,” says Berk when asked about innovative ways he’s seen chefs incorporate his mushrooms into menus. “We’re seeing a big change in the last six months of using them for spirits and then pairing them with the mushrooms they’re cooking for meals. So we’re playing with bringing a shiitake spirit to the market.”

“Every chef does something different and creative,” adds Berk. “Like they might make a shiitake bacon or bring it down and dry out the shiitakes and use a powder to make a creme brûlée topping.”

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