A boy’s love for the Northern woods inspired a generational family business 40 years ago. With stores now in PetoskeyHarbor SpringsCharlevoixTraverse City and Saugatuck, see how American Spoon is leaving their mark on Northern Michigan and beyond. 

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Long before the local foods movement had a name or trendy aisle in grocery stores, American Spoon founder Justin Rashid understood how pure, intense flavors could transport a person into the heart of the fruitlands he loves. Forty years later, that passion still defines American Spoon as the next generation, Noah Marshall-Rashid, solidifies the company’s place in an ever-growing artisan food culture.

Like his father, Noah believes in slow foods for a high-speed age and putting classic flavors first. This is evidenced in the unassuming gray industrial building on Clarion Avenue in Petoskey, where Northern Michigan’s story is lovingly told, one glass jar at a time. Copper kettles still blend small-batch favorites. Words like “integrity” are spoken about fruit with reverence. And local farmers are known by first names. But to appreciate how this legendary purveyor of spoonable preserves (and now, so much more) became the success Noah now stewards, we first have to go back to his father’s childhood. Back to the origin story of a boy, who fell in love with a land.

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

Related Read: Searching for more on local food, recipes and recommendations? Visit our Northern Michigan Food & Drink page.

It’s a hot summer day in the early 1960s, and a station wagon kicks up dust on a country road near Indian River. It’s filled to the brim with kids in a quiet haze of happy, lake-drenched exhaustion.

All but one. Picture a mess of brown hair, bright almond-shaped eyes and a slight gap-toothed smile. He’s wide awake and pushing his mother’s buttons. So much so that, four miles from his family’s log summer homestead in Wildwood, the car screeches to a halt. Wide-eyed siblings watch in part awe, part giddy horror, as their mother sighs and says, “out.”

Moments later, 9-year-old Justin Rashid kicks a pebble and looks around. It doesn’t take long for the air above the road to settle. He watches the meadow grasses hula. Listens to birds he can’t yet identify, but recognizes all the same. Catches sight of a squirrel, maybe the bushy tail of a fox. Inhaling the fragrance of late summer on the edge of hardwoods and conifers, a feeling hits. It’s one he will hone over years of rambling through Up North forests and fields. One he comes to recognize as the marrow of life.

Freedom. Wonder. Wildness.

“I often took to the woods when I’d worn out my welcome,” Justin, almost 70 now, recalls with the same spark in his eyes.

“We owned 40 acres—including 10 acres of raspberries—that backed up to 30,000 acres of state land. That’s really how my love of foraging started,” he says, before adding with an eye roll and a laugh, “but back then, it was just called walking around in the woods, and getting hungry.”

Justin’s friends soon showed him how to harvest leeks and look for blackberry bushes. He was 13 when he found his first morel mushroom, and “was hooked.” A native Detroiter, Justin spent summer months hunting nature’s delicacies.

“It was, in all honesty, the antidote to my personality,” he notes.

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

As a young adult, however, Justin and his wife, Kate Marshall, took a surprising detour far from the wilderness: New York City.

“It didn’t last long, thankfully,” he says. “We were performing artists. We realized even if we made it, we’d have to live there, and that just wasn’t going to work.”

Before coming back to Michigan, the Marshall-Rashids tried Maine, where they discovered acquiring local status took about 200 years, and Midwestern sensibilities turned out to be more their speed. And so, to Wildwood they returned.

“We opened up a roadside market,” Justin says. “We sold everything I liked to find, and I’d go around to local friends who grew things. We were a farm-to-table market before farm-to-table was a thing.”

It was—not joking—The Whole Food Store.

Like so much of the American Spoon story, serendipity struck when Justin gave a customer who waited tables in New York a ride to the local airport. She was panicking about forgetting to bring “some sort of wild mushroom” back to a hotshot young chef.

Justin simply replied, “He wants morels. Give me his number, I’ll take care of it.”

The chef, Larry Forgione, did want morels and Justin delivered.

“Larry said they were the best he’d ever had, and asked what else I could send,” Justin says, launching into a story about Forgione flying to Northern Michigan to see a man about some buffalo. The chef marveled at Lake Michigan, and the endless orchards he saw.

“I explained we have the best microclimate for growing fruit in the country,” Justin says, smiling as he remembers Forgione’s next question: “Do you know how to make jam?”

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

“We were both 29, and too young to realize what we didn’t know. We were blissfully ignorant of all that went into food processing, and we jumped in with both feet.”

Justin recalls the early days in the basement of Kilwin’s downtown Petoskey candy shop: Forgione would send recipes and Justin rounded up local ingredients, and set to work making magic in copper kettles with wooden stir paddles.

“The smells were what sold people,” he says. “We tripled down on the flavors, and people were drawn in the door.”

That’s exactly what happened when a married couple from Charlevoix who wrote for The New York Times walked by, and a story on this little artisan business soon found its way into the newsprint.

“We got something like 6,000 requests for orders or catalogs, which we didn’t even have at the time,” Justin says, shaking his head at the memory of postcards and letters. “I guess you could say our mail order business grew from there.”

The right concept, at the right time—paper and postage were cheap—but Justin says they never took a single customer for granted.

“It takes effort to place an order, especially back then when you had to pick up a phone or mail back a piece of paper,” he says. “You’ve got to really want the product. There has to be a longing, and we thought about that every day as we stood beside those kettles in the kitchen.”

In 1989, they heeded the grumblings of a back-aching UPS driver named Wally, who was tired of wheeling carts full of boxes through downtown. “We moved into a defunct slaughterhouse just out of town, where we still operate. At the time, we had no idea we were pioneers for this model of direct-to-customer artisan foods with a powerful sense of place. We just wanted to celebrate what we loved.”

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

The Next Generation of American Spoon

Noah is adamant about carrying on the legacy his parents created. It’s about joy and authenticity. It’s also about meeting customers where they are (and how they shop) so that American Spoon can keep leading the artisan food industry it helped put on the map.

“We currently do about 70 percent of our business online, and the majority of our marketing resources are directed toward growing that channel,” Noah says. “The truth is, more and more people are discovering and buying specialty food online. We see spoon.com as our sixth and largest storefront, with the broadest reach.” (American Spoon has five retail stores—the original location in Petoskey, and others in Harbor Springs, Charlevoix, Traverse City and Saugatuck.)

Spoon.com was first launched in 1996, though it’s been revamped several times since, most recently last year with an updated shipping program. The website itself feels like a narrative work of art. It combines a vintage vibe with stellar photography, recipes and curated gift selections. Even the subscribe section (“Get news from Up North.”) gives warm fuzzies.

The elder Rashid credits his son’s instincts when talking about the way online sales have boosted their bottom line. This was especially true during the pandemic when cooking became a way to escape the doldrums of staying home.

“I’m the luckiest guy on Earth, to have a son who wanted to carry this forward and has a better head for business than I ever did,” Justin says.

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

“Coming back in 2004, I was certainly worried about the future of American Spoon,” Noah remembers. “When September 11 happened, it wiped out the majority of our airline food service business, which was about 35 percent of our revenue at the time. And Michigan was in a recession. There were real questions about the business, without a clear path forward. But, I also thought I could fix everything in two years, and then go to law school.”

Youthful arrogance quickly lost out to something stronger: love. He met a girl. He grew more and more rooted in the family business. He stayed, learned and started to lead.

“We definitely had to go through the woods for a while to figure things out,” Noah says. “We had to go back to our foundation—no one between us and our customers. Doing so celebrates what makes us really special and unique: artisan-scale food production, direct relationships with farmers, small-town Northern Michigan values and quality of life.”
The ethos stands true today, as American Spoon fruit processors still carry in fresh berries, still use copper pots and still demand a purity of flavor.

“It comes down to the people,” Justin says. “Our staff is incredible. Just good, hardworking, local folks. Some of them have been with us for decades. We have people who are skilled and talented, and every one of them shares the same commitment to quality.”

His son agrees, adding that he loves to share their work with the world. It’s one of the reasons, even with successful retail shops and the strength of their website, nearly two million catalogs a year are put into circulation.

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

“It’s old-school marketing. Kind of like the old-school craft of making artisan jam,” Noah explains. “But all the fancy marketing in the world won’t make someone buy something through the mail twice. We have to have a great product. Always.”

The catalogs, like the website and store displays, remain an ode to all things artisan food. But now, in addition to pre- serves, there are also salsas, grilling sauces, even a signature margarita mix. And these offerings continue to grow: a granola kitchen is in the works; so too are more baking mixes that “pair perfectly with jams, compotes or dessert sauces.”

“We’re also creating partner products, like the new Blueberry Coffee Cake we make with Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, using a recipe we developed and featuring our favorite Michigan Rubel blueberries,” Noah says, adding that he is happy to collaborate with vendors who meet his high standards for good, real food.
After all, he did grow up in the kitchens of American Spoon. “There were no Kraft Singles in my childhood,” he adds with a laugh.

The second generation of the American Spoon family eats just as well as the first, as Noah and his wife keep their house well-stocked with favorites like whole seed mustard paired with sardines—even the kids devour it—and chocolate hazelnut butter which, unsurprisingly, disappears by the spoonful straight from the jar.

“We eat an embarrassing amount of pancakes (à la American Spoon Buckwheat Pancake Mix) in our house,” Noah says as he shakes his head. “Also, an absurd amount of PB&Js.”

It’s a simple joy, knowing your family is well-fed and connected to the place their food was grown. But it’s invaluable to someone like Justin, who has watched a lot of contemporaries sell out over the years. “It’s always been more than making a living for us. It was the foundation for our lives,” he says.

And with the next generation taking the reins, Justin gets to relax back into the wilds of Wildwood, often with his son’s children in tow. “We have been, and always will be, connected to fruit and the foraging culture. It’s an endless source of fascination to me, and at almost 70, I still have that same child-like sense of wonder when going into the woods.”

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

American Spoon

Photo by EE Berger

Kate Bassett is news director at the Harbor Light newspaper. Her novel, “Words and Their Meanings,” is available in bookstores and on the web. kate@ncpublish.com.

Photo(s) by EE Berger