Getting fancy with Austin food companies at the Fancy Food Show
Siete is all over New York City these days, including its rooftops.
OK, one rooftop.
During the Fancy Food Show last month, the Austin-based Siete Family Foods hosted a party at Stripes Group, the investment firm that recently pumped $90 million into the company that makes grain-free chips and tortillas, as well as a bean dip and two kinds of queso.
Although Siete didn’t have a huge presence at the Specialty Food Association’s big trade show, which is considered one of the top food shows in the country, the company’s products were in far more stores than I expected, including at CVS stores throughout Manhattan, the popular grocery chain Wegman’s, a small food co-op in Ithaca and at kiosks at Newark Liberty International Airport.
That’s a lot of retail stores a long way from home for a company that started in 2014 when Veronica Garza started playing around in her kitchen to find a way to make grain-free tortillas. Fast forward five years, and the Garza family now runs one of the top consumer packaged good businesses in Texas.
With sounds of the Austin-based band Tiarra Girls filling the streets of the Meatpacking District below, the Garzas — led by mom Aida and fellow co-founders Veronica and Miguel Garza — gathered with friends, investors and colleagues to celebrate what has been a very big year.
Siete head chef Andres Figueroa, the former corporate chef at Austin’s SpareFoot, prepared a meal that included shrimp and cucumber ceviche, fried chicken bites and fried chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms while Texans and New Yorkers swapped stories about live music, their favorite restaurants in each city and how they stay cool during the sweaty summer months.
Siete is experiencing the kind of success that many Austin brands are reaching for.
A few years ago, I went to Expo West, the rival natural food show that takes place in Anaheim, but I’d always wanted to attend the Fancy Food Show, which skews less supermarket and more, well, fancy. Both draw dozens of Austin food companies, some big and well established and other still fresh from their farmers market days.
To get the lay of the land at the Javits Center, which boasted 2,400 exhibitors and 34,000 attendees, I teamed up with Whole Foods’ global buyer Cathy Strange, who let me tag along with her while she stopped at some of her favorite producers, from Italian cheese makers to Greek olive importers.
A fixture in the cheese industry and former president of the American Cheese Society, Strange has now expanded her professional scope to include other specialty grocery items, and she seemed to know everyone at the show, stopping for hugs and high fives from countless colleagues whom she has befriended over the years.
On a day where I clocked nearly 18,000 steps, we sat for a blissful 15 minutes to taste some new olives that will hit Whole Foods’ olive bars later this year. Some of the green olives were so fresh, they had the bite of a green apple with only the light bitterness of the brine. We also tried a mixture of olives that included samphire, a sea vegetables that grows on rocks in the United Kingdom.
Strange, a former tennis coach, continues to travel around the world visiting cheesemakers, including some she’s known for 20 years. We visited with some of those makers and tasted a new variety of cheese from Australian cheesemaker Kris Lloyd that is topped with crunchy, citrus-y green ants.
We also sat with Cypress Grove, makers of the famed Humboldt Fog, whose soft-ripened goat cheese with the distinct layer of ash in the middle made them one of the most notable artisan cheese companies in the country. At the request of Whole Foods, the California-based company is working on several cocktail-inspired cheese spreads, including a soft, light red Bloody Mary chevre that we sampled and will likely be available at Whole Foods next year.
Strange wasn’t the only Austinite who was making the most of the trade show. I caught up with some Austin foodmakers I already knew, such as Farrah Sibai, the owner of Afia Foods whom we profiled a few months ago, and met new ones, including the Cedar Park-based Fredrick Khoury, who is now selling a barbecue sauce that his grandfather used to win barbecue contests in Waco in the 1930s.
I ran into Scott Jensen of Rhythm Superfoods, makers of one of the first commercial kale chips, who was showing off a new line of crunchy cauliflower bites that tasted like a veggie-based Pirate’s Booty.
A quick visit with the fun team at the Yellowbird booth revealed that these fiery entrepreneurs are now making the bestselling hot sauce at Whole Foods Markets nationwide.
Also in attendance was Fredericksburg’s iconic Fischer & Wieser, whose raspberry chipotle sauce won the Specialty Food Association’s biggest award in 1997 and launched an entire category of spicy sweet sauces. Earlier this year, the Austin-based Art of Pecan won its own gold Sofi award from the SFA for the company's signature product, a pecan oil pressed from Texas pecans at its new oil mill in Dripping Springs.
Beetnik Foods unveiled new packaging for its frozen meals, while Vital Farms, now one of the country’s top egg producers, showed off its latest product, a Himalayan salt-seasoned ghee.
Other Austin-based exhibitors included GoodPop, Lammes Candies, Maggie Louise Confections, Austinuts, Brianna's Fine Salad Dressing, Primizie Flatbread Crisps, Brain Juice, Better Bites Bakery, Chameleon Cold Brew, Cocina 54, makers of those wonderful gluten-free empanadas, and Dash of Masala, which sells of one of my favorite local products, Sassy Lassi.
Many of these food brands are already on Austin shelves, but most of them were at the show hoping for wider distribution. And maybe their own rooftop party with a view of the Manhattan skyline one day.