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Local News

Local, healthy and nostalgic selling on the coast in the time of covid

Larry Knowles
Chubby's Kitchen
Baker Odile Perkins taking bread out of the Chubby, the antique rotating deck oven which is the kitchen's namesake.

October 5, 2020 — In the midst of a pandemic and a recession, it might come as no surprise that nostalgia is key to the success of some small businesses on the Mendocino Coast. That, and grants and local level lobbying and working really hard and collaborating with other small businesses.

Larry Knowles is the owner of Chubby’s Kitchen in Fort Bragg, a two-story shared commercial kitchen that he opened just in time for the last recession. He’s also the owner of Rising Tide sea vegetables, a small seaweed harvesting business whose sales, he says, are up 5%. But talking with him for fifteen or twenty minutes is like a cheerful tour through all the elements of the apocalypse: covid, recession, smoke, and the collapse of the kelp forest. Covid in the kitchen is mainly a scheduling challenge, though with one tenant working baker’s hours and Knowles drying seaweed upstairs, the shared work space is more of a rotation in well-ventilated solitude.

We’ll hear from Knowles and two other Chubby’s tenants who are enjoying some success in the time of covid, as people look to products that provide some comfort.

Jeremy Wall  worked for years in the Bay Area as a pastry chef, alongside Sarah Spearin, the inventor of the groundbreaking maple bacon donut. He and his twin sister and his partner opened Drop-in Donuts a few months into the pandemic, after a few successful outings at the local farmers market.

And Nicholas Ramsdell, of Wilder Ferments, reports that his kombucha business has grown from four farmers markets to to 20 wholesale accounts since the pandemic hit. Knowles and Ramsdell both recently received grants  from West Business Development Center for micro businesses. But Ramsdell thinks there’s another reason, too, that local producers like him had a good season in the time of covid. “The system is really fragile,” he reflects; “and we can’t rely on things being distributed to us from afar.”

Local News