Todd Spanier calls himself “the mushroom king” for a reason. With his 7-foot stature, passion for the fungi kingdom and star-studded clientele, it’s hard to deny the regal rights of this mushroom purveyor.
Spanier, 33, owns the store King of Mushrooms in Daly City and is one of the most successful mushroom retailers in the Bay Area. He supplies fresh truffles, porcinis, chanterelles and many less-well-known fungi to Whole Foods, private chefs, catering companies and 250 restaurants, including Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Chefs at the famous Berkeley eatery often call Spanier on his personal cell phone to request 10 pounds of his best product. He also leads foraging trips for chefs and hosts five-course mushroom dinners at local restaurants.
Standing in the dim, cold room next to the mushroom freezer, Spanier proudly tells of the huge porcini mural he has been painting on the outside walls of his business. “When I’m finished, I plan to put ‘Welcome to the Kingdom’ in huge letters,” he said.
Spanier has operated out of Daly City for three years, but he started King of Mushrooms 10 years ago after dropping out of college. When he was a child, his European grandparents taught him about edible species and where to find them around the Bay. By the time he was a teenager, he started spending time at the local Mycological Society meetings and learned mushrooms’ biology.
“It was a hobby, but I didn’t make the connection with selling mushrooms,” Spanier says.
Spanier tried playing basketball and brewing beer, but after a college trip to Italy, where he saw stores specializing in mushrooms, he decided to start his own business. Ten years ago, he supplied one customer; today, he sells 1 ton of mushrooms a day. He thinks his success is due to Bay Area’s ever-growing immigrant population.
“No matter what country you are from in Europe or Asia, you more than likely love mushrooms,” he said. “That’s what I love about mushrooms — they are a common denominator between different cultures.”