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In describing his upcoming mushroom shop, Tyler Akabane wants you to imagine a butcher shop.
“[The mushrooms] will stand behind a kind of glass box, “he described,” and you come and order by the pound. I’m sure I’ll have some kind of special of the day, like a mushroom mix. “
Akabane is due to open The Mushroom Shop in Somerville’s Winter Hill neighborhood early next year, a culmination of more than seven years in the mushroom business, running collection courses and supplying mushrooms to local restaurants. However, it was his home delivery service that allowed him to really think about a brick and mortar store.
After the outbreak of the pandemic, Akabane’s restaurant customers slowed significantly as they temporarily closed or switched to take-out, and Akabane, who developed a penchant for foraging shortly after college, still had plenty of mushrooms to hand out. Home cooking was on the rise, leading to an interest in experimenting with maitake, shimeji, yellow foot, and other varieties. So Akabane started promoting a mushroom delivery service through his Instagram account @mushroomsformyfriends, inviting the public to order mixed bags of mushrooms for delivery – first through Instagram messages, then through a Google form, and when the delivery service was over his Website.
“It happened very quickly, so much that I didn’t really realize it until a year later,” he said. “There were moments when we made 60 or 70 home deliveries in a day. It was me and two other people doing home deliveries. It got pretty wild, pretty fast. “
Akabane also saw a growing interest in the courses he offered, which take small groups on expeditions to forage to learn about and identify a variety of mushrooms.
“I definitely think mushrooms have a moment,” Akabane said. “I think there are probably a couple of things – one of them is that people are eating more local and even more people are interested in organic. Some people had free time [because of the pandemic]. My classes have been very busy, either because of the pandemic and people wanting an outdoor activity, because it’s safer, or because of their growing interest in mushrooms. It seems like a good reason to open a shop. “
To fund the opening of The Mushroom Shop, which Akabane says is the only one of its kind in Massachusetts, he turned to NuMarket, a crowdfunding platform. The campaign has already met and exceeded its target of $ 30,000.
In addition to mushrooms, Akabane said, The Mushroom Shop will sell items that complement the store’s main product – corn and peaches in the summer, pumpkins in the fall, asparagus in the spring, and so on. He also plans to sell mushroom-centered books and other learning resources, and maybe even some mushroom-themed art.
“There’s no place to sit – there are no chairs – but I hope people come in to chat and learn about mushrooms,” Akabane said. “It can be a clubhouse and a meeting place for mushroom people.”
For non-mushroom people and passers-by, Akabane also hopes to be able to offer coffee.
Once opened, The Mushroom Shop will be open three or four days a week; Akabane will use the other days to prepare for home deliveries, which he will continue to offer, or to cater for people in the restaurant business who want to come in and shop from his inventory. Most of all, he hopes to spark the same interest he felt years ago when he started foraging for mushrooms in the Blue Hills.
“I keep suggesting the idea that Americans have been mycophobic for a long time,” said Akabane. “Parents teach their children from a young age: Don’t touch these mushrooms. … Maybe [foraging] one day won’t be noticed anymore. People just say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m looking for mushrooms.’ “
Keep up to date with the opening of The Mushroom Shop by following the store at @themashroomshopsomerville.
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