Those of you who spend time at the kitchen, may have started seeing this month’s entrepreneur feature around lately. Dan Lipow is not only a unique entrepreneur with an incredible story, but he is Garden State Kitchen’s first full-time tenant! Dan recently set up his business The Foraged Feast, in one of the front spaces in our building. Keep reading to find out more about the newest addition to the GSK family, and make sure to say hi next time you’re around.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today! Can you please start telling us who you are and what your business is?
I’m Dan Lipow and my business is called The Foraged Feast. We sell wild mushrooms, cultivated mushrooms, wild and unusual greens, nuts, fruits, berries, and all sort of other non-standard foods. We have seasonal products like ramps, fiddleheads ferns, and edible flowers that are only out for two weeks in the spring, to morel mushrooms that we’re picking now or that we’re bringing in from other places.
So you pick your products and also buy from other places?
Yes, we pick some and we bring in from other foraging groups. On the west coast there’s a much more cohesive foraging network. I have relationships with a few of them who ship me regular shipments of what is available at the moment there, which differs from what we’re getting here. Here we do most of our foraging on private land. I forge relationships with farms and landowners to forage on their field edges, their woodlots, and in their backwater areas. They’re not using this land and they have untapped resources.
Do you forage on private lands because there is different vegetation there than you would find if you just went into the reservation, or because there are laws about foraging on public land?
Foraging on public lands depends on who owns the land. City, county, state, and federal rules are all different. But when I’m foraging on private land, I’m paying the farmer for a product and we form that business relationship. Sometimes I’ll teach them what they have on their land, and they may even be interested in being paid a little more to go out and pick it for me.
How did you get into foraging?
I came into it from the food perspective. I was a photographer in New York for 20 years, traveling the world taking pictures, but I was always eating and cooking as I went. I would bring home ingredients that were unknown in New York. I was always searching for flavor and ingredients and that led to foraging.
How long have you had your business?
The first farmers markets I did were under a different company name, but when I got serious I rebranded and started The Foraged Feast in 2016.
Is the Foraged Feast going to grow? Where do you see it going from here?
Moving my business into Garden State Kitchen has already made it possible to grow. It’s a really comfortable environment and the community of chefs and artisans is inspiring! With the new space I am able to better serve my existing clients as well as add on new and bigger clients. I would also like to start producing some things that are value-added products which I was not able to do before in just a warehouse setting. For example, I could make a mushroom frittata or a mushroom soup that we can serve, ready to eat. They are ready to go and display the perfect expression of what these ingredients can be. The great thing is that people can buy the ingredients at the same time.
What is your favorite or least favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
As a photographer I’ve always been the sole proprietor, it has always been my own business. Because I’ve had my own business forever, I feel like I don’t even know what I don’t know. Most people who start their own business later in life as a second career and maybe come from a corporate job, they go and sort of figure their business all out. They outline it and make a full business plan. For me it’s always been much more organic, I’m a lot looser than that. As a result, I’m not always as efficient as I should be, especially at business development. So for me that’s the hardest part.
My favorite part is my freedom, I get to choose what I’m going to do. If that means that at this time of year I’m up at 6am and collapsing at home at 9 or 10 at night because it’s just been a non-stop day, and a very physical non-stop, that’s okay, because for me that’s worth it. It’s the freedom and it’s also the interaction. I enjoy sharing and teaching people about these ingredients, and that’s always been part of it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
I guess if it is a young person, then find an older mentor who really seems to be running a tight ship, and model yourself after them. For everyone else, I’m certainly not following a straight path and so I make my own life more difficult sometimes by doing that. In looking back, I would say learn how to work smart from the get-go.
What does success look like to you?
Success looks like a really viable business that supports you, your family, and your workers, and allows you to still enjoy life. For me, success is not static.
Who are your culinary inspirations?
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of the River Cottage in England and River Cottage Cookbook, and a meat cookbook, and a whole series of little mini books. He’s certainly an inspiration. Francis Mallmann from Argentina who is one of the world’s preeminent outdoor open fire chefs, and I have always loved that style of cooking. My Inspirations run many places. To a chef in Tokyo in a sushi restaurant that I went to every day for two weeks when I was there for work. At one point he realized I was on the expense account and then it was just open game. He taught me everything about fish and I tasted fish products that I’ve never experienced again.
Do you have a quote or mantra you live by?
I’m part of a dinner Club here in New Jersey and its run by this fantastic entrepreneur, architect, food guru, and all-around amazing guy. His slogan that he started that dinner club with is “food makes friends”.