Jake Redlener often starts his day foraging. After that, he loads his car with caviar, A5 wagyu, truffles and an assortment of mushrooms. Then he hand-delivers the product to some of the finest restaurants in Boulder and Denver.
Redlener started Olympia Rare Foods in 2020 and currently operates from his hillside bungalow in Evergreen. He was born in New Rochelle, New York, but fell in love with Colorado while working with the Southwest Conservation Corps during the summer of 2015.
“I was basically living out of my car and my tent,” Redlener says. During long days of trail-building and invasive species removal, Redlener started teaching himself to identify plants and fungi. He quickly learned what was edible, along with the traditional and medicinal uses of the many things that sprouted from the desert floor. “I immediately fell in love with the land,” he says.
He returned the following summer, and while acting as a youth crew leader, he continued to distill his vision for a future in business. Redlener decided then and there that he would focus on using his influence for the greater good, reduce waste and find a way to monetize and commodify things that don’t hurt the earth.
“If you’re foraging responsibly, it’s like picking an apple from a tree,” Redlener says. In 2017, Redlener returned home to take care of family, though his interest in foraging only continued to grow. “It was at that time that I learned people were going door-to-door to sell stuff to restaurants that I was finding in the woods,” he says.
In spring of that year he started working for Regalis Foods, one of New York’s leading purveyors of exceptional products like truffles, uni, black garlic and lobster. “Almost all my clients had at least one Michelin star.”
With the opening of Olympia, Redlener has been bringing the same kind of hands-on, mom-and-pop approach to luxury goods distribution that he witnessed while working at Regalis. He currently serves between 25 and 50 active clients from across the Front Range. During an average week, he and his assistant Gracie will personally dispatch roughly 175 to 200 pounds of mushrooms, 10 to 20 pounds of white and black truffles, 10 to 15 kilos of Tsar Nicoulai caviar and close to 100 pounds of wagyu. “You’re like a fixer in a lot of ways,” Redlener says.
‘Working in luxury’
I joined Redlener for one of his average Wednesday afternoon routes, where we packed the truck with a crate of fresh Saskatchewan chanterelles and drove the roughly 90 minutes from his place to Boulder where we knocked on the kitchen doors of both Frasca and Corrida. We caught Corrida’s chef Samuel McCandless, who after quickly inspecting the goods, said “I’ll take ’em.”
Even though Redlener largely relies on advance orders these days, he says this kind of cold calling has been fundamental to the business’ success.
“I’m much more connected with my suppliers than I think a lot of other people are,” he says. “The products I sell are the ones I know are going to be the absolute best. I went through a million vendors for all these things.”
It’s clear that Redlener views the state’s restaurant culture as its own ecosystem. And even though he sources much of his supply nationally and internationally, he still approaches the network with localization in mind. “A true chef wants to be as close to pulling the vegetable out of the fucking ground as they can,” he says. “We need chefs to support these small local businesses.”
While Redlener largely sells sourced products, he’s confident he’ll be able to start integrating foraged and grown items as his market continues to expand. “With the Michelin Guide coming in, it will draw more people to open fine dining and that will raise the bar across the board,” he says.
Redlener hopes that within a couple of years he will be able to expand the business to include a combination warehouse and marketplace where he can do more direct-to-consumer sales. In the meantime, he’ll continue doing three to four airport trips a week, making sure his clients get the best of the best.
“I like working in luxury,” he says. “There’s no better way to stop a kitchen in its tracks than to bring in a bucket of truffles.”