When I moved back to Newport more than a dozen years ago, food procurement on Aquidneck Island was still fairly limited, other than the welcome farmers markets of summer. There were just a few family farms that sold retail, maybe once a week, the big box stores, and the two smaller grocers in Newport and Portsmouth.
I could not have envisioned the wellspring of purveyors and creators of fine foods that would soon dot the landscape. Slowly but surely, the island has become a gourmand’s little paradise, and it’s worth your while if you’re a food fan to seek out its gifts and understand how it thrives from a mutually supportive community.
For nearly a quarter century, Rich Reavis and Vince Arcello have been selling their Middletown based company’s organic, kosher, gluten free, Non GMO verified, certified vegan chips and salsas. You can’t go anywhere without running into an endcap of the bright, yellow Tito’s bags and their accompanying salsas, including any Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, Dave’s Market, and on and on.
Recently, a collection of Rhode Island small business owners has been coming to the table with specialty food products of their own. Based on a combination of merchandising, marketing, wordof mouth and a desire on the part of larger retailers to support their community’s up-and-coming makers, these goods have graduated from transient sales at fairs, food trucks and farmers markets and are popping up on shelves island wide.
In a recent perusal of food-focused items at The Preservation Society’s Bannister’s Wharf Museum Store, one of four well trafficked boutiques run by the organization in Newport, I counted at least six food items that were Rhode Island-made; Newport Sea Salt, Newport Sweet Shoppe chocolates, Black Pearl Chowder in a can, Ocean State Pepper blends, Aquidneck Honey (raw and hot) and Newport Chowder Company’s award-winning, secret seasoning blend.
“The sales of the packets are starting to increase now that weddings and corporate events are back at pre-COVID levels,” said Newport Chowder Co.’s Katie Potter.
In addition to shelf space at shops like Bannister’s Wharf, the brand is also available at Marble House and The Breakers gift stores, The General Store on Long Wharf in Newport, at Middletown’s Anthony’s Seafood, and at Dave’s Market in East Greenwich, among others.
“We are also partnering with hotels to use our packets for welcome bags and site visit gifts,” she said.
The success of the multiple award-winning brand (a chowder recipe created by her mother, the beloved Muriel) and its expansion has led to a Newport Chowder Company pop-up location set for Thames Street this summer, next door to Kilwin’s Chocolates. Cups of their creamy, magic (not clam) elixir to go? Yes, please.
The down-to-earth philosophy behind Ocean State Pepper Co., founded in 2017, speaks to the current climate of small food purveyors. The company grows organic chiles and dries them in house, creating some of the world’s hottest peppers, yet managing to make the flavor of the final blends approachable.
“Our decision to source and produce locally connects our success directly to our home region of Rhode Island and New England. It’s in our name for a reason,” said owners Katie Evans and David Conner.”
Their goal, they said, is not just to make food taste better, but also to elevate the regional economy.
Beyond online sales, the seasoning blends are sold at dozens of local outlets, including Simmons
Farm and FoodLove
Market in Middletown, Aquidneck
Farm in Portsmouth, Virgin &
Aged on Lower
Thames Street in Newport, multiple stores on Bowen’s and Bannister’s wharves, as well as in larger retailers from
Wakefield to Providence, into Massachusetts and beyond.
“We couldn’t be happier with the support we have been receiving through people cooking all over Rhode Island with our seasoning blends,” said Conner. “Local retailers have also been great reaching out and giving us a chance on their shelves. It’s a great community of support, and every little bit counts We pour everything we have into this . . . [and] we hope that in the future, more and more people seek local goods over saving a few bucks . . . because to us, each order still makes us do that awesome happy dance.”
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