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‘Mushrooms are having a moment’: The Mushroom Shop will open in Somerville in 2022

"It can be a club house and a meeting place for mushroom people," said owner Tyler Akabane.

Foraging for mushrooms
Foraging for mushrooms. Courtesy Tyler Akabane

When describing his upcoming mushroom store, Tyler Akabane wants you to envision a butcher shop.

“[The mushrooms] will be behind a glass chest of sorts,” he described, “and you’ll come up and order by the pound. I’m sure I’ll have some sort of special of the day, like a mushroom mix.”

Akabane will open The Mushroom Shop in Somerville’s Winter Hill neighborhood early next year, a culmination of more than seven years of working in the mushroom business, where he’s led foraging classes and supplied local restaurants with mushrooms. It was his home delivery service, however, that allowed him to truly consider a brick-and-mortar shop.

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After the pandemic hit, business through Akabane’s restaurant clients slowed considerably as they temporarily closed or pivoted to takeout, and Akabane, who developed a love for foraging shortly after college, still had plenty of mushrooms to distribute. Home cooking was on the rise, leading to an interest in experimenting with maitake, shimeji, yellow foots, and other varieties. So Akabane began promoting a mushroom delivery service through his Instagram account, @mushroomsformyfriends, inviting the public to order mixed bags of mushrooms for delivery — first through Instagram messages, then through a Google form, and as the delivery service picked up steam, through his website.

“It happened very quickly, so much so that I didn’t really recognize it until a year had gone by,” he said. “There were moments when we did 60 or 70 home deliveries in one day. It was me and two other people doing home deliveries. It got pretty wild, pretty fast.”

Akabane also saw a growing interest in the classes he offers, which lead small groups on foraging expeditions to learn about and identify a wide variety of mushrooms.

“I definitely think mushrooms are having a moment,” Akabane said. “I think it’s probably a few things — one of which is that people are eating more local, and even more people are interested in organic. Some people had time off [because of the pandemic]. My classes were very busy, and it’s either because of the pandemic and people wanting an outdoor activity because it’s safer, or it’s because of their growing interest in mushrooms. It seems like a good reason to open a shop.”

Foraged mushrooms
Foraged mushrooms. – Courtesy Tyler Akabane

To help fund the opening of The Mushroom Shop — which Akabane said is the only one of its kind in Massachusetts — he turned to NuMarket, a crowdfunding platform. The campaign has already met and passed its $30,000 goal.

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In addition to mushrooms, Akabane said The Mushroom Shop will sell items that complement the store’s main product — corn and peaches in the summer, pumpkins in the fall, asparagus in the spring, and so on. He also plans to sell mushroom-centric books and other learning resources, and perhaps even some mushroom-themed artwork.

“It’s not a sit down place — there aren’t chairs — but I’m hoping people will want to come in and chat about mushrooms and learn,” Akabane said. “It can be a club house and a meeting place for mushroom people.”

For non-mushroom people and those just passing by, Akabane also hopes to offer coffee.

When it opens, The Mushroom Shop will operate three or four days a week; Akabane will use the other days to prepare for home deliveries, which he’ll continue to offer, or cater to restaurant industry folks who want to come in and shop from his inventory. Most of all, he hopes to spark the same kind of interest he felt years ago when he first started foraging for mushrooms in the Blue Hills, igniting a sense of connection that comes from collecting wild ingredients to use in your own cooking.

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“I always harp on this idea that, for a long time, Americans have been mycophobic,” Akabane explained. “Parents teach their kids at a young age: Don’t touch those mushrooms. … Maybe [foraging] won’t be notable some day. People will just say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to look for mushrooms.'”

Stay up to date on The Mushroom Shop’s opening by following the store at @themushroomshopsomerville.

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