SEG hosted a Community Table event featuring Davide Dukcevich of Daniele, Michael Isenberg of Chex Finer Foods and Tony Fonseca of Packaging and More. Each of these Rhode-Island based businesses are part of our local food system, which includes production, distribution and packaging. It was wonderful to have them here, and not just because attendees were gifted delicious charcuterie–hearing their stories, their ideas and how they work together was inspiring and fun.
Here are 5 things I learned:
- Rhode Island’s Food web is interdependent. People are working together to help make our food system better, and advocating for each other, too. “This guy is a champion of high-quality, community-based goods,” Dukcevich said about Isenberg. They have relationships. The farmers need the processors, the processors need the producers, the producers need the packaging, the packaging needs a label, the final product needs a consumer, and everyone needs distribution. Fonseca points out the under-appreciated importance of packages, too, “Nobody ever thinks about how the cheese got in that wrapper.” All states’ food webs are interdependent, but here in Rhode Island there is opportunity for an extra level of personal relationship due to our small size-we could visit each of these stakeholders in a day.
- Story matters. I began the event knowing little about these businesses and their history. It was compelling to be drawn into Dukcevich’s story about his Croatian grandparents fleeing political unrest to Trieste, Italy with essentially nothing. Their entrepreneurial spirit in the face of great need inspired three generations to devote themselves to this family business. I could visualize his grandmother at her kitchen table making the sausage, her husband taking it out to the people of Trieste on his bicycle, which maybe needed some oil.
- Family businesses still exist. Lest we think the story is over, each person in our panel spoke about balancing economics with mission. They shared how they valued the history, yet lived fully in these times. “That’s exactly the crux of it all for us as a company– the only way you can make it sustainable is with profit, “ says Dukcevich. They discussed their personal investment in their businesses and how to stay relevant and profitable in today’s market while being true to their family’s vision.
- The meaning of local and the industry standards and best practices are in transition. There are competing priorities in the food space, with notoriously passionate people advocating for their particular issue. “It’s important to us to have a local connection,” said Isenberg as we discussed the pros and cons of these standards, and the challenges of preserving farmland, staying close to home and building local and regional food networks.
- Smoked paprika is the best food. Ok, maybe it’s up for debate! But in a world filled with delicious sausage, making your product stand out is not easy. Attention to detail, great service and a consistently good product earns loyalty and keeps the community invested in your success. Persistence counts, too. “I do think there’s enough excellence in Rhode Island,” Dukcevich says. Whether it’s perfectly-spiced chorizo, innovative packaging solutions or prompt delivery, each of these food businesses have been delivering more than the minimum.
Would you like to learn more about Daniele, Chex Finer Foods and Packaging and More? Find out more about where you can get their products or services, and for more information about Rhode Island’s food system, check out the RI Food Policy Council.
Venture Development Assistant
Traci Picard is a VISTA serving as Venture Development assistant here at SEG. She comes from the world of alternative health, running a small herbal business and teaching classes like Critical Thinking for Herbalists and Asking Better Questions. Traci is also a writer pursuing a Journalism degree, a mother of 3 and a passionate fan of books and the Public Library. Born in Providence, she has lived all over but continues to return home.