That's Justin Marx, 35, dropping some spinach fettuccine into a pot at his company's test kitchen in Lower Queen Anne. To be specific, it's a brand called Filotea, from Italy's Le Marche region. He's also boiled up some red-pepper ribbons made by Morelli in Tuscany, leaving the products from Il Macchiaiolo (Piedmont) for another day. Typical afternoon at the office, testing products from around the world to sell in the shop he's opening on Monday, November 26th. Seattle Weekly's Hanna Raskin has already written a gushing preview.
For the past four years, Marx Foods has been an online retailer of specialty gourmet products, many from the Pacific Northwest to be sure, most from wherever in the world the best examples might be grown or packaged. Justin's job, as he tells it, has been to travel and taste, taste and travel. Farmers markets, fancy food shows, more farmers markets. (Tough life, right? Food & Wine this summer named Marx a "food scout extraordinaire."
Samples pour into the office at the foot of Denny where the staff (and invited guests) blind-taste and vote. Online, Marx Foods offers well over 1,000 items; in the shop, only 300 to 400. (The overage supermarket, which must appeal to a wide range of customer needs and tastes, has 20,000 to 30,000 items.) Online, too, the producers take care of shipping (airfreight, usually), which means that the point of difference for Marx is customer service: an unusually rich assortment of "how to" information: recipes, background & history, stories.
With a physical store, Marx goes head-to-head, (jar-to-jar? box to box?) with established retail importers like Big John's PFI (in SoDo) and ChefShop (up the road on Elliott Avenue). But Marx has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, starting with a unique array of "specialty" meats not previously available to home cooks (elk, venison, bison, boar, kangaroo, poussin, poulet rouge, squab, quail, pheasant).
Who's the market? Is anyone really going to buy kangaroo? Maybe not your average family dinner, but chefs, caterers, and food service companies in the market for something unusual. Or just to drop in and pick up some edible flowers or exotic produce. One potential drawback, a lack of onsite parking, doesn't faze Justin. "We're interested in building relationships with serious customers. There's actually plenty of street parking on Lower Queen Anne."
For five generations, Justin's family has operated a boutique distributorship of hard-to-find items for the top tier of the restaurant industry, with a customer list of maybe 500 names nationwide. This is their first venture into retail. "I can't wait to start," he says.