Feel at Home at Napa’s Feast it Forward
By Lisa Adams Walter
Move over Food Network, MTV and HGTV, a wine country brand and now streaming network has emerged in downtown Napa, and anyone can stop in to explore the multi-faceted platform, showroom, event venue, club, food products, cooking demos, music, wines and lifestyle of Feast it Forward at The Studio by Feast it Forward in the Oxbow District.
While there are hundreds of destinations and wineries within the Napa Valley, there is only one space and place like The Studio by Feast it Forward. It is not surprising, then, that Katie Hamilton Shaffer, Feast’s Founder and President, a visionary, creator and dreamer, is also one of a kind.
On a recent, spontaneous visit to The Studio, Shaffer was about to welcome a VIP group for a private event, yet made time to show us around. Bursting with imagination, a fast pace, intense focus, and the ability to simultaneously converse with staff members, assist with guest requests, welcome a resident vintner and store a cake for a private celebration, we toured the entire place with a refreshing sip of Vitus Napa Valley Rosé of Merlot from Layne Family Wines in hand, as she answered my questions along the way. Immediately we felt right at home.
So, what is it? What is happening at “Feast?” While Feast it Forward is the primary brand, The Studio is the charming white building on McKinstry Street that was formerly a dilapidated, close-to-demolition house, that Shaffer has strikingly transformed.
What can a first-time visitor expect? “The moment someone walks inside The Studio, regardless of their age, they are struck by how comfortable and at home they feel,” said Shaffer, “They are literally surrounded by the lifestyle.” All of the brands, or “sponsors” of The Studio, range from local small businesses, to boutique vintners to global companies and big brands. Resulting in a very cool place to hang out, explore, converse with others, meet a vintner, listen to music, witness a live cooking demo or concert, or sip some wine!
As a visitor, if you like a piece of furniture, or the color of the paint on the wall, a piece of artwork, the picnic tables outside, or an instrument such as a tricked-out Gibson guitar, you can simply interact with a large format touch-screen monitor (think living room flat screen TV) swipe through, explore a virtual tour of the space and tap on an item that piques your interest for more information (including pricing, and how to purchase). Instantly this is all available at your fingertips.
The design, look, feel, products, colors and artwork within the experiential space of The Studio; curated, designed and installed by Shaffer, change completely, twice per year.
With that goal of making The Studio feel like a home, products are displayed in a showroom setting. Similarly, the 15 vintners whose wines are available for purchase and poured on site, have access to the space to meet new consumers, as well as existing club members and guests.
“Boutique vintners are looking for a space to share their wines,” Shaffer explained, “90% of the purchase is the experience, and we make people feel comfortable while introducing them to premier boutique vintners.”
Upstairs at The Studio, is where the Feast it Forward streaming network (Feast.Network) studio for filming live cooking events and culinary programming resides. Guest have included celebrities from the worlds of food, sports and entertainment such as Jaques Pépin, Kevin Bacon, Charles Woodson and Brian Boitano. Shows, recipes and more are available at the network online, which also features Shaffer’s own programs, at Feast Network.
Adjacent to the upstairs film studio kitchen, is an expansive balcony that overlooks the Oxbow Commons. During the Oxbow River Stage concerts, VIP seats and experiences at The Studio provide an unparalleled experience and view of world-class entertainers that this month will include Jackson Browne, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Death Cab For Cutie, Gary Clark Jr., John Fogerty, Herbie Hancock and Van Morrison.
Soon to come to The Studio, is The Yard at Feast it Forward, an outdoor area behind the building that expands into an L shape. More than a simple outdoor space, The Yard is a new outdoor entertainment venue, future beer garden and festival space, boasting the installation of a double-deck private lounge space constructed of shipping containers. Two stages anchor the site, which is now Napa’s first year-round festival venue. No popping up and tearing down, get your music fest fix all year at The Yard.
Born and raised not far away, in Davis, California, Shaffer grew up in a small town agricultural setting, with that solid sense of community that those of us in Napa understand. Her upbringing instilled in her, a drive to give back. A founder of past foundations, Shaffer has made philanthropy a key element of every Feast it Forward initiative. “If there is a non-profit that benefits women, children, animals, health or international causes, we have open arms.” Feast has supported local causes ranging from a lemonade stand that a young philanthropist set up in front of The Studio, to the Boys and Girls Clubs, Soroptimist and Napa Humane.
A lot going on? Yeah. Could just anyone do this? Doubt it. Shaffer is a woman gifted with focus, drive, passion, kindness and a motivation to make a difference and give back. After attending San Diego State University on sports scholarship (ultimately earning her advanced degree in Art and Art History), her life experiences included playing on a semi-pro soccer team and pursuing a vocal music career in Nashville.
“I wanted to go to culinary school, but they didn’t have a sports team,” Shaffer joked, instead heading south to play soccer in San Diego. Following those early vast and varied life experiences, she made the decision to move to the Napa Valley nearly 18 years ago, to fulfill her absolute passion for food and wine, and create the dream career of her own, also becoming a wife and mother.
“A lot of people have hobbies but can’t turn them into a career,” Shaffer noted, adding that Feast is now both a marketing engine as well as a global platform for brands to activate. Her five-year plan includes creating similar Feast it Forward locations and studios customized to jive with the lifestyle of each region in hip cities such as Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee.
“I am somebody that brings people and experiences together. I am creative. I don’t like calling myself a visionary, I think out of the box. I am creating a lifestyle and experience, I am taking a stab at bringing communities and global brands together for the good, and there is no other space that I know of, that does what we do.”