Last Tuesday, Amy’s Kitchen rolled out the red carpet.

Thirteen of us piled into a dull gray van.  It was 9:30 sharp!!!

We traveled 5.32 miles and then after a missed turn and many “helpful” driving comments, we parked and entered Amy’s Kitchen’s front office.  Maybe it was a tad frivolous to rent a van to travel such a short distance, but we were on an employee field trip!  It’s something we do at Oliver’s!

We have recently begun to make Oliver’s staff field trips something of a company priority.

We now go out into the world Representing Oliver’s.  We get to enjoy each other’s company and learn cool stuff about delicious and interesting products we sell that are made right down the street.  It’s clearly a win-win kind of thing.  The companies we visit get to strut their coolness and then we come back and talk to anyone who’ll listen about the groovy thing we saw yesterday.  It’s kind of like living on the Food Network.  Sometimes, anyway.

We were welcomed into the Amy’s conference room for an intro.  We saw a slide show of Amy’s Kitchen’s simple beginnings in Andy and Rachel Berliner’s Petaluma home kitchen, to their gradual steady growth toward today’s global reach, where their vegetarian, organic entrees, pizzas, soups and desserts can now be found in the UK, Germany, France, Australia, and of course, all across the US.  The company’s organic-produce-purchasing numbers are staggering and their for-in-house-use-only tofu production is the largest, by volume, in the continental US.

Isn’t that an amazing statistic?!

We donned our lab coats, got hair and beard nets in place, nose rings secured with bright blue Band-Aids (no pictures allowed – whew!) and entered the Land of Prepared Food on a Monumental Scale.

We walked a burrito production line (ten hand-rolled per minute a company standard), a “soup deck,” “bean room,” and “tofu room,” and everywhere we went, the aromas grew more tantalizing.

How could food on this massive a scale smell so appealing?

Well, if you know and work, for years, with the organic farmers who grow your ingredients, and you sometimes import superb cooks from far-flung countries to help establish authentic recipes, and you care deeply about every single thing that goes into your products, well then, it seems pretty reasonable to have the food smell this good.

We met head chef, Fred, Sr., of Fred, Sr. and Fred, Jr.  A jovial, relaxed man clad in blue shorts and slip-on shoes, he stuck his head into the conference room, where we were enjoying a very tasty lunch of Amy’s vegan tomato bisque, assorted pizzas, a crisp Thai-inspired salad, Pad Thai, delicious Red Coconut Curry and myriad biscotti, vegan ice creams and truly decadent Andy’s Dandy Candy Bars and Gluten-Free Brownies.

After introducing himself, Fred elaborated on some of their development processes.  He regaled us with stories of chefs who traveled to Santa Rosa, whose food Rachel and Andy had enjoyed on trips to India, invited to come help develop authentic Indian entrees for Amy’s Kitchen.

He spoke of scaling recipes up from normal size to 285-gallon-sized batches, about the efforts to secure organic produce to their exacting standards, about the time frame from idea to recipe conception to finished product roll-out.

It was fantastic and gave us an indelible impression of how a local company, borne of a simple desire to create good vegetarian food, could become this gigantic prepared-food juggernaut, all while maintaining a feeling of family, care, passion and quality.

Well-fed and clutching our Amy’s branded burlap shopping bags as chock-full of goodness as we all were after that expansive lunch, we rolled ourselves back into our gray van and headed back to work.  We love you, Amy’s Kitchen!  Thank you!

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