Nate Rispler of Wilder Land & Sea reflects on his experience at the Redd and how he helped launch Portland’s signature meat and seafood distribution company.
“At the Oregon Coast, we are trying to find every creature that is not being utilized, really seeking to bring light and bring a story to these treasures that we have in our backyard,” said Nate Rispler of Wilder Land & Sea, a Portland-based meat and seafood distribution company. “That is what I am most excited about: being at the coast, being a part of the community out there, and being in touch with fellow fisherman… and then bringing it back to some really excited chefs.”
Sea to fisherman, fisherman to distributor, distributor to chef, and chef to table. A cycle that repeats itself with the regularity of the seasons. But Wilder distributes more than just fresh, underutilized Oregon seafood. Much, much more in fact.
From cornish hens and pasture-raised chicken, to water buffalo and sustainably-trapped boar, to grass-fed beef and duck, to more than 35 different aquatic species like salmon, monkey eel, and giant pacific octopus. Oh, and all of the “different little parts and pieces” of the animal too.
“I am one of four permits in the state to harvest gooseneck barnacles,” Nate said with a humble smile. “Those are very cool, unique items — a delicacy, but delicious and relatively unknown.”
And he’s always searching for more — both on land and in the sea.
“My goal is to have a lot more bandwidth in finding new purveyors,” Nate said. “Like in Scappoose, we just found a new quail grower that I am really excited about. Little things like that, having a new, fresh, pasture-raised creature is so exciting.”
Nate’s enthusiasm for his craft began more than 13 years ago when he first began embarking on the annual journey to Alaska for sockeye salmon season. He launched his career as a fisherman with the Iliamna family, bringing filets caught in the North Pacific back to the Portland region to sell to eager chefs. And from those budding fisherman/chef relationships emerged his fellow business partner, Kyle Swanson.
“Kyle was just a happenstance meeting; he was a chef looking for something a little different and I was needing help while going to Alaska again, so I asked him to cover for me for awhile and he did a great job.”
Their relationship and unique talents have blossomed into a fully-formed business that distributes a long list of fresh proteins to some of Portland’s most discerning restaurants.
“We have a really great partnership — I’ve got a lot of passion for the procurement and fishing side of things, keeping it fresh and interesting, and Kyle has a great knack for sort of getting that to the chef in the way that they want to see it,” Nate said. “I couldn’t grow it without someone like him, so we partnered and changed the concept from ‘Fisherman Nate’ to ‘Wilder Land and Sea.’”
That transition eventually landed Nate and Kyle at the Redd on Salmon Street, an Ecotrust development that supports local food enterprises, and connect chefs, foodservice directors, and entrepreneurs to independent farmers, ranchers and fishermen in the region.
“The Redd has connected us with really great institutional buyers. With its voice in the city, we have gained recognition, people see us and know us because of being connected to Ecotrust,” Kyle said. “Where this space felt big and daunting just a year ago, now it feels a little tight — which is a good thing. We are maximizing it and I like that.”
Expanding beyond their corner of the Redd, the Wilder team has discovered the more intangible benefits of being a part of an emerging food hub.
“The buzz of being around the Redd, the new farmers and fisherman coming in, it’s the most fertile place to be for a young business that wants to market those products,” Nate said. “To see businesses creating businesses is really exciting. The whole community-not-competition thing seems to breed goodness for everybody.”
That mutual feeling of goodwill and collaboration with other community members is reciprocal.
“When it comes to driving radical, practical change, Wilder knows what’s up. From day one at the Redd, Nate and Kyle’s entrepreneurial, driven yet fun-loving spirit is contagious,” said Emma Sharer, Operations Manager at the Redd. “They set the bar high for running a creative, adaptive, and game-changing business that builds community and saves the planet, one hand-cut filet of fish at a time.”
So what is next for this game-changing business?
“We would like to engage the consumer base with something, maybe opening up for retail,” Nate said. “We love being a part of that conversation and connection with the city.”
And he hopes to expand that civic conversation to other cities as well. Currently, Wilder only delivers to locations within Portland, with the intention to expand into nearby communities like Vancouver, Lake Oswego, and Beaverton. They would also like to build an online butcher-shop platform with the ability to place orders digitally.
For now, Nate and Kyle remain focused on the principles that have allowed Wilder to grow into such a success: offering quality, local proteins and a true sense of teamwork.
“Kyle can look through the eye of a chef and understand what is going on in the kitchen, what their needs are, and that is invaluable knowledge,” Nate said. “Chefs can come to us for any quality animal product for their restaurant and know that it was humanely-raised.”