At Flotsam + Fork, Adrianna Fie wants people to find those souvenirs they wish they'd brought back from a trip to another land.
Her shop, which specializes in kitchen goods and housewares, features items that represent global culinary traditions.
Operating mostly online, the shop launched in November 2013. Fie runs it out of the near east side apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Joe.
She also works three days a week at Underground Butcher, where a few shelves hold a small inventory of Fie's products, including bottle openers cast in Germany and knives that have been handmade for six generations in the French city of Thiers.
Fie, 29, a San Francisco native, moved to Madison with her boyfriend — a Wisconsin native — about two-and-a-half years ago. The couple had been living in Brooklyn while Fie earned her master's degree in food studies from New York University. Part of their reason for moving: Fie had always wanted to start a business, and Madison seemed like a great community to do it. New ventures centered on a passion like specialty foods or arts and crafts is a growing trend here.
The audience for Flotsam + Fork, Fie said, is "a Venn diagram of people who love to travel, love to eat and love to cook — or just like pretty things."
And what about that name?
"Joe and I kind of came up with it together," Fie said. "He thought of flotsam: the idea of cargo, just sort of a nautical idea. My dad and my grandpa both worked on ships. I kind of liked the idea of these sort of washed ashore, lost items, and bringing it back to something more utilitarian, everyday — into the kitchen. So Flotsam and Fork."
Her first step was to learn her way around Madison and the world of kitchenware by working at the Kitchen Gallery. From there, she became the cheese manager at Metcalfe's, followed by her current job at Underground.
She started thinking seriously about launching her store about a year ago.
"I was really inspired by a trip that Joe and I took to Paris right before we left New York, to visit one of my best friends who lives there," Fie said. "We went to all the kitchen stores and food shops … I was really surprised by how many things were there that you can’t really find in the U.S."
While working at the Kitchen Gallery, she mentioned some natural bristle brushes she had seen in France. The store loved the idea and wanted to sell them, so she emailed the German company and found out it would ship the brushes to Wisconsin.
"That kind of got my feet wet, and I realized, there’s a way. You don’t have to be some crazy import company or something like that," Fie said. "So that’s what gave me the idea that it would be possible, and if I found more things like the brushes — which are on my site — that I could make my own little shop. That’s what really planted the seed for the kitchenware idea, and for the imports from Europe."
The start of the business went something like this: open bank accounts, quit job at Metcalfe's, get a job at the butcher shop — and go to France for a month. It was really helpful to have a job waiting when she came back, Fie said.
Fie visited factories throughout France and Spain, touring the places that produced the items she hoped to sell.
"I wanted to see where the things were coming from," Fie said, "to really know who I was buying from and who I was supporting."
Fie said she looks for products that are still made in the country where the company is based. Most of the companies are small and family-owned, and many have histories dating back decades, if not centuries. For instance, Poterie Renault has made culinary stoneware in Argent-sur-Sauldre since 1847, and has been producing at its current site since 1865. The family-owned factory is one of the sites Fie has toured and she features the stoneware on her online shop.
"I look for things that have a clean, classic aesthetic," Fie said. "A little bit of the idea is bringing back souvenirs that you wish you brought back, but you forgot, so now you can find them on my shop. Things that embody the country where they’re from and have something to do with the culinary traditions there."
She purposely keeps the selection small, trying to stock only the best of each item, rather than carrying a large variety.
Most of the items are from France and Spain, with a few from Germany, Sweden and England. The shop features some Portuguese twine, and Fie said she'd like to expand the selection of Portuguese items. She's also in the early stages of planning a trip to the Netherlands and Germany.
Some of the stars of the shop have been L'Econome paring knives handmade in Thiers, France, olive oil cans made in the Basque country of Spain, and one of Fie's proudest finds: stainless steel clothespins from France.
Someday, she'd love to have a brick-and-mortar store, or at least a pop-up shop. For now, her spot at Underground Butcher has been great for getting the word out and giving people a chance to see the products in person.
She's happy to answer questions about the items while she's working behind the counter at the butcher shop, or via phone or email. And customers who order from Madison can arrange for free pick-up, she said.
"It's nice to see people interacting with the goods," Fie said.