I opened a specialty food market. Here's why.

Specialty food on pantry shelves

My "pantry" shelves circa March 2020

It was the second to last semester of my food studies graduate program at NYU when the Covid-19 pandemic began. I’ve always been the type of person who plans out each meal days in advance (blame it on my parents forgetting to feed me weekend lunches when I was a toddler?), and once lockdown became a reality I became even more laser-focused on making sure we had 2 weeks’ worth of food in our home at any given time. Some of the larger stores I usually shopped at became unreliable, mostly because their rigid supply chain logistics didn’t allow for any shake-ups in the system, even in the “before times.” 

I was still living in NYC (as I had been my entire life) and watched some of my favorite local restaurants, determined not to shutter their doors, transform into food markets and food delivery services. By doing this, they were able to continue making some money, support their local communities, continue supporting their suppliers, avoid food waste by selling their perishables, and even create new product lines by packaging their house-made sauces, spreads, spice blends, and frozen foods to sell to customers. 

Hunky-Depot-Brooklyn

Hunky Depot in Brooklyn, NY

Everyone’s shopping habits completely changed in 2020 (hi, eCommerce!) but all of a sudden I was ordering groceries from restaurants that I’d never heard of before. And I was ordering alcohol, wine, beer, and provisions - my best friends at the time! - directly from local wineries, breweries, and distilleries. The local food system was supporting me in a time of need when the national and global food system couldn’t. 

What does this all have to do with Golden Sage Market?

I don’t particularly enjoy starting this, my first post, talking about the pandemic. But it’s truly what inspired Golden Sage Market and its values and business model.

I had to develop a mini business plan for my food entrepreneurship class that semester, and never thinking of myself as an “entrepreneur,” I decided to write a plan based on a place I’d love to spend all of my time. A place that had wine, beer, specialty food like cheese & charcuterie, and a bar to relax at and enjoy it all...or the option to take it all home (this concept came as no surprise to anyone who knows me!). The idea flowed out of my head as none had before, and I knew this is what I had to do once I finished my degree.

At that point, I also knew I belonged in Southern California. If you must know why, I was craving sunshine, a slower pace, sunshine, amazing food producers, sunshine, bright colors, and sunshine. No knock on NYC’s food AT ALL - it’s where my love affair with food began! But there’s something about that sunshine that makes food taste (and actually grow) better.

A gorgeous date palm at Futterman Farms in Indio, CA

So there I was, in the Coachella Valley, and building a business. Because of the myriad challenges of the pandemic and my own personal finances, I had to be realistic and focus on eCommerce to get started (though I really hope to one day fulfill my brick & mortar dream!). I spent a lot of time thinking about what was most important to me, and why. Why do I care, and why would anyone else care?

I came up with a laundry list of values, that I boiled down to a few points that embody my own personal food ethos:

  • Small. I’ve always believed in quality over quantity. Someone also once told me that when you start to manufacture food products at a larger scale, the recipes turn into “formulas,” and that’s just not how I like to think of food.
  • Local (and regional). My feelings about the local/regional food system during the pandemic were even further intensified when I watched the country panic over meat shortages, yet I continued to receive pounds and pounds of pork & beef from a local meat delivery service. If you’re wondering how that was possible, this article explains it well.
  • People-first. Call me crazy, but making food accessible to all, and treating all players of the food system equitably (i.e. producers, workers, and consumers), is common sense. Which is why I work with partners who feel and do the same, and why I try really hard to keep GSM’s prices affordable.
  • Planet-friendly. This doesn’t just mean organic. To me, it means that the production of the food gives back to the land that creates it.
  • Delicious. I mean…
  • Happiness. Food has always brought me joy - thinking about it, buying it, cooking it, eating it - and I don’t ever want that to change!

These all became part of Golden Sage Market’s values, and what I use when I look for new partners, products, and opportunities. You’ll probably hear me talk a lot more about them!

Still with me?

If you’ve made it this far (thank you!), something else I believe is important for my business is food education. The food system is complicated and there’s a lot wrong with it. But there are a lot of people doing wonderful things to build a strong, sustainable food system, and I believe they should be celebrated. They’re focusing on solutions and so should we.

When I say “education” I don’t mean it in the form of lecturing you or telling you why you should or shouldn’t do certain things. That type of education doesn’t resonate with me, so I wouldn’t expect it to resonate with you. But you’ll learn about how and why these producers treat their workers equitably, or continue to use organic practices even though USDA organic certification may not be affordable, and so on.

But most importantly, I want to introduce you to some new, delicious products made by small California producers who care about people and our planet - producers who put the quality of their products before scalability. And I hope you find all of it fun!

I would love to know what you’d like to learn more about, and what producers you’d like to see GSM partner with. Feel free to drop a line in the comments, send me a DM @goldensagemarket, or email me at goldensagemarket@gmail.com.

We’re all players in the food system, and we can all spread the joy together!

3 comments

  • Your passion for the business you’ve created and the community you’re cultivating along with it is absolutely infectious, Carla! Thank you so much for sharing more about your journey and why you’re doing the incredible work that you do! I’m so looking forward to watching Golden Sage continue to bloom! :)

    Lisa Nicole Rosado
  • So exciting. Looking forward to watching Golden Sage grow …and become a go-to place for online food shopping :)

    Ashley
  • Congratulations Carla!
    I am so proud of you!
    Best,
    Jenny

    Jennifer Schiff Berg

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