Katie Hamilton Shaffer tells the story of how her organization Feast it Forward came to life, as well as all that it does to give back.
When Feast it Forward (FiF) founder Katie Hamilton Shaffer walked into the Menlo Park offices of Sunset magazine in 2002 armed with only a binder of dreams and a mission, nobody could’ve predicted that, 13 years later, she’d make good on her goal to create a feel-good, do-good, wine and food online network. “I had dyed red hair and had just finished playing soccer. I came in with this big book and said I wanted to be Martha Stewart. [Then-editor Katie Tamony] probably thought I was a nut job.”
Apparently, not so much. Last fall, Shaffer inked a deal with Sunset and, in 2013, snagged an award from Stewart herself as part of the mogul’s American Made contest. “As soon as I met her, I knew she was going to actualize a dream, that she could achieve whatever she set her mind to,” says Tamony. “Within five minutes of talking to her, she struck me as someone who was going to make it happen. It was electric.”
Others agreed. In 2011, Shaffer was named one of San Francisco’s Magnificent 7 leading entrepreneurs in Bay Area Food and Wine and, in 2012, she was named one of San Francisco’s 40 Under 40 by the San Francisco Business Times.
Like any curious child, Shaffer had a laundry list of hopes and dreams. Hers included being a chef, professional soccer star, singer and, of course, becoming the next Martha Stewart. “My dad always said I had more spitfire than the Energizer bunny,” she says.
When asked to nutshell the premise of FiF, Shaffer pulls out the same overstuffed book she toted into Sunset and points to what she calls the “doodles of the chaos in my mind.”
“I knew I wanted to create an online network with a backbone of philanthropy. I started looking at food, wine, giving back and how I could merge all that together. FiF is Food Network-meets-Newman’s Own. If Martha Stewart, Food Network and Paul Newman made a baby, this is what it would be.” She flips back to the original vision for FiF [see sidebar] and then to the model for the FiF lifestyle brand she’s now building: “This book tells my stories. Every vision I’ve ever had, I’ve drawn. And now they’re starting to come to life.”
Keeping up with the bunny
Seconds in, I’m in full agreement with the Energizer Bunny comparison, which makes following Shaffer’s career progression a dizzying (yet entertaining) affair. After graduating from childhood pastimes of street bake sales, craft-making sessions and cooking a filet mignon at age 12, she decided to get to work. When Shaffer realized there were no soccer teams at culinary school, she opted for a Division 1 soccer scholarship at San Diego State. After winning a statewide singing competition, she left school to pursue a country music contract in Nashville. Turns out, that wasn’t her thing, so from there she played semi-professional soccer. When she realized she wouldn't be the female equivalent of David Beckham,she hung up her cleats and moved to Napa, intent on making some other dreams a reality.
Shaffer casually returns to the binder to point out various then/now comparisons in a pinch-me-is-this-really-happening way. “I always wanted to create a lifestyle brand of products. I drew spices, cookware, pet food—and the angry bus.”
Along with the angry bus doodle (which looks more mischievous than surly), there were drawings for social club entertainment, wine and food events, a storefront and a grant program that “gives back.” Her intensity level peaks as she refers to the pages that went on to attract not only Sunset magazine but other key sponsors including Miner Family Winery, Stolzle glassware, Bay Area Airstream Adventures and a battalion of supporters.
Do good while doing well
One such fan, Britt Van Giesen, director of corporate evolution at Wine and Dine Events, a corporate event planning and custom luxury tour company in Napa, talks about his first meeting with Shaffer in 2003. “Katie came in all bubbly and bouncy. I remember asking her what experience she had in event planning, and she said, ‘None.’ But she said that she was really good at painting murals on children’s walls. At first I thought, what the h***? But over the next half hour, I realized that whatever she put her mind to would go ata million miles an hour. In all my years of doing events, I’ve always said it’s not so much the knowledge base as it is the passion to execute the dream. Katie has that. She’s literally become an overnight success at her job.”
When Van Giesen’s daughter was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a postnatal neurological disorder, Shaffer stepped into a role that would ultimately define her work. “When my daughter was diagnosed, I came off the tracks,” he says. “Katie basically took everything over and kept things going. She made it her mission to help my family and the entire Rett community.”
In 2004 the fund-raiser, Erika’s Dream, was created to support families whose children were suffering from the illness. “The first event she did raised $250,000.” In five years’ time, the event would garner enough money to establish Katie’s Clinic at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. It was through Erika’s Dream that Shaffer would meet Rebecca and Kevin Gouveia, who would become business partners in FiF five years later.
Van Giesen adds, “With Erika’s Dream and the event foundation under her belt, Katie learned that her passion was to not only to do events, but to do good while doing well. Everywhere she goes she raises the bar.” Shaffer would continue to wear the do-gooder hat when Elaine Honig approached her in 2008to help grow another local fund-raiser, Wine, Women, and Shoes, which is now hosted in more than 30 states and has raised more than $20 million for women’s and children’s charities.
It didn’t take long for Shaffer to parlay her panache for wine, food and philanthropy into a day job that materialized over a glass of wine with girlfriends. “Isn’t that how most business is done?” she asks. What could’ve been just another night filled with idle chitchat became Toolbox Wine Co., a cause marketing and lifestyle wine brand,which, beyond the catchy tagline of “serious wines, playful marketing,” became the catalyst for another Shaffer cause: creating products with a purpose. “We donated a portion of all sales proceeds to Habitat for Humanity,” she says. This cause marketing has become a mainstay ideal in all her ventures and serves as the foundation for FiF.
In 2012 Toolbox was sold, which freed up Shaffer to direct her full attention to FiF. “Toolbox was my way to enter the wine business. At Wine, Women and Shoes, I created Toolbox. At Toolbox, I created FiF, which was always the big dream. I wanted to do it all.”
Wanting versus selling the dream
Shaffer quickly learned that wanting to do it all and actually getting it done were two very different things. “I had these crazy ideas in my head about how this could be successful, but trying to spill that out to a potential investor when I didn’t have any proven products was rough. Some people fail and give up, but I was like, screw that: I’m going to do this and have fun doing it. Now I have a tangible product that many companies are interested in.”
One such company, Stolzle glassware, went all in. “FiF came to Stolzle and discussed the wine, food and philanthropy concept,” says Ann Hepler, brand strategist Stolzle Glass/ATP. “We thought Stolzle could be a founding partner and sponsor for something that has huge potential. We couldn’t pass this once in a lifetime opportunity. More funds to FiF means more money going to charity.”
Joint Stolzle and FiF branded wine glasses will hit the market this spring and feature Shaffer’s doodles on the box. “We got playful with our packaging. The black and white drawings will stand out, along with the feel good mission behind it,” says Shaffer. “Ann saw the giving side of FiF and how the glass does make a difference. We aren’t just slapping a name on a product. A percentage of proceeds will go back to charity.” A set of cocktail glasses will follow with more of Shaffer’s doodles (these featuring the New York City jazz scene). That same crafty hand created the FiF logo, which she calls the “glork”: “It’s a wine glass and a fork. It’ll be like the polo player for Ralph Lauren, a living icon for FiF.”
Products with a purpose
What began with Shaffer’s creation of Erika’s Dream has since morphed into a lifestyle built on paying it forward in every way possible. Through a nonprofit arm, the Feast It Forward Foundation, Shaffer fund-raises for 20 charities that aid women, children, animals, health and international needs. Each quarter, she selects five new charities (one for each pillar) and, at the end of the fiscal year, all raised funds are equally dispersed between them. “Whether it’s from fund-raising events we host or lifestyle products we sell, it’s the proceeds from everything we do on the philanthropy side.”
Products include everything from a co-branded line of spices with Whole Spice in Petaluma and spice-infused chocolates from Kollar in Yountville to wine from Maroon Vineyards (Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Stolzle co-branded glasses. The products are currently available via the FiF website and are expected to hit brick-and-mortar stores in the coming months.
Given Shaffer’s tendency to take things to the extreme, when she was presented an opportunity to help on a more global level, she seized it. In 2015, in partnership with the United Village Transformation (UVT), formed by FiF co-founders Kevin and Rebecca Gouveia along with friends Rob and Claudia Sansone, a FiF film crew, led by the Gouveias, traveled to Malawi to film UVT’s ongoing efforts in several remote African villages. “Together we raised enough to establish a school and a learning center,” says Shaffer, adding “I’m so proud of all the Gouveias have accomplished as an organization, building it in addition to representing FiF. ”
Back on domestic soil, the fund-raising missions continued. “When Katie came to me more than a year ago with the idea of incorporating an airstream trailer into her business model to help draw attention and provide a foundation for getting her program off the ground, my gut reaction was that it would be absolutely spectacular,” says Ted Davis, president of Bay Area Airstream Adventures, Inc. The relationship resulted in what Shaffer calls a “tricked out” FiF Ultimate Airstream.
The rolling luxury lounge plays host to “Airstream Sessions,” a channel on the FiF Network, which presents another means for spreading the good word of philanthropy. Shaffer hosts jam sessions in the trailer, where notable artists like Michael Franti sit down to rap about life, music and their idea of “giving back.”
“It’s a traveling call to action. Whether we’re hosting a community event and asking guests to bring canned food to load up the Airstream to deliver to a local food bank, or it’s an intimate corporate event in a vineyard, a portion of proceeds go back to our foundation. There will always be a way to ‘Feast it Forward,’” Shaffer explains.
The star power doesn’t stop there. Shaffer recently attracted celebrity chef Rick Moonen, who signed on to host the series, “Can I Eat This?” Moonen gets down and dirty, tracking food from its source to the table. The network also features shows like “Between the Bottles,” “Drinks with a Twist” and “Feast, Sip & Savor,” each serving up a unique spin on wine, food, philanthropy, and a whole lot of fun. (See “Feast it Forward Network Lineup,” below).
While Shaffer has done her share of mixing and mingling with greatness, she seems barely phased. “I’ve interviewed some pretty amazing people—Imagine Dragons (pictured), Kevin Costner, Snoop Dogg—but I don’t really get star struck. We all put our pants on the same way.” She pauses and then says, “Except for meeting Coach K [of Duke University]. He was one of the top people for me…And Rick [Moonen]. I remember thinking, ‘Here’s Rick Moonen. He does all this work with these huge networks, yet he saw something in this and wanted to be a part of it.’”
Wishing and hoping
When it comes to someone like Shaffer, it’s not enough to dream big, you actually have to do big, which is exactly what’s in store with her next venture, “Feast Interactive,” slated to launch later this month. “Our goal is to get the family back into the kitchen. We’ll be in a live studio where people can come and ‘feast’ with us in person.
“We’re exploring tie-ins with a Blue Apron-esque type of company, so that in the futurepeople at home will get their box of ingredients and be able to cook along with us.”
Shaffer will continue to call upon more turbo-charged mojo when it comes to tackling one of her biggest ambitions to date. “We’re working on building a storefront that becomes a live studio for food and drink experiences. Think ‘Emeril Live’-meets-‘The Today Show.’ It’s a way for people to come and touch and feel what we’re doing. There’ll be a retail section where a percentage of sales will give back.”
After the storefront in Napa, Shaffer hopes to take the show on the road with studios in New York, Charleston, Chicago and Los Angeles. “It won’t necessarily be a franchise, just live studios and chefs from around the country, giving people a way to touch andpurchase the FiF brand. It always comes back to raising money in all we do. Now I need to get aggressive with the funding.”
Despite the eagerness to jumpstart her latest dream sequence, Shaffer refuses to settle. “It was my goal at one point to sign with a network, but I quickly learned that wasn’t my thing. I would’ve lost all of the creative vision. Not going down that path lets me maintain ownership.”
Winding down the bunny
Every person I spoke with about their first brush with Shaffer told a similar story: She blew into the room with huge aspirations—some that bordered on outlandish—with boundless enthusiasm to match.
But despite the doe-eyed intentions, each was convinced, minutes into the meeting, that Shaffer would make good on her dreams and then some. “Meeting her at 23 and seeing where she is now,” says Van Giesen, “the change has been overwhelmingly dramatic. She’s a force that everybody in this valley knows. But Katie always puts success onto people other than herself. For Katie, it’s always about the ‘we’and ‘they,’ never the ‘me.’ That’s why she’s a success.”
Davis says, “Katie will become a household name by creating great products and experiences, and her belief that those who can, should—and she’ll make people feel great doing it.”
So what’s the ultimate dream of this turbo charged do-gooder? “My hope, down the line, is that I meet a young Katie, someone who comes to me with a crazy idea and wants me to be a part of it,” says Shaffer.
Right when I think Napa’s Energizer Bunny shows signs of slowing, she coins an impromptu catchphrase: “Ideas are only dreams until they happen.”
Feast It Forward Network Lineup
Katie Hamilton Shaffer’s online network clips along at turbo charged speeds all year long with five series currently running (available for viewing anytime at feastitforward.com) and seven in production and development. FiF content will also be syndicated via a partnership with Sunset magazine.
Between the Bottles.Joined by A-list chefs, tastemakers and musicians, Shaffer hits the road in the FiF Ultimate Airstream for a look at the hottest trends, events and causes that inspire her guests, all in the name of raising a glass, awareness and funds.
Airstream Sessions.Notable artists step inside the Ultimate Airstream luxury lounge for an intimate jam and rap session about life, music and “giving back,” while fans join the live stream and interact with their favorite musicians.
Can I Eat This?Godfather of sustainability and champion of the sea Chef Rick Moonen gets down and dirty as he tracks food from its source to the kitchen table on a quest to resurrect responsible food practices.
Feast, Sip and Savor. This series goes behind the bar and into the kitchen one sip, sniff and taste at a time, giving viewers a behind the scenes look at those who bring the Feast to the table.
Drinks with a Twist. Libation lovers unite as mixmasters and tastemakers serve up boozy tips for unique spins on classic and newly crafted cocktails while they shake things up with tasty tips and secrets for some of the most sought after sips around.
Series in production
Empty Bottle Chronicles. Taste and drinkmakers collide with everyone from winemakers to craft brewers and distillers,searching for the truth and story behind every bottle, from the inside and out.
Wine Country Travel and Tips. A rollicking Wine Country romp to uncork the best events, wineries, picnic spots, healing spas and more.
Feast Interactive. A monthly live stream and studio event where visitors and viewers get to stir up something special alongside featured chefs, all with the aim of getting the family back in the kitchen.
Series in development
Kitchen Conundrum. Notable chefs surprise attack A-listers at home in a challenge to create a feast worthy meal with only healthy and responsibly produced items found within the kitchen.
Riffs & Recipes. Chefs and musicians collide to learn about rising culture and food trends within their city as viewers go beyond the band for an intimate jam session when riff meets the recipe.
Food for Fitness Challenge. Elite chefs and athletes swap places and secrets, making the link between food experiences and food for fitness.
Portraits & Profiles. An intimate look at industry professionals who are truly giving back and Feasting it Forward through unique brands and products.
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