By John Q. Horn
One successful cancer battle is enough to render anyone grateful and humble, if not entirely spent and reinvented.
So when Sacramento’s James Williams relentlessly shook free after twice stiff-arming Hodgkin’s, his eyesight sharpened, especially his entrepreneurial vision.
And it started with, of all things, a picnic.
Williams and his wife of 20 years, Kate, were coming off a second bout with cancer when the two decided a park picnic was in order. While the two unwound around the picnic basket, Williams’ business model came into focus.
“We sat there for 2 ½ hours, completely relaxed,” he said. “It felt like a mini-vacation.”
It was that afternoon that Sacramento Picnic Company was born. The business is, as one would imagine, exactly as it sounds – a team of professionals dedicated to hand-crafting and renting fully loaded, high-quality picnic baskets stuffed with locally grown culinary delights. Many picnic basket menu items rival what one would find in the most discerning dining rooms.
“From there we got our ducks in a row, started sending friends on picnics and started doing test runs,” he said.
Williams has taken a brilliant concept – the simplistically wholesome, blissful tranquility of an outdoor picnic – rendering it easily accessible to picnic-goers, while supporting local farmers, growers and foodsmiths. Imagine yourself, spread out on the cool grass with your favorite person, open bottle of wine, noshing on everything from smoked trout to local meats and cheese, to fresh salads and decadent desserts. And you never had to lift a finger to make it happen.
Following some positive feedback through the social network – mainly Twitter and Facebook – the Sacramento Picnic Company became whole.
A picnic is pleasant. It is an enjoyable event that typically includes nice weather, fresh air, great company and some delicious food, while relaxing in a state of leisure and dining al fresco. However, it doesn’t appear that the average picnic occurs as often as folks would like. Life gets in the way of such pampering. It’s not until we see two other people in the park enjoying a picnic lunch that we think, “Hey, we should do that.”
And it’s easy to see why the concept of picnicking easily goes from top-of-mind to “next time, maybe” with the swiftness. On paper, it sounds great. But the legwork can be daunting and time-consuming. First, dig up a basket. How many people have a legit picnic basket on their property? We guess that it’s not very many.
It’s then to the grocery store for food, wine and anything else that makes the meal complete. Between prepping, packing and finding a comfortably quiet locale, well, one can get burned out before spreading out that checkered blanket on the clover.
The Sacramento Picnic Company takes care of it – all of it. And it does so with a beautiful attention to detail, palate and community.
The Sacramento Picnic Company is definitely a niche business, providing a very specialized service. Communities strengthen with unified and diverse business landscapes, according to Peter Tateishi, president and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“Small businesses are a critical economic driver to our region’s growing economy and businesses like the Sacramento Picnic Company, that are unique to the region, help build upon the economic momentum we are seeing in Sacramento,” Tateishi said.
From farm to fork
For Williams, the operation is simple but comprehensive. Diners select between one of four themed baskets (more themes are forthcoming), which include real plates, silverware, sparkling water and food. The latter is a particular point of pride for Williams, as he maintains that all ingredients be as locally sourced as possible. Sacramento-area farmers, bakers and foodies all play a role in the from-the-farm-to-the-fork commitment.
“There are more and more people who want to get away from mass produced food,” Williams said. “Sacramento has a great farmers market. When you taste it, it’s so much better.”
And that is difficult against which to argue, as the basket options and menu therein are smartly curated with not just locally grown goods, but toothsome ones as well.
“We load up the baskets with four courses,” Williams said. “The absolute last thing I wanted to do was to put a sandwich and a bag of chips in them.”
Inspired by the progressive culinary atmosphere in and around Sacramento, as well as the proximity of popular wineries, Williams’ basket options are impressively well thought out. Theme baskets include:
- The Italia Basket – The company’s most popular, it includes prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, fresh caprese salad, cremini mushrooms with white truffle and cannoli.
- Summer Basket – Smoked trout with farro and summer vegetable salad, charcuterie and dark chocolate mousse.
- Wine Tour Basket – Smoked salmon and chipotle deviled eggs with California caviar, couscous and grilled vegetable salad, smoked grass-fed beef and chocolate-dipped strawberries. And,
- Southern Basket – Bread and butter pickles, baby potato salad with Applewood smoked lardons, muffaleta sandwich and banana pudding.
Basket costs range from $69 to $99. The baskets, custom-built with two handles and wicker by the Peterboro Basket Company in New Hampshire, stay with the customer for 24 hours before being returned to designated drop-off and pick-up locations, which for now include area wineries. Williams said a more comprehensive pick-up grid, including an online system, is presently in the works.
Baskets are available on Saturdays and Sundays only, with greater availability coming soon. For more information, visit the Sacramento Picnic Company on Facebook.
Sacramento Picnic Company