Newburyport’s Shady Oaks Organics brings gourmet spores to the best eateries in Boston and beyond. By, Felicity Long
Before hitting it big, some famous outfits got their start working out of their garages-think Bill Gates or punk rockers The Ramones. But in the case of Shady Oaks Organics, their former garage location made perfect sense. The company, owned by Devin Stehlin, Nate Seyler, and Leif Johnson, is a purveyor of mushrooms for some of the top chefs in Boston and on the North Shore, and-as the three young entrepreneurs found out-mushrooms don’t need fancy showrooms to thrive. That said, Shady Oaks Organics has become so successful since it opened a year ago that its owners are opening a new facility with a 700-square-foot indoor greenhouse in Newburyport to accommodate the growing demand for their products.
The idea initially took root with Stehlin, who became fascinated with mushrooms and local foods while working in a Newburyport restaurant during his high school and college summers. After graduation, Stehlin, an avid hiker, pursued his hobby of foraging for wild mushrooms, eventually taking samples to local restaurants.
“Chefs were eager to buy them, but you can only find wild mushrooms at certain times of the year,” Stehlin says. “I started experimenting with cultivating them, and that’s when Nate came into the picture.”
Seyler had just graduated with a degree in business management when his friend showed him his first crop of cultivated mushrooms. “We decided to take them to restaurants in Newburyport, and everyone who saw them gave us an incredibly strong response,” Seyler says.
The chefs at those restaurants wanted all the mushrooms that the fledgling company could grow, so the duo rented and renovated a garage and started producing 30 to 35 pounds of mushrooms a week. They then turned their attention to learning about operations, marketing, and funding.
College friend Leif Johnson invested in the company and joined the partnership, which currently supplies mushrooms to Barbara Lynch’s Menton in Boston, Ristorante Molise in Wakefield and Amesbury, and Ceia in Newburyport.
Although the facility does not include a retail space, the mushrooms are available at a variety of local farmers’ markets.
The partners are especially proud of the sustainability of their products, which comprise multiple varieties of oyster and shiitake mushrooms. “Mushrooms can grow on used coffee grounds and sawdust, so we set up small partnerships with local coffee shops and the lumberyard across the street to do weekly pickups and integrate them into our growing,” Johnson says.
Though the mushroom-growing trio is excited about the popularity of its wares with high-end restaurants, Johnson says that the best recipes are pretty simple: “Personally, the best way to enjoy them for the first time is simply sauteed in a tablespoon of butter with a pinch or two of salt and pepper,” he says.
18 Henry Graf Road, unit 26, Newburyport, 703-608-6739, shadyoaksorganics.com.