Jose Velarde isn’t one to sit on an idea for long. Last July, he hatched an ambitious (some would say impractical) plan to start a truffle importing business from his home in Olivehurst, just north of Sacramento. The enterprise was up and running within days. “I’m such a spontaneous person. I’ve always been like that,” he says. “This time it actually helped me.”
The way Velarde tells the story, the business practically built itself. A friend introduced him to a contact in Italy who connected him with a supplier who sold him his first 1-pound shipment. Within days of posting a few pictures of his truffles on Instagram, Velarde received more than two dozen orders. “From there it grew every single day,” he says.
Three months after launching, Velarde Foods was servicing more than 117 accounts (primarily restaurants) from Portland to San Diego. “I didn’t know anything about the restaurant industry, but I’m learning so fast,” says Velarde. “It’s insane, but I love it.”
He currently works with vendors in six countries—Italy, Spain, France, Ukraine, Australia and Hungary—who supply him with high-quality truffles as their seasons allow. The gig has Velarde hustling to and from airports in Sacramento and San Francisco at least weekly. Once home, he and his wife, Alondra, carefully wrap each truffle in a paper towel and store them in glass containers in a refrigerator until they are delivered to their final destination, typically a high-end restaurant with a chef who knows how to make the most of the subterranean fungi.
“The chefs have been so welcoming to us: Deneb Williams at Allora, Kelly McCown at The Kitchen, Aziz Bellarbi-Salah at Aioli,” says Velarde, who had been working as a noon-duty aide at a school before opening the business. “We have a unique product, but we knew almost nothing when we started, and those chefs took a chance on us. We have loved getting to know them and their food.”
Velarde, who recently added chanterelles from Europe and Minnesota to his inventory, hopes to grow the business enough to move out it of his home and into a warehouse space. “I never had high expectations for this. I just didn’t know if it was going to last. But I hope it does.”