Simmering a broth business
By Christy White
Photography by Shannon McIntyre
Lindsey Ott first put the bone pot on the stove for the sake of her son’s teeth, but deciding to keep it there was more of an evolution.
The backstory is that when Ott’s boy was four years old, his dentist found small cavities in several teeth. While many parents would dutifully return the child to the dentist’s chair to be drilled, Lindsey instead tracked down a book mentioned by a friend who claimed to have cured her daughter’s cavities with dietary changes. Based on the work of Dr. Weston Price, Cure Tooth Decay, by Bay Area dad Ramiel Nagel, advocates for a diet of organ meats, bone broth, raw dairy, and vegetables in place of grains, seeds, nuts, and beans. After following the diet assiduously for four months, Ott returned her son to the dentist, who confirmed that the cavities had disappeared.
At first, Lindsey simply liked the way having a pot of bone broth simmering away on the stove made her feel safe, “like there was something nourishing going on in my home.” As she perfected her broth, she began to appreciate the historical and cultural context of the soup pot. “Women have been tending the broth since the beginning of time. Virtually all cultures have made broths.” But the bottom line was that she felt better during the day and slept better when she had a cup of broth before bed.
Bones imbue a broth with minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium in a form the body can easily absorb, and the concoctions are purported to provide powerful health benefits, including clearer skin, improved flexibility, and stronger immune systems. Amino acids such as glycine and proline—concentrated in bone broth but deficient in muscle meat—are said to aid digestive systems damaged or weakened by antibiotics.
“When we kill off the good, alive stuff inside, we can’t absorb all the nutrients possible from food,” says Ott.
Just as she was learning about the benefits of bone broth, Lindsey was building a business to nurture new moms, focusing on the postpartum phase and the tradition of providing new mothers with nutrient-dense food.
While researching what others in her space were doing, she discovered Mama Tong, a “soupery” founded by Jane and Lien Lin that provided Chinese postpartum soups to new moms. Lindsey’s interest was piqued. “I contacted Jane because I wanted to learn how to make her soups, and she offered me the business.”
Lindsey’s first instinct was to accept. Her brother Michael, a business analyst, felt otherwise. He pointed out that since Jane didn’t have any financial records, there was no basis for believing the business would be successful. “It was a passion project for her,” explained Lindsey, who then launched herself down that same path.
Ott learned how to make the soups and re-opened the Lins’ webstand on Good Eggs. She transitioned all ingredients to organic, with the exception of a few traditional Chinese items in the Herbal Chicken Soup and the Mushroom Stew. (Michiu rice wine and some herbs come from Mayway, a high-quality Chinese herb distributor in Oakland.) Sales were good, and Ott developed a loyal following. However, when she began offering bone broth, things really took off.
The broths simmer for 48 hours, and for the last three hours of cooking time, Lindsey adds vegetables and herbs that pack in vitamins and minerals. But her real emphasis is on flavor: “I want it to light up your mouth and be stunningly delicious.” El Cerrito Natural Grocery and Berkeley Natural Grocery began offering her broths in spring 2015.
The journey has been a crash course in business. Lindsey has faced all manner of challenges, including sheer exhaustion and financial shortfall. “I had an incredibly hard time finding a kitchen, and that’s the situation for most people in my business. There is a demand for more certified kitchens at more affordable rates.”
However, persistence and hard work are paying off. Now working from a commercial kitchen in Richmond, Ott began selling at the Larkspur Landing Farmers’ Market last spring, and she’s on the waiting list for Berkeley and Oakland markets. Business has tripled during the past year.
Lindsey says she doesn’t operate from a conventional business mindset. Rather than racing to become profitable in the shortest amount of time possible, she is determined to be part of a healthy, sustainable food system that takes advantage of no one. “I believe that because I’m acting from a place of integrity, everything will work out.”
Exploring possibilities for the future, Ott looked into a co-packing facility, but was turned off by the industrial environment. She’s looking into direct and mail-order sales and creating a postpartum package she describes as “the answer to what every woman wants to give her best friend when she has a baby.”
Last spring, Lindsey was approached by Whole Foods Market’s local forager Harvinder Singh, who had received broth samples several months before. He said he wanted to do a bone broth cleanse: He wanted Lindsey’s broths, and he was willing to fight his way through rush hour traffic to get them. Now, he’s shepherding Lindsey through the complex third-party authorization process necessary to be carried by Whole Foods stores.
Ott’s goal: an inspired work space for Mama Tong and other thriving small-food businesses where they can grow sustainably and with integrity. ´
The full range of Mama Tong soups and broths can be purchased on goodeggs.com/mamatong. In the East Bay, Ott’s fresh bone broths can be purchased at the Temescal and Berkeley farmers’ markets, El Cerrito Natural Grocery, and Berkeley Natural Grocery. mamatongsoup.com