I received word yesterday that TOFU Phil and his Small Planet Tofu operation will be moving from Pend Oreille County to the Seattle area. I'm sure his tasty tofu dips and flavored organic tofu will still be available in grocery stores in the Spokane area but he will no longer be a fixture at Inland Northwest Farmers' Markets.
This is bad news for those of us interested in nurturing local food systems in the Spokane area. The economies of scale are not in our favor when it comes to small food business models. The population and relative wealth of the Seattle area make it a much more viable home base for niche foods like organic tofu.
I've always been intrigued by Phil's call sign, "Tofu Phil." It seems like everyone at the Farmers' Markets has a food name. There is Chukkar Dave, Tofu Phil and Susie David Beef. I guess I'm jealous. Maybe I could be "Compost Craig" or "Kohl Rabi Craig" or "Canner Craig." I'll keep working on it.
If you're curious how an engineer like Phil became Tofu Phil, here's the story from his web site:
Tofu Phil had been intrigued by the idea of launching a tofu company ever since he read The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff in the early 1980s. Working full-time as an engineer, "I felt I was at the mercy of others when I was somebody else's employee," he recalls. "From January to June 1992, I dove into the tofu business while I still had my full-time engineer job. I made tofu at night. I would work at the engineering job from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and then two or three nights a week I made tofu from 5 to midnight. I was often working 16 plus hours a day. In 1993, got laid off for good and then did tofu and PC consulting. In 1994, I began working on tofu full-time. Jim and Sherry Brewster, the owners of Penrith Farms, inspired me to not give up and to continue to build it and pursue it and grow it by giving me the opportunity to move my shop onto their farm land, a much better location. They were the catalysts in helping me grow to the next level."
Godspeed Tofu Phil. May the curds be with you.