October 1

Get Your Gift On

New business Bite Society offers up tasty treats in SLU.

City Catering Company had been serving Seattle excellent food and service since 2001. The well-regarded catering business threw large and elaborate fetes, dinners, corporate gatherings, and more. Then in 2020 and without any real warning, City Catering served its final meal — a full-service, sit-down dinner for 550 people. COVID-19 had arrived, and the pandemic shut down all in-person events for a nearly two-year period.

Catering was no longer a viable option. City Catering founder Lendy Hensley and two other long-times vets of the business, Katy Carrol and Shana Hicks, decided to pivot. The new endeavor? Bite Society, a purveyor of cool gift baskets. Its bespoke baskets run the gamut of snack-y delights, ranging from Big Ass Brunch (coffee, tea cakes, smoked salmon, granola and more morning time delights) to The Big Hug (think assorted charcuterie, cheeses, pate, fancy mustard, and the like), among others.

We dished with owners Lendy, Katy, and Shana about their pivot to Bite Society, what makes a good gift basket, and some of their customers’ favorite tastes so far.

Portrait of Bite Society owners Lendy Hensley, Katy Carrol and Shana Hicks.

What inspired you to start this business model? Why gift baskets, but cool?

Lendy: Bite Society is our COVID pivot. Jumping into retail packaged food was a long-time dream, and the shutdown gave us a lot of time to work on it. We saw a need in the food gifting market for products that were not only tasty but were wrapped in artful packaging. We are still filling a hospitality need, but we are doing it with original tattoo-themed art packaging and tasty food that we can ship nationwide.

I used to receive lots of uninspired thank you gifts as the owner of City Catering, and I wanted to give people an option to send something that reflected a more up-to-date point of view.

Katy: I call our inspiration “Necessity meets opportunity in a tattoo parlor.”

When everything shut down, Lendy and I had to cancel a March trip to London. In response to canceling the trip, I bought Lendy her favorite London gift—a Fortnum & Mason hamper (also known as a picnic basket).  About a week into the shutdown, it became clear the situation was going to last a whole lot longer. While we never imagined it ruining catering well into 2022, we felt we were looking at a solid year or more without much business. At that point we had lost 98% of our sales.

Around the same time that the Fortnum & Mason hamper appeared on our doorstep, we were kicking around the idea of creating gift baskets in the interim to stave off losing our business. The more we looked into gift baskets, the more we realized that the gifting business in the U.S. needed an injection of cool. No one had that combo of great products in great packaging that all hangs together with a point of view that makes you smile.

When you open that Fortnum & Mason hamper, it oozes “special gift” in that refined-yet-formal British way. We wanted a distinctly American version of that feeling — a bit more relaxed, a bit more fun, a bit more rebellious. So, we hired tattoo artists to start drawing for us and told them our inspiration was American Traditional Tattoo. We want our packaging to tell a story.

When you eat the food from that British hamper, you find yourself surprised that it is all quite good. We wanted that too — we want a basket that people enjoy from beginning to end. The cookies you hide from your children, nuts you can’t stop eating, chocolates you want to share with friends all in packaging you want to reuse.

Shana: The pandemic allowed us an opportunity to find a new way to bring joy into the lives of others. When we were catering, we were part of some pretty big and meaningful events in people’s lives. When events were cancelled, we saw a need to continue to provide a similar service. Food will always be the great connector, bringing folks together to celebrate life’s big events. Bite Society provides a “picnic by post” that sparks conversation and delight in the recipients.

Man with tattooed arms slicing a peeled carrot.

What’s been most popular for Seattle customers so far?

Lendy: Everyone loves our packaging and our baskets. They are happily surprised by the quality of our food. We get a lot of “Oh My God, this is really good.” The Salsa Macha Chile Crisp has a really strong following as do our cookies. It feels great to have a brand whose products are so well received. Basket recipients turn around and order for their friends.

Shana: We have all been through a lot in the past year and half.  The two baskets that I feel encapsulate our common experiences are the Thank You SO Much basket and the Care Package basket. We have a lot to be thankful for, and the Thank You SO Much basket was created to show the giver’s gratitude. Care Package was created because we all need a little extra care these days, and this basket says just that.

Katy: So far, Seattle says “Thank You SO Much” a lot. And, Seattle customers apologize to their neighbors at both a charming and alarming rate — so much so that we created a basket called “Sorry Neighbor.”

What makes the perfect gift basket?

Lendy: The food has to be good, and I think the reusable art covered packaging is a nice bonus. We also choose items that work well together. Many of our baskets contain pairings. Just like building a menu, we pair foods that work well together.

Shana: The perfect gift basket is one that is balanced. Whether that balance be salty and sweet, chewy and crunchy, or savory and sweet. We aim to make each basket balanced in a way that there is something for everyone.

Any special products or offerings you want to share for fall Halloween specifically?

Lendy: I love our Ginger Crumble Cookies. They are fall in a cookie. The ginger spice is warming and they have a hint of an apple crumble in them. I would put that with a cup of our lavender Earl Grey tea on an October afternoon.

Shana: Come October 1, all I want to do is hibernate. I love to sink into the couch with a good snack mix. Our Furikake Mix is my favorite. Once I’ve polished that off, I typically switch over to our Ginger Crumble Cookies and end the evening with a few of our Fine Chocolates.

You can browse some of Bite Society’s baskets in person at 509 Dexter Avenue North, or shop online for friends, loved ones, colleagues, or anyone who’d appreciate super-cool gift basket.

Story by Ethan Chung & photographs by Christopher Bell.


Bluebill

Boeing’s first plane flies from Lake Union in 1916