When Lisa Liefke heard that the owners of her favorite business were retiring, she leapt at the opportunity to continue the company.
It didn’t matter that it had only been three days since she had resigned from her former job in the corporate tech world. Her plans to take an extended period of rest to deal with chronic health issues went right out the window when she decided to buy Walden Lane Gourmet.
Since purchasing the business in 2018, Liefke, a South Whidbey resident, has tripled the line of products available for sale. And last month, she opened Walden Lane Gourmet’s first brick and mortar location in downtown Langley.
Handcrafted olive oils, balsamic vinegars and spice blends can be found on the crisp white shelves of the Langley store. Customers are encouraged to take a tiny testing spoon and try as much as possible.
“I can’t think of another place where you can come in and belly up to the bar and taste this kind of stuff,” Liefke said.
From pomegranate and blueberry balsamic vinegar to umami black truffle dust to orange avocado oil, there’s something for everyone.
In addition to the spice blends, there are a number of different salt blends, including white pearl sea salt harvested off the coast of Africa.
“One of my friends calls them the sea salt Gobstopper,” Liefke said of the little pearls.
Working with hundreds of raw materials, the blends are assembled in an off-site commercial kitchen in Clinton by Liefke and Emily Alexander, her sole employee. The balsamic vinegars, which come in a variety of different flavors, are imported from Europe.
“You can only technically call it balsamic of Modena if it’s from Modena, Italy,” Liefke said. “It’s very much like champagne.”
The versatile vinegars can be added to seltzers or cocktails, drizzled over ice cream or used as a glaze for salmon, ham or turkey.
The unique glass stackable bottles, which look a little bit like perfume bottles, are also imported from Italy. According to Liefke, the glassware must be ordered a year ahead of its planned use. Getting materials during the COVID-19 pandemic posed its own challenges, given the supply chain issues. Now, the war in Ukraine is impacting shipping costs.
The entire Walden Lane Gourmet operation – which includes the commercial kitchen and the storefront – is 100% gluten-free, meaning anyone with celiac disease can safely consume the products. Liefke herself was diagnosed about 10 years ago.
Fittingly, Liefke tasted her first Walden Lane Gourmet product in Langley, during the 2007 Choochokam Music and Arts Festival.
Although never formally trained as a chef, Liefke has enjoyed creating new culinary products for the business, which has always had an active online store at waldenlanegourmet.com. Soon, customers will be able to participate in a refill program at the Langley store.
“I started cooking when I could reach the stove,” Liefke said. “I was born with the passion for cooking.”
Her parents wouldn’t buy her an Easy Bake Oven, but as she later realized, that was because she could use a real oven instead.
“My husband and I, we remember our vacations because of food,” she said. “We’ve traveled to a lot of different parts of Europe and it’s always been around, where can we get the best food?”
Liefke likes to call Walden Lane Gourmet the “unrecipe company.” She hopes people have as much fun experimenting in the kitchen, or cooking with abandon, as she does.