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Specialty shops—from cheese to spices and everything in between—find a home in Newport Beach, where locals welcome quality and diversity.

By Frances Nguyen

NBM_23_Specialty_Vin Goat_By Jody Tiongco-57Though the digital age easily accommodates a life in the fast lane, the current trend in food is reverting back to the days
of the “slow churn,” when culinary artisans brought to market a single, cultivated product that showcased their passion and skill. Now, with the growing popularity of the slow food movement, the public’s increased consideration for what goes in its food, and more people interested in home cooking than ever before, specialty shops are stepping out from behind the shadow of grocery store chains to claim their place in the sun. These local shops are serving up their art, passion and expertise, and the community in Newport is responding with a warm welcome.

More Than Dressing

Matthew Pour, owner and founder of Olive Oil and Beyond (OO&B) on Balboa Island, has been in the business of international trade for more than 25 years, and for the past six years he has housed the country’s largest selection of handcrafted (unblended) varieties of extra-virgin olive oils under one roof. Beyond the purpose of introducing an “olive bar” to the U.S. market, he says, “Our main goal has been to educate the public and create awareness about these varieties and the health benefits of our products.” His shop sources products from artisan growers around the world. Extensive research is conducted to bring the community a range of pure oils from traditional production processes. OO&B’s oils can be traced to their exact variety, region, time of harvest and method of extraction, and Matthew even takes care to know the management of each grove. “We travel to visit our producers at least four times a year to show our respect and to collaborate on new products,” he says. The shop also offers authentically aged vinegars, honeys, sea salt, pastas, tapenades, ceramics and fabrics, all selected with the same attention and respect for artisan production. To allow clients more opportunity to explore, understand and savor its products, the OO&B Club is a place where members can access rare and limited products on a quarterly basis and product specials on a seasonal basis. Olive oil tastings may also be organized for both private and public functions. (888-654-8968; oliveoilandbeyond.com)

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The Village Monger 

May 5 marks the second anniversary of Vin Goat, the vision of business partners Hans-Erich Vogel and John Bennett to bring an epicurean art from overseas to the small seaside town. “I love the small-town feel,” Hans-Erich says. It’s like a village here … but one of the things this area didn’t have was a good cheese shop. [So] that’s what we decided to put together.” The shop carries more than 200 cheeses from around the world, selected with a focus on family owned, traditionally made and farm fresh varieties.

“There are no factory-produced cheeses here. They’re the real thing,” he assures. In August of last year, the shop began to carry wines, using a similar guiding concept: small batch, small production, family owned. Their wines, along with their line of “cupboard essentials,” were chosen with the cheeses as the central focus. The community’s reaction to this unique niche shop, thus far, has been enthusiastic. “People love cheese,” Hans-Erich says. “There are so many great stories behind each of the cheeses, and they love to hear about it. Sometimes when you go into cheese shops, it can get a little snooty and arrogant. We want to be the place where people can come in, ask those ‘stupid’ questions and feel comfortable in exploring the cheeses.”

Customers are invited to engage with the shop, as some of its best products were found through customer recommendations. For the novice, Vin Goat offers evening pairing classes about three times a month with subjects such as “big bold reds and cheeses that pair with them.” In further effort to share its passions, Vin Goat also organizes catering, with cheese or charcuterie boards for gatherings of up to 250 people, cheese stations headed by one of the shop’s mongers for any event, and gift baskets. (949-673-2200; vingoat.com)Spicing Things Up 

The franchising of the original Savory Spice Shop in Denver, Colo., to Newport Beach is somewhat of a love story, describes owner Laura Shute. “I went to Denver, visiting a friend, and she took me to the original shop—and I just fell in love with it. I kept calling and ordering my spices from them, so when they finally decided to franchise, my partner Randy and I decided to jump onboard.”

Open since November 2010, the shop stocks a dizzyingly wide variety of products—more than 400 herbs and spices and 150 blends—and jars everything in-store. A full processing room is located in the back of the shop, where each product is jarred, labeled and micromanaged for quality. None of the products have any additives or preservatives. Customers are invited to taste products for flavor before buying, and smaller amounts are available for purchase.

Of competing against large markets, Laura says, “Our product is so fresh, our prices are generally better, you can get smaller amounts, and we just have so much more to offer. The spice selection at a traditional grocery store has shrunk to just the bare bones. There are a lot of spices that people love to use but can’t find at the [grocery] store anymore, and you don’t know how long something’s been sitting there.” For these reasons, the shop has built a loyal clientele that extends as far as San Diego and Riverside.  (949-717-7776; savoryspiceshop.com)

Family Fish Market 

Terese Pearson has been wading on the dock of Pearson’s Port since she was 8 years old. She was childhood friends with her now-husband Tommy Pearson, and has watched the business grow since Tommy’s parents started Pearson’s Port 42 years ago. After her father-in-law’s passing in 1998, it was natural for her and Tommy to inherit the market. Tommy is a trapper and hook-and-line fisherman, and the main supplier to the business. Terese runs the market as an intimate family business; both daughters Haley, 18, and Carley, 16, work there, and her brother-in-law Chuck helps a few days a week.

Possibly the last floating fish market in the state, the team at Pearson’s Port ensure its survival by sticking to what they know: fish and family. “We are the Nordstrom of fish markets,” Terese says. “I know the quality of product that we provide is a very high quality of seafood. When I bring something in from somewhere else, the quality has to be superior because it has to be as if it came in on my husband’s boat. … We handle every single piece, filleting it ourselves.” Every visitor, from every walk of life, is sure to receive the family treatment. “There’s lots of hugging and handshakes. This is a family business, and it’s not just our family; it’s the families that come here.” (949-675-6771)
IMG_6229Fisher Direct

The Dory Fishing Fleet, founded in 1891, stands as a lasting testament to the early heritage of Newport Beach. A cooperative of five independently contracted “families,” the fleet embarks in the early hours of the morning to fish local, Southern California waters, and bring to market their catch by 8 a.m. The tradition that has survived since the fleet’s inception is fresh seafood from the fisherman to the customer, bypassing any import or distribution.

Steve Escobar represents one of the five crews and has been with Dory Fishing Fleet for nearly his entire career as a fisherman. He describes the concept behind the fleet as fisherman direct: “There’s no middle man—it’s all fresh, local and there’s no added transportation into it. … It’s like a farmers market of seafood.” The fleet serves a diverse community that stretches as far Salt Lake City and Las Vegas to sell the sea’s yield: anything from stone crab to halibut, lobster, snails, octopus and sea urchin. “The goal is to have long-term, healthy and sustainable fisheries,” Steve adds, furthering the idea of the fleet’s cooperative effort.

Newport’s Dory Fishing Fleet represents a longstanding tradition and heritage of a mariner’s town, and has stayed true to local waters. The market is open every weekend, weather permitting, and the catch of the day is posted on twitter.com/doryfleet. (949-632-5939; doryfleet.com)

NBM_23_Specialty_Dakine Foods_By Jody Tiongco-72Aloha in a Bottle

Freddie Damo came to California from Hawaii in 1981. At the insistence of a coworker, Freddie sold his first sauce, Freddie’s Fabulous Hawaiian Teriyaki Sauce, in 1995, and ended up making a profit of $95,000 that first year. “The sauce took off just by doing it on the weekends,” Freddie says. The company has since grown to five salsas, one hot sauce, three salad dressings, a hickory sauce, two barbecue sauces and two teriyaki sauces, all of which are his original recipes.

“There’s always something in our product that has evolved from Hawaii: pineapple, mango, papaya poppy seed or ginger, for example,” Freddie adds. The success of his sauces, as well as his business’s expansion to include a food processing company by the same name, was heavily reliant upon the community, which he has engaged to direct his business since he began.

“Everyone I met I gave a sauce, and they would tell me about … people I should talk to … and stores I didn’t even know about,” he explains. By presenting demonstrations at stores, hosting barbecues or befriending visitors at trade shows, Freddie credits his success to interacting with customers and giving them a warm person to identify with the face they see on his bottles. “Treat others how you want to be treated,” remains Freddie’s business philosophy. (949-631-4889; hawaiiansauce.com)

Doggone Delicious 

The world’s “first human-grade dog kitchen,” Just Food For Dogs (JFFD), was founded by public relations entrepreneur Shawn Buckley, who wanted to elevate the quality of canine nutrition. After discovering the low standards that govern dog food manufacturing, he set out to design a line of preservative-free, nutritionally balanced and whole-food dog food, with ingredients certified for human consumption by the USDA and locally sourced from Penjoyan Produce and Daniel’s Meats.

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“Our food and treats are handmade in small batches at our Newport Beach kitchen, and we encourage folks to stop by and see the food being cooked,” says Justin Bonatto, JFFD’s marketing director. “Dogs absolutely love [it], and pet parents can feel comforted knowing that everything was made right here in Newport.”

With a nutrition team headed by Dr. Oscar Chavez, DVM, both a member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition and a professor of clinical canine nutrition at Cal Poly Pomona, JFFD has created unique recipes that include ingredients from kangaroo to wild, line-caught salmon and halibut. “We also offer delicious seasonal recipes such as our holiday venison, pork tenderloin and Fuji apple recipes,” Justin says.

In addition to food and treats, the shop offers a line of nutritional supplements, cooking classes once a month and “Yappy Hours,” where pets and their owners can enjoy treats and drinks and socialize with other dog lovers. To give back to the community that has inspired their growth, JFFD also supports local nonprofits like Sunny Saints, Fur-Ever Home and The Fuzzy Pet Foundation by hosting adoptions, charity events and fundraisers on weekends. (949-722-3647; justfoodfordogs.com)

Specialized businesses are slowly gaining momentum, and Newport Beach offers the perfect niche and warm community to entertain new enterprises and passionate, skilled artisans. With an already vibrant restaurant and bar scene, the city leaves plenty of room for both timeless town staples and innovative new businesses that serve the community’s diverse interests. NBM

 

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