Heidi Feldman was eating a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips when a lightbulb went off for her: Nobody was making sea salt on Martha’s Vineyard. After getting her husband on board, Heidi followed her entrepreneurial spirit to launch Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt. Sourced straight from the Atlantic Ocean, their salt contains natural minerals from the sea combined with mouthwatering local flavors, without any sketchy additives. We met up with Heidi to chat about the importance of local sourcing, her family’s entrepreneurial roots, and her love for Dip Net Scalloping.
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
H.F.: I first got the idea out of desperation. We had a mushroom business that failed due to the environment. Catastrophic caterpillars killed our hard wood! We were throwing back different ideas over the course of two years. First off, we’re 50+ so hard physical labor is not something we do as well as a 20-year-old, and we also didn’t have a lot of money to spend on labor. We wanted something shelf-stable, and it had to be local. So we just kept running ideas! At one point, we thought we’d do potatoes for vodka, but growing any high-sugar product, including potatoes, takes a lot of input.
One fateful day, I was having a crazy lunch of Salt and Vinegar Cape Cod potato chips in my car since the sandwich shop had a huge line and I thought, “Oh, sea salt!” No one was making sea salt on Martha’s Vineyard, and we’re surrounded by water and natural resources. That was my aha moment. I’m a half full girl, and my husband is a half empty guy and at first he was like “You’re crazy.” So it took three years to go from that idea to actual sea salt. But we did it… and we did it together!
R.K: Fun fact you want our readers to know?
H.F.: While commercial salt is typically washed with clear water to remove the mineral content then ground with anti-clumping and anti-moisture agents along with a little bit of sugar, we keep it as is. We capture wild Atlantic Ocean water, filter it to remove seaweed and shrimp and such, and then it goes into the solar evaporator. In the end, we’ve got this beautiful sea salt that looks like an early snow fall!
Another fun fact: My favorite fall sport is Dip Net Scalloping (scooping scallops from the ocean with a dip net)!
R.K.? How do you go about creating your blends and how do you source your ingredients?
H.F.: Local is very important. We start with, “Can we grow it?” In some cases, we can. Herbs are relatively easy for us to grow, so I surveyed the herb family, and started testing ideas with people. Lemon Verbena and Dill started out originally as Lemon Balm and Dill, but lemon balm is harder to process so I went with a southern herb: lemon verbena. We smoke the Island Smoked Sea Salt with oak from the property.
We need to buy the freeze-dried blueberry and honey, but it is organically sourced. Most recently, we’re launching a blend called Spice, which was inspired by Chef Martin over at Atlantic. It’s made with locally sourced sumac, which I process, plus smoked paprika and garlic. I buy peppers form local farmers, and then smoke them and we’re growing tons and tons of garlic so that’s never an issue. I want to do a Salt and Pepper blend, but I’m trying to think of way to process Nasturtium, which is an annual herb/flower!
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
H.F.: I’m only one person. I pretty much crashed last year, healthwise, and was straight out exhausted. I’m only human, I need to delegate more and stop saying yes to everything. I’m not a doormat, which my husband reminds me of.
R.K.: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
H.F.: Yes, absolutely! We test marketed 30 or 40 names that were crowd-sourced. We got some really cute and fun names but in the end, Martha’s Vineyard in itself was so strong and provided such a sense of place for our islanders and also our travelers who can afford the product, as it’s not cheap. It’s a premium blend, and we are producing a natural product.
R.K.: What would you love to see in the New England food and wellness scene that you don’t now?
H.F.: I think it’s more holistic. I’d like to see more use of solar to create energy so we can grow some of the superfoods that we are otherwise shipping from thousands and thousands of miles away. I want to eat that superfood but I think, “It traveled farther than I did this year.”
R.K.: What other local food & wellness brands are you a fan of?
I try to eat hyper-local as much as possible, and then barter for a lot of food. If I have kale, and somebody else has squash, we’ll do a trade.
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
H.F.: My family, in total. We’re all entrepreneurs, starting with my father who owned his own retail store, to my mom who is an entrepreneurial spirit and supported my dad. And both my sisters are entrepreneurs. I’m not just a consumer; I really have to believe in a product to have to buy it or sell it.
R.K.: What’s your favorite quote or business mantra?
H.F.: If not now, when? I stole it from Melissa Patterson who is also a huge role model for me. She’s a “Robin Hood” designer, who helps every single small business who comes her way with their branding, labeling, posters and everything and she’s here on the Vineyard. She’s a godsend.
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own local wellness or food business?
H.F.: Set aside time to dream big, but nail down the details. You have to take the other people around you into consideration because it could go away if you don’t do that detail planning.
R.K.: Here at The W.E.L.L. Summit we like to say “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
H.F.: That’s really hard! Different people see me different ways. Some would say I’m contemplative and thoughtful, and others would say I’m hyperactive and energetic. I’m Sybil. I’m more of a chameleon than anything, but I could not act my way into staying in corporate!
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