Oakland’s Food Craft Institute
Helping hobbyists turn their passions into delicious businesses.
It used to be that local food products were a rarity, something passionate hobbyists made in their spare time. Now, it seems like every grocery store worth its salt stocks, say, jam that was canned in Alameda, beer that was brewed in Oakland, or even popcorn that was (seriously) popped in Concord.
How has the Bay Area morphed into this wonderland of artisanal, small-batch edibles? Certainly, the creative, passionate, food-obsessed population deserves much of the credit. But the Food Craft Institute also deserves a nod for its behind-the-scenes role in helping pump this well of foodie passion.
Founded in Oakland in 2011, the educational institution began with the specific mission of helping launch new, and foster existing, small and medium-sized food businesses, such as breweries, chocolate shops, and cafés. The founders conceived the idea in 2009 when they started to notice something new happening in the food industry.
Food Craft Institute Director Ally DeArman recounts that “2009 was seen as a year that a lot of these great pillars of the Bay Area food scene started establishing themselves; you started to see places like Blue Bottle Coffee and Magnolia Pub and Brewery coming into their own. But you’d see a lot of other small food businesses—people making whoopie pies or Korean soul food—struggling.”
More often than not, the problem wasn’t with the food but rather the business side of things, and how to navigate the bureaucratic tightrope of the food-production industry. So the Food Craft Institute’s curriculum has always devoted as much class time to practical matters—financial management, business operations, fundraising, pitching—as it has to making food. The idea, DeArman says, was to broaden the pool of successful food craft operations in the Bay Area by offering support in the form of classes, often taught by local industry leaders.
Celebrating its fifth anniversary in November, Food Craft Institute has already amassed an impressive track record. DeArman estimates that nearly 40 percent of the 200-plus students who have taken classes have either gone on to start their own food businesses or to improve existing operations. See the success for yourself by checking out some of the many East Bay businesses run by Food Craft Institute alums below.
Sam Gilbert took The Business of Beer course at Food Craft Institute back in 2013, with the idea of opening a production brewery. This past June, he launched Temescal Brewing, a production brewery/taproom/beer garden that has proved instantly popular in the hip North Oakland neighborhood. The brewery focuses on light, easy-drinking beers, such as pilsners and saisons. temescalbrewing.com.
Pop Mama Pop!
Kathleen Hackett first started making non–GMO heirloom popcorn for friends out of her Concord home. After taking the Business Intensive course at Food Craft Institute, she officially launched Pop Mama Pop! in 2012, and it now has wholesale accounts at local breweries, coffee shops, businesses, and recording studios—including Canvas and Cabernet in Walnut Creek and Epidemic Ales in Concord. Hackett plans to open a new “pop shop” near Pleasant Hill before the end of the year. popmamapop.com.
Alameda Fruit Co.
Talk about local. The “Marmalade Mamas,” aka Andrea Leal and Jennifer Crane, source only seasonal produce grown in Alameda for their house-made preserves and marmalades. They’ve ramped up production since taking business operations courses at Food Craft Institute, and their products are available for purchase online. alamedafruitco.com.
Born and raised in Indonesia, self-taught baker Samuel Butarbutar’s goal was to merge Asian flavors from his childhood into French-style pastries. A couple of years ago, he started hosting pop-ups in the East Bay, and his creations—including his signature mochi muffins—sold out so regularly that he was able to start renting commercial kitchen space at Catahoula Coffee Company in Berkeley. You can find his popular baked goods there and at several other locations around the Bay Area. facebook.com/samspatisserie.
Brown Dog Mustard Co.
For the past few years, husband-and-wife team Scott and Victoria Miller have been making whole-grain mustard from scratch using organic California vinegar and olive oil. They saw steady growth after taking the Food Craft Institute’s Business Intensive course in 2014: They moved into a new production facility in Clayton the following year, and this year, they released a new line of three different Dijons. Their mustards are carried at specialty grocery stores across the East Bay, including Diablo Foods and Berkeley Bowl. browndogmustard.com.
In time for its fifth anniversary, Food Craft Institute is moving to a new headquarters in Oakland: the second-floor space at Forage Kitchen, a coworking kitchen space for chefs and artisans. Food Craft Institute is taking the opportunity to ramp up its selection of one-day public workshops on topics such as butchery, coffee roasting, and fermentation that are designed for amateur hobbyists and hard-core professionals alike. Check the website in November for a schedule of 2017 classes. foodcraftinstitute.org/courses.