Pretty cool that the local press published a cover story on my business. I finally got hold of a couple copies and thought I would share. Here is the exert from the Evergreen Spotlight Magazine.
Kirk Wells Offers a Taste of Silicon Valley
By Eme O. Akpabio
Walking up to Kirk Wells’ booth at the farmer’s market, the first thing you might notice is the twinkle in his eye as he offers a friendly greeting. The second thing you’ll notice is a rich aroma wafting from the opened jar in his hand. The jar contains smoked sugar, with a scent evocative of Carolina-style barbecue sauce.
Kirk is the founder of Whiskey Oak Seasonings, a company that crafts smoked seasonings in small batches. An Evergreen resident since 2001, Kirk took a circuitous path to his current occupation.
“My father was an engineer,” Kirk says. “I always said I didn’t want to be an engineer.”
However, after leaving college, he needed an income and engineering came naturally to him. He talked his way into a job, learned the skills, and gradually worked his way up the ladder. Then, circling back, he returned to college and finished his degree.
A little more than a year ago, he was working full-time at Oracle. Then, the hammer fell. He was laid off. From that point, Kirk began to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
Kirk has long been a foodie, a trait perhaps inherited from his mother, who was a baker. However, his taste runs to savory foods.
“This little business started with the idea of creating a smoker specifically for seasonings that would allow me to slow-smoke salts, sugars, and blends,” he says. “In early 2014, I had this crazy idea and spent my evenings and weekends in the garage building this smoker off the top of my head. Using random parts from the hardware store, sheets of wood from around the garage, and crazy imagination I persisted in putting my contraption together.”
By the end of 2014, Kirk’s “contraption,” a smoker that could infuse three pounds of smoked seasonings at a time with a wood-fired barbecue scent, came online. He began producing his first batches of smoked salt, smoked sugar, and smoked seasoning blends.
“I shared samples of my smoked seasonings with some close friends and got quite a few enthusiastic responses of ‘Turn this into a business. I want to buy some!’ So I did.”
Whiskey Oak Seasonings was born in January 2015 as an Etsy store and Facebook page. Kirk wanted to branch out into farmer’s markets, but that would require increasing his manufacturing capacity. So he set to work on contraption 2.0, which came online in April 2015 and was capable of smoking 10 pounds of seasonings at a time.
With this groundwork laid out, when his day job came to an end in August 2015, Kirk was able to see the change as an opportunity.
“Being laid off was surprising at the time, but turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me” he says. “The day I was laid off, I got a call from the woman who runs Sojourn Box out of Santa Cruz. She’d heard of my product and wanted to include it in one of her ‘Taste of Silicon Valley’ sampler boxes.”
She also helped Kirk make connections with other people, such as the website developer who helped get www.whiskeyoak.com online. Suddenly Kirk had time to devote his full energy to his company and resources to get it off to a running start.
Kirk has now built contraption 3.0, which is capable of producing about 100 pounds of smoked seasonings per batch and ensures more consistent product for the six farmer’s markets he visits each week.
Kirk’s vendor schedule includes Campbell farmer’s market (Sunday mornings), Cambrian Park and Saratoga farmer’s markets (alternating Wednesdays), College of San Mateo and Santa Clara farmer’s markets (9am-1pm on alternating Saturdays), and Facebook farmer’s market (Saturdays, 2-5pm).
The Facebook farmer’s market is set up in the parking lot of what used to be a SUN Microsystems/Oracle building. “So every week I go and set up my booth two buildings away from where I used to work every day,” he laughs.
Whiskey Oak Seasonings is again branching out. You can now find Kirk’s smoked seasonings at BR Cohn Winery in Sonoma and The Olive Bar in Campbell. He hopes to expand to other select brick-and-mortar locations in the near future.
“I was busy in high tech,” he says, “but I’ve never been so busy as running this business. I’ve also never been so happy because it is my business.”
Kirk’s advice to others who have a crazy idea: Give it a try.
“Follow your dreams,” he says. “Life is too short. Maybe that crazy idea will work out and maybe it won’t, but you will never know if you don’t try.”