Ever wish you had a trusted food friend? Someone you can call up at any given point and ask, “What do I do with these fiddlehead ferns?” Portland-based FoodShed, owned by food professional Brenda Crow, is sort of an online version of that friend.
While she certainly has had her hand in kitchens, butchery, baking and culinary school, Brenda’s role in food is a little different. Today, she is more of the messenger of sensational food than the maker. Her site, which sells everything from shallot confit with red wine to Spella coffee, has a level of sincerity to it. Regularly publishing recipes she creates at home with the site’s products, each item includes a backstory of its small-batch producer and suggestions for preparation. And the best part is the lack of sales pitch within the writing—it’s all honest, true Brenda.
Q: So, what’s lead you here?
A: Wow, where do I begin? I was in Europe for three years – Spanish major – and that’s where I really had an epiphany on food. I grew up in Portland, so good food wasn’t entirely new to me. But Europe really has those regional gems, everyone knows them. It’s not a movement there – everyone, rich or poor, eats well. The simplicity struck me. I went to culinary school in Italy, and when I got home specialty food was just getting popular online. Online commerce had just started. I had no intention of getting into that originally – it was actually my Dad’s idea. He asked me, why don’t you become the person who finds food?
So, I became a specialty foods buyer. I went to San Francisco in the nineties and worked for one the first online food merchants called Tavolo. I was in San Francisco for five years surrounded by truly inspiring specialty food gurus. And then, like many, it went out of business. But I continued to work in specialty food from every angle. I worked every niche – I was a retail buyer for Dean & DeLuca, I worked on sales end at Manicaretti in Oakland, went to culinary school for two more years, I was a bread baker at Tartine Bakery, and I came back to Portland and worked at Nicky USA – I was the local meat girl for awhile. (laugh) But specialty foods have always been my passion and I’ve managed to find my way into every niche of the industry.
Q: Were there any specific products or people that inspired you to make the site?
A: I’d say my Dad. He always taught me to dream big and was a great sounding board for all of my ideas. He taught me to think unconventionally and showed me so many opportunities.
Q: With sites like Gilt Taste and Foodzie around, FoodShed is in good company these days. What do you think makes your site stand out?
A: I think FoodShed has a distinct perspective – specialty agriculture – and Portland has such a different perspective outside of San Francisco and New York. As you know, we’ve got a rich, really different food scene here. But it’s low-key. Gilt and Foodzie are both great sites, and I do think there’s room for everybody.
Q) Any drawbacks to being an online purveyor?
A: Technology can make things difficult in terms of the site. You know, I’m not a programmer, and I know a lot more than I ever thought I would, but there’s still a lot I don’t, and unfortunately sometimes it can be a hindrance on small businesses.
Q: Are there any new features you’re adding in the near future?
A) We’re in the midst of a re-design. We’re hoping to make the site a little more user friendly, but overall the same look and feel. We’re trying to capture what we’re doing in terms of business: helping people discover American made products. It’s always been our goal to be a place to discover—using recipes and stories—what exists in our American food shed. It was always so important to focus on Western Europe, and it wasn’t until about five years ago that I realized we had a massive, exciting hand-crafted food tied to specific places.
*Photo credit: Brenda Crow