San Juan Island Sea Salt opens retail store

A love of farming and the ocean is often instilled in those, like Brady Ryan, who have grown up in the San Juans. Ryan combined those passions and added a new twist 12 years ago, starting the local salt company “San Juan Island Sea Salt.” That company has grown and prospered since then, and this year, they took a leap and opened a store.

“When you own a business you want that business to evolve, just like a person evolves,” Ryan said. The store is located at 80 Nichols Street, the former site of popular community hang-outs like Gray Matter and Cafe Demeter. The building felt like the perfect spot, especially since it had been such an iconic community hub.

“It has good local energy, and I’m glad it’s going to continue to be a place serving customers,” Ryan said.”I love the energy of asking questions about how salt is made, that is the most rewarding part of the job, having interactions with customers, and talking to them about the process. Salt making is an incredibly beautiful process and so fascinating scientifically.”

He fell into the business by chance while attending the University of Washington. Ryan’s circle of college friends happened to be farming students. The eating local challenge was trending at the time. People across the country were attempting to eat local, with only foods found within a few hundred miles of their location. An article about a couple making their own salt caught his eye. Ryan decided to try it – in his parent’s kitchen.

“It made a huge mess,” Ryan laughed.

Since then he has clearly developed his technique. The company currently produces approximately 20,000 pounds of salt, according to the website, and creates 30 unique products, with more developing all the time. The popcorn blend is one of the best-selling and is a favorite in his household as well. “Our children put it on everything,” he said, reminding islanders that have a favorite product, refill bags are available, just stop by the shop.

With the new store, his wife Leah has been stepping gently into baking, starting off with two different types of cookies.

One is a large classic chocolate chip, the other is a salt house cooking using their own Madrona Smoked Sugar and smoked chocolate chip from a company out of Seattle. Both varieties have been so popular they sell out daily, according to Ryan. Locals have told him they keep trying to buy some but by the time they get to the shop, the confections are already gone.

The couple envisions doing more baked goods down the road, but of all the challenges of opening the store, the commercial kitchen has been the biggest.

“Our landlords have been amazing, and really invested in the building, it really needed a lot of love,” Ryan explained. When it came time for the kitchen overhaul, the landlords stepped in again to assist. “It was all new to us, getting permitting for a commercial kitchen. We had so many questions. But they had an understanding of the process and helped us out.”

The shelves are also stocked with plenty of other regionally created goodies ranging from chocolates, pasta, wines and a selection of books all about salt.

The store means San Juan Island Sea Salt will no longer be making an appearance at the farmers market.

“The Farmers Market has been really good to us over the years, but we can only do so much,” explained Ryan The shop isn’t located far from Brickworks, however, and is currently open Friday-Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

They have been opened a month now, and the response has been positive.

“The first three weekends have been phenomenal. I could not have wanted anything better,” Ryan said, thanking the community for the strong support over the years.