The Silicon Review
Katie Hamilton Shaffer (Founder and President) turned her ultimate passion for food, wine, music, and philanthropy into an online video-based media company named Feast It Forward. The company connects fans to social and instructional content with a purposeful and simple motto: “Inspiring Living. Philanthropic Giving.” Katie and her firm Feast It Forward empowers change and leads with unrivaled vision, passion, and strength that are undeniably ascending to new heights.
Just over 19 years ago, Katie moved to Napa Valley to pursue a career in food and wine. While managing events at a local winery, her mentor’s daughter was diagnosed with a rare disorder, Rett Syndrome. While she had just recently moved to the wine country, Katie saw this as an opportunity to give back and make a difference while bringing together everything that inspired her.
In 2004, Katie Hamilton Shaffer co-founded the Erika Van Giesen Foundation, alongside an annual epicurean gala, Erika’s Dream, to support it. With the monies raised, in 2006, she helped establish Katie’s Clinic at Children’s Hospital Oakland, which still serves girls and their families afflicted with Rett throughout the Western United States. This fundraising gala was a way to incorporate all her passions; food, wine & philanthropy, while throwing one heck of a party and sharing her love for entertaining.
In 2009 she helped launch Wine, Women & Shoes; A food and wine-based event that would become a successful national fundraising platform. Later that year, Katie released her first wine label, Toolbox Wine Co., with a mission to craft affordable, quality-driven wines that gave back to society. That same year at Erika’s Dream, a few conversations led her to take a leap of faith to make her dream and vision a reality.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well,” quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson best suits Katie Hamilton Shaffer and her incredible journey. Let us be clear however, it is quite obvious that Katie is happy being driven by her ability to create everyday.
Feast It Forward | Synopsis
Rewind: How it all started
As mentioned above, Feast It Forward is video content, merchandise, and electronic commerce business centered around three core content areas- food, wine, and cause-related content feeding all business segments of the company. Katie’s role in founding this company is spectacular.
“I began to dream with my eyes open, starting with the launch of Feast.Network, our digital platform seeking to entertain and inspire alongside master chefs, actors, tastemakers, athletes, and musicians. After filming original content around the country for nearly five years, in 2016, I decided to build my flagship “click & mortar” from the ground up, The Studio by Feast it Forward. After nearly two years of construction, in 2018, we opened The Studio in downtown Napa. This highly visible live marketing venue is a film studio + experiential showroom shifting video network fans to consumers as everything experienced the moment you walk in the door is an on-camera sponsor - essentially a sandbox for brands to engage visitors with a shop-the-look virtual hub and a multi-winery tasting collective offering glasses, bottle sales, and flights throughout our expansive property. Vintners B. Wise Vineyards, Layne Family Wines, and Acre Wines are official sponsors who act as the “coke can in our movie” when filming. Alongside hosting many community events, when live stream sessions occur in our film studio, 100 percent of the audience ticket fee supports the charity of choice of the visiting talent,” says Katie Hamilton Shaffer. What’s even better is on any given day you can stroll in to visit this unique space and kick up your feet while enjoying a glass or bottle of wine from her wine collective partners, regardless of filming sessions taking place.
She further added, “Growing up, I dreamt of many things. Beating the boys on the field, becoming an artist, singing for crowds, and entertaining like Martha Stewart. Culinary School was out as they didn’t have a soccer team, so an art degree alongside collegiate athletics was followed by a brief stint in Nashville to pursue a singing career and then a year on the semi-pro soccer circuit. I am a bit of a nomad when it comes to living out my passions and trying new things; I go for it. While I am super competitive, you don’t always play to win. My entire experience boiled down to a journey seeking what grabbed me most. When I moved to Napa Valley, I hoped to tie together everything that inspired me versus the singular career paths I could have pursued. Throughout the years, I’ve been struck by what incredible things can be accomplished when you bring together amazing people over fantastic food and wine. Feast It Forward is the culmination of my joy for living my best life and making a difference while doing so.”
Overcoming the Challenges with Innovation and Grit
Katie believes that innovation and risk are inextricably linked. “Every new idea looks crazy at first, so for many years, I heard how this wouldn’t work – a challenge you’ll overcome when you are relentlessly passionate about what you are building. Oddly enough, every ‘no’ or negative feedback I received fueled my fire even more, and having played sports, and I am OK with losing as you can’t win every game. As an entrepreneur, you have to be patient while willing to walk into a war zone on any given day, so I think the ability to pivot and adjust is key. Entrepreneurship is a challenge in itself,” extols Katie.
Creating a Positive Work Culture
Work culture plays an important role in extracting the best out of employees. It boosts productivity and reduces attrition in an organization. When asked about the company’s ethics, Katie stated, “We’re a family. We support each other. Leadership layered with managing is what I think my team would say they appreciate from me. Micromanaging is like nails on a chalkboard to me, so kind candor and talking to each other with empathy make everyone feel like the door is always open.”
“On the other hand, I also say it like it is – no filter. I know when to ‘read the room’ and my audience, but I offer that same honesty and opportunity to them as well. I realize that isn’t a corporate culture, but I’ve had far too many terrible bosses, so I think it makes a positive impact on our company as a whole with everyone on the same page.”
“While my team is driven and supportive of our mission and greater plans, I also realize they have their own passions and goals. I will always support their individual growth and honestly think a cool thing about my brand is offering a “canvas” for them to utilize. Whether a teammate loves to DJ to building a photography business or slinging jewelry on the side, I’ve always welcomed them to use our platform,” adds Katie.
Thriving During the Pandemic
When the pandemic hit and we couldn’t host guests indoors, I converted our parking lot into an outdoor wine bar and dining room. This allowed local restauranteurs that didn’t have outdoor service space to host patrons while my vintners could continue to serve and sell their wines. Then I had an ah-ha moment. It just so happened that the land behind our current Studio was a vacant office and parking lot. With support and blessing from the City and our community, I began to construct The Yard by Feast It Forward. This outdoor event and music venue offers two-story shipping containers for brand activations, Instagram-able moments, food trucks, vendor pop-ups, and art installations. Expanding upon our experiential sponsor opportunities, I like to refer to this as a year-round festival-like experience. The pandemic was a struggle with many sleepless nights, yet it was also my silver lining.
The Road Ahead
“So many things come to mind. I do have intentions of opening more experiential Studio venues across the country. It will be a cool opportunity for our vintner partners and national sponsors to have visibility in other markets while the design vibe and interactive partners reflect that culture and location. While our current retail line of ‘products with purpose’ is small, I would love to develop a robust lifestyle product line that gives back in partnership with a large retail store. I am not afraid to dream big, so I can honestly say I do believe Feast It Forward has the ability to become a household lifestyle brand name with a sincere purpose,” concludes Katie Hamilton Shaffer.