Sweet on Local
With a mission to support small farms, Salmonberry Goods places pastries into the farm-to-table movement.
STORY BY CHRISTIE BRYDON
PHOTOS BY NELLE CLARK
Order a coffee in just about any boutique Seattle coffee shop, and you’ll likely hear about the origin and tasting notes of the blend. But ask about the food, and you’ll get a vague gesture towards a pile of pastries.
Salmonberry Goods co-founders David Rothstein and Alex Johnstone weren’t satisfied with that discrepancy. “You can tell me at what elevation this bean was grown, but you don’t know who baked this scone?” Alex laughs.
David and Alex have roots that trace back to high school, where the long-time friends bonded over an interest in environmentalism and small businesses. They first started Convoy Coffee, which served coffee from local roasters at a mobile bicycle cart at farmers markets. After opening a brick-and-mortar location in Pioneer Square, they wanted to embrace the local economy in a new way: through food.
That led to their launch of Salmonberry Goods, a farm-to-table pastry company with a mission of supporting small farms. Due to the founders’ experience at farmers markets, the menu wrote itself.
For Salmonberry Goods, it’s not enough to feature local blueberries in a muffin. True localism goes much broader: flour from local mills, dairy from small creameries, even sweeteners by way of Skagit Valley Malting.
Every business has the power to vote with its dollars, and it’s a power that Salmonberry doesn’t take lightly.
“By choosing to neglect sourcing, you’re slowly slipping away from small producers and farmers that give care to make a quality product,” says David. “If we can sustain them, then we can continue to improve the product in process and ingredients.”
With a naturally limited market — both in terms of region and season — Salmonberry’s menu takes fresh inventory and some critical thinking.
“It’s us interpreting what is needed by coffee shops, going into our list of farmers, getting creative to see what we can make with what we have,” says Alex. When he wanted to create a brownie, for instance, he pulled from his list to choose Lynden, Washington’s Holmquist Hazelnuts and Oregon’s Jacobsen sea salt. To help with the process, Salmonberry hired Carley Rose, its first pastry chef, whose background includes Caffe Ladro, Starwood Hotels, and Tom Douglas.
The focus is on building and maintaining relationships with farmers. “If you’re providing regular, repeat business to small farms, and not opportunistic seasonal highlights” — like pumpkin only in the fall — “you’re fostering financial independence,” says David. “If you don’t do it regularly, how can they support themselves?”
Salmonberry Goods sources bacon from Washington’s Skagit River Ranch, a certified humane and organic farm a couple hours north of Seattle. When the team looked to add a peanut butter cookie, they chose barley malt, also from Skagit, and paired it with peanuts from CB’s Nuts, based in Kingston.
Sometimes, the ingredients come before the product idea. Take the granola: When David and Alex learned that Starvation Alley, a Washington cranberry farm, didn’t have a use for its spent cranberries (the cranberry skins leftover after the juicing process), they began experimenting with recipes. Dried cranberries now provide a tart accent in Salmonberry’s granola, as well as a seasonal cranberry-orange bread.
Alex Mondau, Starvation Alley co-founder and CFO, applauded the innovative spirit. The company had planned to someday develop dried cranberries, but David jumped in early. “It was small business owner to small business owner, saying, ‘I’m not ready to put this onto the market, but you’re ready to experiment with it,’” says Mondau.
He believes that the impact is ultimately much larger than a single farm or business. “If we don’t support the local economy, then we as consumers have fewer choices, and some of those choices don’t have our best interests in mind.”
Alex says he’d like to see an industry shift towards prioritizing ingredients over procedure. “Even some of the highest-held bakeries don’t use nice flour — they’re all about the process. Why aren’t you using the amazing local flour that we have?”
But with small coffee shops, it’s not just an issue of artisanship, but of affordability. Running an efficient pastry program can be expensive, not to mention wasteful.
That’s why Salmonberry Goods now enables cafes to be their own suppliers. They provide coffee shops with equipment and product to become bakeries of their own, rather than relying on larger distributors. The process allows the coffee shops to have direct control over the pastries’ quantity and freshness, and the company provides ongoing training so café owners can continue to serve Salmonberry Goods and maintain quality.
Anchored Ship Coffee Bar, located in Ballard, became the first coffee shop to sign up as a supplier of Salmonberry Goods. Owner Sheila Mulvihill had been frustrated by the wastefulness of wholesale delivery, which often has high minimums and costs. Now she can choose what she serves and know that the products are supporting local farms.
It means a lot to a small business like Anchored Ship. “It’s so smart, because you can control it. There’s no waste.” And, she adds, “I have more of a profit than I had before.”
It’s clear that Salmonberry Goods struck a chord with many. The challenge in bringing localism to the mainstream is ongoing education about what it means—and why it’s so crucial.
“We’re rising to the challenge of creating things that people will love,” says Alex, “while also bringing them closer to their farmers and letting them vote with their dollar.”
Christie Brydon is a Seattle-based writer, California native, relentless vegetarian, and coffee enthusiast.