|New Zealand is a lot of beautiful things. I came to learn about the origin of our grass-fed beef, lamb and venison, and was equally swept away by the people who produce it. The best meat in the world is raised on New Zealand’s vast grassy pastures as are some of the most hospitable, gracious and progressive people on the planet: the Absoloms, the Crosses and the Hore family.|
|New Zealand is a place that has strong roots in heritage and tradition but is leading the world in producing top quality sustainable meat. It’s a place where ranchers care for their livestock the way their grandfathers did, while implementing a highly sophisticated meat quality program.|
|New Zealand ranchers see the synergies between profitability, animal welfare and environmental stewardship. They walk that triple-bottom-line just as well as sustainability consultants talk it. The beautiful thing about New Zealand ranchers is that the triple bottom line is a way of life, instead of a corporate initiative. They may not have ever even heard of the term triple bottom line. It’s just natural and sensible to them.|
|They are environmental stewards because they appreciate a pure environment and because they are protecting it for their children. Almost every rancher tells a story about being the 3rd or 4th or 5th generation raising animals on their land and how they are holding it in trust for future generations. They truly care for their livestock not just because it enriches them monetarily, but also because it fulfills them to have healthy herds and because healthy cattle grow big and fast. They raise their animals in idyllic environments. Doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive to them.|
|New Zealand is a land of ranchers who work the land today but also have an eye to the future. And Silver Fern Farms is the glue that holds it all together. Silver Fern is a cooperative of farmers, an enormous co-op to be certain, with 16,000 farmer-owners. Silver Fern is developing a highly sophisticated “Eating Quality” program that is designed to take their already high standards to the next level. They have an elaborate system that involves tasting panels and the ability to tie the meat quality to on-farm practices, genetics and processing technique (the three things that play a big part in meat quality). They track metrics that begin with the animals’ birth and trace it to the steaks that taste testers eat. This revolutionary program essentially merges the technology of 2013 with the tried-and-true best practices of 1913 to determine how to elevate the quality of their meat.|
|Silver Fern doesn’t just see the future, they are creating it. Their level of technological and marketing sophistication is decades ahead of their competitors. And that’s just one of the reasons why we are proud to sell their product in the US.|
|In upcoming posts, I will talk about some ranchers in particular, but the story would be incomplete without talking about some of the people at Silver Fern. On our two week tour, we spent most of our time with Glen McLennan (left) and Grant Howie (right). Glen takes care of our account. Ask Glen anything about animal husbandry, production, markets and he’s got the answer. And he knows what he is talking about. He’s a soft-spoken guy that’s a true professional.|
|Grant is part of the visionary team at Silver Fern that is elevating their business from a commodity producer into the new gold standard of quality and sustainability. Business school scholars should come here to see how the value chain and triple bottom line pervades their culture. Everyone I talked to at Silver Fern from members of the executive team to people working at the processing plant displayed sophisticated knowledge about their entire value chain in addition to their obvious expertise with their specific role in that chain. It is so abundantly clear that Grant and his colleagues are implementing a true value chain that produces the finest beef, lamb and venison in the world by connecting all of the dots from genetics, husbandry and butchery to packaging and marketing. Silver Fern is a near-army of intelligent, thoughtful people focused on putting the best possible sustainable steak on your plate. And they are excellent hosts. We are proud to offer their product and we look forward to the future with them.|
I AM IN THE MOOD TO FIND NEW FOOD PRODUCTS.
Look at me, screaming it! It’s a good thing I am in the mood because my first quarter is booked: New Zealand in January; Brooklyn in February; and Japan in March. That’s about 5 weeks of travel with a nearly singular objective: eat and scout, scout and eat. And I’ll still be the scrawniest bastard in the room!
Someone just asked me about my criteria for finding new food products. My initial reaction is rather unthoughtful: I don’t know, whatever I feel like, whatever is delicious. Realizing that answer to be insufficient, I thought more and realized that I’ve been scouting since my father walked me through every meat counter in sight. There’s a tremendous amount to the answer.
I’m sure that I could make my selection criteria into a neat little flow diagram. After all, I did to go business school and law school. But that’s boring. Bringing foods back to my tasting panel at my whim is much more fun. This is probably what my brain sounds like as I wander a market:
No. No. Oh, that’s disgusting. No. No, thank you. Yeah, pass on that one. Ew. Oooh, finally… a gem!
Finding distinctive specialty foods is a needle-in-a-haystack affair. That’s why your local retailer orders everything off a distributor’s catalog or two… it is HARD. Even at farmers markets and upscale retail shops, most of the stuff is not very distinctive. I do know that only 20% of the products that I bring back pass our tasting panel. I’d guess that I only bother to bring back 5% of the products that I consider … and that’s from products that I find at farmers markets and upscale grocers, a very high-quality sample. I’m not afraid to deny the fact that while I like to think that I’m fairly humble, when it comes to selecting new food products I am about as judgy as it gets.
So, here’s what I’m looking for: I’m looking for distinctive products, things you have never tasted before. I want uber-high-quality products, pure products, minimally manipulated products. I don’t really care that much about price because I know that a good product costs money to make and if the maker can’t make money, then he won’t make another batch. Everybody’s gotta eat. At the same time, it can’t be prohibitively expensive otherwise people won’t buy it. I want a clear flavor profile. I want pure ingredients, I want a short ingredient list. I want it as natural and sustainable and “organic” as possible. I want it made in small batches. I want to buy direct from the producer and I want to shake his hand when I meet him at the farmers market. I want all of the things that any progressive eater wants. I know that I am not going to always get them all, but I want as many as possible. Delicious is #1 though. On the production side, I want consistency, I want a producer that is easy to work with and a producer that will work with us. That’s the basics, but there are so many other small criteria.
Off to New Zealand…
Check this out. A temperature recorder rode in with the first pallet of meat to the retail shop.
I am so excited that our retail signs are in. It’s more like a billboard on the side of the shop, with visibility a quarter mile down Elliott Ave! They still need to put in lights and raised letters and signs on the other two sides of the building … but the big sign is in and I am pumped!
On Tuesday we officially christened the Marx Foods retail store with a Friends & Family party. It was great to show everyone our new shop!
Outside Looking In:
Inside Looking Out:
Of course, we aren’t just starting a new retail endeavor, we’re launching about a hundred new products! We had 35-40 of them out for people to try. Here are some of our new caramels, jams and spreads.
The pistachio cream appeared to be a universal favorite….people kept tasting it again and again;)
Our new hot sauces collection generated a lot of discussion as people argued over which one they liked best. Each of the four we had open offered very different flavor profiles, so there was something for everyone.
To make sure nobody went thirsty, Katie mixed up three signature cocktails featuring tart cherry grenadine, elderflower syrup, and yuzu juice, plus fresh sodas using our new lovage syrup, sarsaparilla syrup & hibiscus syrup.
Come check us out at 144 Western Ave W. We’re open 11-7 weekdays and 10-3 on Saturdays.
It’s been a busy week around here, thanks to some great reviews:
Seattle Magazine’s Allison Scheff wrote a nice roundup of some of our new products. Anyone who mentions Allison’s story while in the shop will be invited into our test kitchen to sample all of the items that she wrote about.
The Queen Anne View blog’s Laura Fonda wrote a great story. She touched on many of the things that I think make us distinct. Check out her story here. We certainly want to serve the entirety of Seattle, but we are particularly excited to get to know our Queen Anne neighbors. Our neighborhood might just be going through a renaissance. Come see us!
Thrillist Seattle also stopped by and liked what he saw.
And, Ronald Holden is at it again with this great story on Crosscut.
My mom is going to hate Surly Gourmand’s review. My introduction to Surly Gourmand was when he left a comment on this blog post. I was thinking: “wow, this chick has some serious dick envy.” It turns out that Surly is a man, a man comfortable enough with his sexuality that he admits his desire to lick our butternut squash oil off of Mike Tyson or a dog (to be fair, he also wants to lick it off your mom – he likes our butternut squash oil that much). This guy has tasted it all. One can assume from his review of our shop that he knows the decadence of what “angels fucking” tastes like and he’s also tasted the dregs: “a stale muffin that rolled around on the floor of a Penzey’s”.
I think his review is right on the money, except for when it comes to panforte. That might have been my fault. I started our panforte tasting with a flavor that is dusted with spices that are very strong. I can see why Surly imagined them to resemble something from Penzey’s floor. I obviously agree with his raves and I also agree with his assessment of our macaron mixes as being the most ridiculous thing we sell. I’m not being defensive, but want to explain my rationale: At our tasting panel, my guest panelists told me that entry-level bakers would appreciate the accessibility of the product since good macarons apparently are dependent on exacting measurements. I can definitely see what he is saying though — $16 is a lot of money for a small quantity of inexpensive ingredients. I won’t buy it either and I get it at cost. I figured that getting him drunk and stoned would get me a perfect 10 review, but I’ll take his 7.5 out of 10 and I definitely look forward to his return.
Also, we are very proud to have been mentioned by Mark Bittman in The New York Times Magazine as a trusted source for dried mushrooms in his superb story on how to use dried wild mushrooms. Bon Appetit’s December issue also included three of our dried chilies in their roundup of 50 essential pantry items and included our panforte (a “fruitcake puck” according to surly) in their roundup of Gifts that Wrap Themselves.
It’s been a good couple weeks of media exposure. I’m so grateful. Thanks to all for the warm welcome.
We are so excited to get this specialty shop open. We’ve given a couple journalists a sneek peak and
two three great stories just went live.
Hanna Raskin’s (@hannaraskin) Seattle Weekly article has some great coverage of how we’ve found all our new specialties. When she asked me whether I thought that Seattle artisans would be upset because we’ll be featuring out of town artisans (in addition to plenty of local ones), my first reaction was that I hope that Seattle’s artisans send me samples if they feel that way. Our shop is quality-forward, but if any Seattle products are as good as what I have on my shelves I will put my existing inventory on sale to blow it out and immediately replace it with with a local product. That’s a guarantee. Bring it, Pacific Northwest!
Glenn Drosendahl (@gdrose) provides a great overview of where we came from, who we are, and where we’re hoping to go in his Puget Sound Business Journal article. Check out his article for some information on how we’ll be integrating our online commerce with our brick & mortar shop. Our goal is to bring our website to life and simultaneously bring our rich recipe and technique content into the shop for an enhanced shopping experience.
Ronald Holden (@ronaldholden) over at Eater calls our new store “A Manifesto for Serious Seattle Cooks” in his article of the same name, saying “…Marx has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, starting with a unique array of “specialty” meats not previously available to home cooks (elk, venison, bison, boar, kangaroo, poussin, poulet rouge, squab, quail, pheasant).” Check it out!
More info to come soon… Oh, and if you live in Seattle, come see us next week because we’ll be open starting on Monday 11/26 from 11-7. Happy Thanksgiving!
Everybody around here is so nice and fun and smart and delicious. It’s so great to come to work with such a wonderful staff.
Seattle’s foodies are in for a treat. Very soon, you all will have the best retail team in the business. My great staff is going to help you learn about ingredients, plan menus, sample products and special order whatever food product you haven’t been able to find in Seattle.
I’m not one for hyperbole or exaggeration or hype mongering. I believe in my core that when we open our Seattle retail shop doors on 11/26, that we are going to offer one of the most empowering, informative and delicious food shopping experiences.
Katy, Katie & Veronica were training on our new POS system on Friday. For some reason, I just love this picture. I think my staff is wonderful. And I think you are going to like them a lot too.
Our retail roots are online, so our Seattle retail concept was dreamed through a digital lens. It’s being implemented that way too. Our retail shop will have a home page and a masthead and interactivity.
In that spirit, we endeavored: to leverage all of the content we have built over 5 years; to integrate technology in a useful (and hopefully not gratuitous) way to enhance the shopping experience; and to bring visual fluidity into a typically unchanging retail environment.
We can change our website design at our whim, but how do we incorporate change and changing art into our physical retail shop? How do we showcase the artists that we have right here where our retail shop will be?
Stretching across the top of the shop walls is a masthead composed of big chalkboards. It will be a place to create changing seasonal and contextual food art. Ryan came up with our original concept: a seasonal timeline that stretches from now until the Spring… and then we’ll pull it down and design another chalk mural soon after the New Year. Matt has been working on it for about a week, it’s about half way done, and it is coming out beautifully!!!
Check it out! More on our digital integration later…
Yup. It’s finally happening. 18 months of planning. We have tasted thousands of products. We have endlessly brainstormed how to integrate our online presence and digital content into a classic retail environment. We are having a ton of fun trying to take it to the next level, especially since cocktails are de rigeur for tastings. But, it’s a lot of work too. Thursday we selected 38 items out of the 127 we tasted, which is a higher ratio than normal. It’s more exhausting than you would think, but I’m not complaining. It’s a dream job. And, hopefully in a few weeks our dream store will become your reality, Seattle!
Food Coma!!! Or, maybe it’s from the cocktails, hehe.
Having Autumn in the kitchen with her patterned aprons, pink-streaked hair and adorable nature made this past year of photo shoots a blast (not to mention she is extremely talented chef). Here she is saying good bye with a kobe tomahawk steak for her chupacabras.
Sadly for us, she is leaving not only us, but the entire country! She and her family are packing up and moving to Thailand for her husband’s work and the opportunity to feed her children all kinds of crazy shit that you won’t find here. Autumn, you will be missed. Whenever you come home, please also come back to our kitchen.
We have about 2 months to add over 130 new items to our store. A tall order, I know…so we’d love your recommendations. Any great local goods in your area? Hidden gems that deserve national spotlight? Throw some ideas our way!
We’ve done 2 rounds of product tasting this summer and we’ve added roughly 55 new items so far, but we still have a ways to go.
Leave a comment or send us an email if you know of some items that should not be missed!
Also, I will be in the Bay Area, Sonoma, NYC, Denver and all over WA state this month scouting for some gems. Let me know if you have any tips in those areas.