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Intersection of Art, Food, and Cruise Ships in Pike Place Market

May 23, 2024

At the start of 2020, Lendy Hensley and Katy Carroll were running a successful catering business in Seattle that they’d operated for more than a decade. But by April 2020 they had to rethink their whole business model. Pandemic restrictions forced them to let go of their whole crew but they still had a 7,000-square-foot kitchen in South Lake Union to work with. It was time to pivot. “We knew we wanted to keep making food, and we loved the idea of taking what we did in our kitchen and making it into some kind of retail product,” said Hensley, a 25-year catering veteran.

Without in-person gatherings, many service industry professionals were pivoting to gift baskets. Hensley and her team created a gift basket with a modern twist — still finding a way to unite people through good food. They spent endless hours in their kitchen revisiting favorite recipes and exploring others’ delicious ideas to develop the tasty treats and savory eats to fill the baskets and curate the perfect bite. 


Unique inside and out

The aesthetic was also a key piece of the product — they landed on tattoo-themed, reusable packaging designed by local artists that customers would treasure long after finishing the product inside. With this vision in place, Bite Society was born.

“I wanted the artwork to be representative of the look of employees in our Seattle kitchen,” Hensley said. “At our pastry kitchen, all our people had ice cream cones and cupcakes tattooed on their arms and on the savory side, butcher cuts, fish, and knives, so this was a really great fit.”

With tattoo shops closed because of the pandemic, Bite Society put out ads for tattoo artists to design the art for their packaging.

“It came together in a way people absolutely love,” Hensley said. “The products are a great representation of who we are and who we've been. On the gift basket side, I think it’s a fun basket to get. There are lots of surprises, the food is good, the packaging is fun and unexpected, and I love what we were able to do.” 

Although Hensley and her team make the majority of the food that fills the gift baskets, they source the remaining items from local makers and producers. All of the food is made with local ingredients.

They bake in their South Lake Union kitchen Monday through Friday and sell products seven days a week via their Pike Place Market location — located in the main arcade next to Oceanside Nurseries and across from the iconic Lowell’s Restaurant. Passersby are invited to sample cookies, chips, and snacks to their heart’s content.


A dream location

After months of planning and product development, Bite Society launched its website at 2:00 a.m. on December 16, 2020. They remained in the online space until January 2022, when they decided it was time to sell products in an in-person setting. What better place to meet the community than through the iconic Pike Place Market?

Bite Society first entered the market as an early participant in its guest vendor program, a pop-up program placing vendors at the entrance to the market at First Avenue and Pike Street. Eventually, they were offered a permanent smaller space in the main arcade before moving into the larger space they occupy today.“Selling online was lovely but it was not our happy place,” Hensley said. “We came up in food by feeding people in person and connecting with them that way.”

Hensley said she has loved her experience at Pike Place Market even more than she expected.

“It’s fantastic in the market; I didn't know it was going to be this way or how much I would love it,” she said. “What I didn't know was how much I was going to enjoy chatting with people from everywhere around the world and around the country and telling them about us. You make a really personal connection here, even in three minutes of chatting.” 


The cruise connection

Now in its 25th year of cruises between Seattle and Alaska this April, cruise tourism has become a significant part of the local economy, contributing to hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs, and bringing nearly $900 million to the region in economic impact, bolstering small, local businesses like Bite Society. From April through October, close to 100 percent of Bite Society’s customers are tourists or cruise passengers. Hensley said the impact of cruise has been huge on her business.

“Cruise passengers are what is going to make us into a much more national brand,” she said. “They come to town and have a great experience on the ship. They are also looking to plug into whatever town they land in a pretty authentic way. Pike Place Market is made for that. People who run these shops are local, and products are locally made.”

She said the unique, local flavor and creative design of her product is a natural fit for cruise customers. “I don't think they’ve seen a tin featuring a Pike Place Market design by a tattoo artist filled with tasty cookies that are made up the street in Seattle. It's your low-risk souvenir, especially for anyone who loves the intersection of art and food.”


And cruise customers often shop with Bite Society more than once. She estimates that 20 percent of online customers in 2023 were cruise passengers back for return business. Around half of her business in dollars each year is from cruise customers. “They have some money to spend; they are looking for that interesting thing they found on their trip. I think we can be that pot of gold at the end of the search by giving them something they’ve never seen.”

As cruise season heats up, Hensley and staff are making more cookies and adding staff to make sure they can handle the extra business and provide the attention and tastings for customers. She said she feels lucky to be located in one of Seattle’s top tourist attractions that receives 10 million visitors each year from all over the world, and serves as Seattle’s largest incubator of small, independent businesses.

“I don’t know that there is a better location for a small producer business to start than where we are right now. I think this is it. I think the market just takes you places. You don’t really know what’s going to happen and who that next person is who walks up to your counter.” 

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