High-Quality, Fresh, and Locally Grown Mushrooms
By Nancy Saunders
Ryan Tarabocchia has a passion for mushrooms. Over the last six years he has been studying them, and learning the science of growing them. During a four-month recovery from back surgery in early 2015, he had the time to plot out how to turn his fascination into a thriving business.
Tarabocchia’s goal is “to provide Thunder Bay and region with high-quality, fresh, locally grown, and affordable gourmet mushrooms.” His research was thorough and included cold-calling local delis, small grocers, and restaurants around town to determine their interest and potential purchasing volume. “Once I realized the potential, I dove in.”
He went through the Community Economic Development Centre’s Starter Company program and received a grant, while gaining advice in all aspects of business. He was also set up with a mentor, local business owner Jim Stadey. “Jim took me on as a mentee, showed me the ropes, and started to phase in my mushrooms at his Papa Piccolino’s locations,” he says. Tarabocchia praises Stadey for his openness to share his knowledge and connections. He also speaks highly of the City of Thunder Bay for being supportive of and working collaboratively with local farmers and food producers.
From his home in Gorham Township, in a 24 by 24 foot building, Tarabocchia grows a variety of oyster mushrooms: blue, silver, steel blue, gold. Starting with mushroom cultures purchased from Arizona, Tarabocchia uses sterilized oats for spawn production, and mushrooms are grown on suspended six-foot long bags filled with pasteurized straw. He ensures his mushrooms have the proper environment required to thrive. Considerations include humidity, fresh air exchange, lighting and heat, all of which are optimized to simulate ideal growing conditions. He doesn’t use any pesticides or fertilizers.
Tarabocchia has plans to expand to several different varieties, and dreams of being “the” producer of gourmet mushrooms for the region. “If chefs or home chefs want a specific type of mushrooms, I will do the research and will do my best to grow something new for them,” he says. Northwest Gourmet Mushrooms is currently growing and delivering around 500 pounds of mushrooms a week. They are being purchased by Bight, Bistro One, Caribou, Nook, Tomlin, Red Head and the Chef, and can be found at Country Fresh Meats and Deli, Maltese, George’s Market, as well as the Country Market.
Tarabocchia has plans to expand throughout northern Ontario in the fall. Further expansion includes the sale of compost, and plans are in the works with Sleeping Giant Brewery and Waking Giant coffee to produce do-it-yourself mushroom kits using the by-products of their businesses. Going by his business plan, Tarabocchia has already outgrown his business. We’re sure to keep seeing more Northwest Gourmet Mushrooms popping up across the city and the region.