Indie. That’s a word I associate with music, films and comics. But Craig Kanarick and the Mouth team are showing the world that it’s just as well applied to food.
Mouth is a clean, beautifully designed website with spunky copy selling specialty food products—think watermelon pickles and carrot cake jam. Its mission reads: “Our goal is to help you discover and get the best, most delicious and most interesting American-made indie food products and to help indie makers grow their business.”
Around 2010/2011, Kanarick had wrapped up some consulting projects in the digital world and was looking to do something new. A lifelong lover of cooking and eating, he noticed that something was happening in his own New York and the US in general: people were more passionate about food and more interested in trying specialty products and understanding where their food came from; millennials, for example, were spending their free cash on food and at bars (where the mixologist was becoming an emblem).
“Hipsters,” he says, “were starting food companies instead of rock bands.” (Incidentally, around the same time, I had a college professor who would frequently use the phrase “hipsters making cheese in their bathtubs in Williamsburg.”) With the rise of startups and e-commerce, it seemed like a magical moment for what Kanarick calls the “indie food movement,” and particularly to connect passionate food makers with passionate eaters.
A few rounds of Jewish geography led Kanarick and friend and partner Sam Murray to Nancy Kruger Cohen; together, the three of them comprise Mouth’s executive team. Kanarick and Cohen were actually students at the University of Pennsylvania at the same time, but never met there!
What started as New York Mouth shifted to just Mouth, expanding nationwide beyond New York-made products. “We wanted to do for the specialty food business what Whole Foods did for natural foods,” says Kanarick. It was important for the products to be high quality and gift worthy, but still accessible, and for the experience to be “as exciting as opening a box from Apple or going to a farmers market and interacting with the people there.”
Just over four years old, Mouth, which launched with 50 products, now carries over 1,000, 20 percent of them wine and spirits. The inventory is stored in and shipped from a warehouse across the street from Mouth’s Brooklyn headquarters. Just around the corner, the company also operates its first and only brick-and-mortar “Indie Spirits and Wine Gallery.”
With the industry zooming forward, the Mouth team is constantly encountering new offerings. But because things tend to get more complicated as makers scale up from, say, cooking a few batches of jam in their home kitchen to selling in shops or on online, Kanarick stresses that Mouth takes its relationship with its makers seriously and tries to be as collaborative and supportive as possible.
Some of the categories listed on the Mouth website are: baked goods, candy, honey, nut butters and pickles (yes, they get their own category!). Recently, Mouth, like the rest of the food world, has seen growing interest in traditional Jewish foods, like coconut macaroons and bagels, and Israeli flavors inspired by chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Michael Solomonov, like NY Shuk’s harissa and Brooklyn Sesame’s halva spread.
Mouth offers Chanukah and Passover products and baskets and is considering introducing one for Purim, too. Shoppers can also buy one-time or monthly “tasters” with witty names and themes, including the “Picklepalooza,” “Indie-gredients Every Month” and, pre-Passover, the “Exodus Taster,” which has snacks for holiday road tripping.
Between the huge startup ecosystem and more adventurous palates and awareness about eating (whether kosher, paleo or gluten-free or conscious corporate snacking programs), it’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, especially in food, shares Kanarick.
“When I was a kid, when Passover came around, there weren’t a lot of options. Now, there are tons of great options—you can follow guidelines and still eat great food.”
Top photo: Mouth’s Passover offerings includes chocolate frogs, chocolate-covered matzah, blue and white candies and coconut macaroons.
All photos courtesy of Mouth.