It’s the height of California festival season.
Except that it isn’t. The pandemic has forced the postponement of so many favorite events that we all looked forward to every year. No art and wine festivals, no food festivals, no music in parks.
You’re missing the outdoor fun and a chance to catch up with and buy from your favorite food artisans. They are missing you — and the sales.
But there’s a way to recapture the memories from seasons past and ensure that these vendors are still in business when the first festivals roll around next year.
You might call it a DIY festival. Grab a couple of those souvenir wine glasses out of the cabinet (we know you have plenty to choose from) and sit yourselves down at the computer. What you used to buy in person from a festive booth you can purchase online, as these artisan vendors are now amping up their mail order and delivery options and brick-and-mortar sales to stay afloat. When the goodies arrive, refill those souvenir wine glasses, head to the backyard and enjoy.
Here’s a start. We’ve profiled several popular purveyors from the greater Bay Area — the folks you see weekend after weekend during a normal year — to get you started. (Know of others we should highlight? Use the form at the bottom of the article and we’ll add them to our list.)
And though we’re highlighting specialty food vendors, don’t forget the artisans who specialize in handmade jewelry, pottery, blown glass, kitchenware, apparel, leather goods, garden art and more. If you need help remembering the names of your faves, many festival organizers are thoughtfully highlighting participants from previous events; just click on their website and then the vendors link.
Primo’s Gourmet Food Co.
You know Primo’s, even if you don’t know the booth by name. He’s the guy who lets you dip a zillion pretzels before deciding whether to buy the Fiesta Garlic Dip mix, the Smoky Bacon one or wait, let me try the Tomato Horseradish again.
Inspired by his San Francisco grandfather Primo’s garlic-laced recipes, Gary Riccomi founded the company in 1999 in Hayward and now operates out of Tracy. His family’s mustards, sauces, rubs, dips and pickled vegetables have been featured at 85 California festivals and shows annually.
In a normal year, they go through 2,200 three-pound bags of those pretzels for your sampling pleasure. (Of course we asked.)
Top seller: Gotcha Garlic Spice Blend, followed by the Double Stuffed Olives and the Garlic Habanero Mustard.
How to buy: Online at www.primosgourmetfood.com
Marjorie Sandford was tempting diners with her barbecue sauce years ago when cooking at San Jose restaurants, but it wasn’t until 2014 that she and her family decided to market the honey-sweetened sauces commercially.
Since then, son Kerry Jenkins and several other family members have been selling Marjorie’s Original BBQ sauces and dry rubs at events such as the Fremont Festival of the Arts, the Millbrae Art and Wine Festival and the Harvest Festivals in Pleasanton and San Jose.
Top seller: The Sweet & Spicy version of Marjorie’s Original Barbecue Sauce, with “a kick of cayenne.”
How to buy: Mail order via their Tracy-based company at www.phatnsaucy.com or purchase in person at one of the Brentwood, Livermore, Pleasanton and Redwood City stores listed on the website.
Celtic Tea Shoppe / Artisan Candies
Kristen and Dean Scott started selling her caramels and other sweets in 2005, then branched out to tea cakes, soda bread and other baked goods based on recipes from their Irish, Scottish and English heritage. Frequently found at Celtic festivals, they have expanded the repertoire frequently, adding savories and loose-leaf teas. Everything is made at their San Jose shop.
Autumn will bring pumpkin scones and caramel apples, and then the winter lineup of Christmas puddings and fruit mince will be offered.
Top seller: Savories, especially the beef-and-onion pie and the sausage rolls.
How to buy: Order online for mail order, curbside pickup or Bay Area drop-off locations in Castro Valley, Vallejo and Daly City. Open noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday for curbside pickup at 4432 Pearl Ave., San Jose. www.celticteashoppe.com
Nan’s Gourmet Foods
Owner Brad Roth of Danville is still focused on the Italian trifecta — balsamic vinegars, olive oils and housemade pasta infused with flavors — that the now-retired Nancy Pagan specialized in when she founded the company in 2003. Their newest? Roasted Red Bell Pepper Linguini.
Roth and family would normally sell these Benicia-made products at festivals every weekend in the summer and fall. Just about now, they would be planning to attend the Italian Family Festa in San Jose, where he grew up, followed by the Pacifica Fog Fest and other now-canceled autumn and winter shows.
Top seller: In the vinegar category, it’s the Barrel-Aged Balsamic. For oils, it’s the Basil-Parmesan Olive Oil, and for pasta, the Garlic-Toasted Onion Fettuccine.
How to buy: Online at www.nansgourmetfoods.com, with select products available at the newly opened Livermore Butcher Shop and at Pedrick Produce in Dixon.
R & J Toffees
It’s a family toffee recipe with a long history. Soldier Sam Shiotsuka of Hollister was also a cook for the legendary 442nd Infantry Regiment in World War II, so he was a natural to refine his wife’s toffee recipe after the war and make it for family and friends. Years later, he passed down the tricks of the trade — how do you make delicious toffee that doesn’t shatter the teeth? — to grandsons Ryan and Joel Sakakihara.
Since 2005, they have been selling R & J Toffees at festivals and farmers markets. It’s hand-crafted in small batches in San Jose with all California-sourced ingredients, including whole roasted almonds, Joel says.
Top seller: The toffee! There’s just the one variety but it comes in various package sizes.
How to buy: For summer, the company is shipping its toffee to California destinations in insulated bags to ensure melt-free munching. www.rjtoffees.com
Small Batch Jam Co.
This Pacifica-based business and festival favorite was born when food industry buyer Pablo Lugones received a larger-than-expected sample shipment at home — 50 pounds of blackberries. He jumped onto YouTube to learn how to make jam and, after receiving rave reviews, he and wife Gina had a new hobby.
All the jams are made by hand in small batches with California-grown fruit. Flavor innovation is Lugones’ hallmark. A refreshing cocktail became an idea for Rosemary Prosecco Clementine Jam. And Raspberry Jalapeño is his answer to the request for a sweet-and-spicy jam.
Top seller: Pink Guava Jam, inspired by Lugones’ Cuban-American roots.
Where to buy: Order online from www.smallbatchjamco.com or enjoy with cheese boards at the Pacifica wine bar called A Grape in the Fog.
Munch N Grub
Fresno resident Dwayne Sharp and family have been trekking to Bay Area festivals and markets for six years, ever since he noticed the lack of a certain something for sale: beef jerky. He headed home and started making his own tender Brisket Beef Jerky and another popular snack, Corn Nutz.
He’s known for the wide array of flavors — 18 for the corn snacks (including Butterlicious, Ragin’ Cajun and Pizza Paradise) and nine for the jerky (including American Whiskey and Death Valley).
With business down sharply due to festival cancellations, Sharp, like other vendors, is relying on online sales.
Top seller: Tempting Teriyaki for the jerky, Rowdy Ranch for the Corn Nutz.
How to buy: Go to www.munchngrub.com.
Use the form below to let us know about a California vendor who has lost festival or fair business.