Life is too short to not go on picnics.
That realization led Kelly Colman to found her picnicking company last summer.
Colman is the owner of Proper Picnics, which is meant to inspire others to have more picnics.
The Mukilteo business sells an assortment of ready-to-go picnics for couples, families and friends to take on road trips, day hikes, romantic getaways, concerts in the grass or lazy days at the beach.
“Picnics are so easy and fun,” said Colman, 40. “They let you stop and be present with each other. I want to help people make a memory, have an outing and be carefree, almost like they’re a kid again.”
An avid picnicker, Colman has designed picnics to-go or to-gift that were inspired by her favorite picnicking memories, including trips to the San Juan Islands.
The picnics are packed in a traditional wicker basket or custom-made tote bag and feature almost all Washington-made specialty foods such as smoked salmon, stuffed olives, crackers, chips, tapenade and chocolates. Beverages include soda, beer and wine.
“These picnics are designed to be simple yet elegant meals that are travel-friendly,” Colman said. “They’re packed with gourmet goods that won’t go bad, so if you’re traveling on the ferry and the line is a lot longer than you thought it would be, you won’t have to worry.”
After 16 years working in account management, sales and business development, Colman was ready to start a company of her own. She just didn’t know what kind of business that should be.
It wasn’t until the back-to-back deaths of her mother-in-law and ex-husband two years ago that she found her focus.
“Both of those deaths affected me in such a way that I thought I need to really live for today and instill that in my son,” she said. “I want to make sure that every day we have on this Earth we are enjoying it with family and friends and … doing the things that make us happy.”
After looking through family photo albums, Colman realized that a lot of their happiest times were when they were picnicking.
It didn’t matter if they were storm watching from a beach on the Olympic Peninsula or simply lounging on a blanket in the front yard. In Colman’s mind, picnics made those memories all the more special.
There’s an art to packing the perfect picnic.
“I spent a lot of time last year tasting foods to find the perfect combinations,” Colman said. “I basically pick my favorites. I like food and I like pairings and I like to try interesting blends.
“I’ve pre-arranged a few [picnics], but everything really mixes and matches.”
One of her favorite pairings? Lemon crackers topped with smoked trout and feta and peppercorn tapenade.
“It is raging delicious,” she said. “It’s so amazing.”
Proper Picnics sells a variety of specialty picnics through its website, starting at $24.95. Each picnic serves 2-4 and includes plates, napkins, stemware, utensils and wipes. Also available are tailgate, kid and pet picnics.
Her best seller is the Salmon Pizzaz picnic with smoked salmon, lemon crackers, artichoke and caper spread, stuffed olives, chocolate salted caramels and two cans of sparkling water for $69.95.
She said most customers pick that picnic for birthday, wedding and anniversary gifts because smoked salmon is a favorite. She’s also packed that one for corporate events and silent auctions.
The kid picnics, $24.95, are packed in a beach pail with shovel and bubbles. Those have beef jerky, a snack bar, diced fruit cup, potato chips, pudding cup and a can of sparkling lemonade. Want healthier snacks? Another version swaps in raisins, applesauce and roasted seaweed.
The pet picnics with bottled water, bowl, salmon and/or peanut butter treats, toy and waste bags are $19.95 for small dogs and $24.95 for big dogs.
The company also has jointly designed picnics with partner businesses, including Mukilteo’s Sydney Bakery & Wine Bar and the Mosquito Fleet Mercantile at Friday Harbor. Those picnics, starting at $47, are sold on location.
“It’s a fabulous way to re-look at how you get ready for a picnic or go on a day trip,” said Judy Schneider-Wallace, owner of Sydney Bakery. “I’ve biked a lot in the San Juans, and I can see now if I was to plan a trip, instead of going to the grocery store, I could take one of her proper picnics, knowing I would have a great lunch when I got there.”
Colman can also throw in accessories such as a blanket, sunblock, hats, bug repellent, a frisbee, football, badminton set or kite for an added fee.
Now that picnic sales are picking up online, she’s looking at locations near the Everett Marina to open a walk-up kiosk.
“It seems to be a perfect combination of trails and paths, grassy areas, picnic benches, the little walk-on ferry to Jetty Island and the marina itself,” she said. “It has every niche where people might want to enjoy a picnic.”
A mother-in-law cottage attached to Colman’s house serves as her workshop for now. That’s where she keeps all of the specialty foods and accessories, hosts tasting events and packs prearranged or customized picnics. She also holds consultations there.
Her boyfriend, Andrew Gaston, not only has been her inspiration for picnics but he’s also one of her top customers. A vice president for a software company, he has purchased several picnics as rewards for his employees. He also took a couple of a la carte picnics with him on a corporate boating trip on Lake Union.
“The folks I was with had no idea what was in it, and they kept getting more and more excited about everything I pulled out,” he said. “Diamond Knot beer, wines, smoked trout, smoked salmon, crackers, all different kinds of spreads. It was all first-class stuff that conveys the spirit of the Northwest.”
Colman’s son, Aramis, and Gaston’s daughter, Natalie, have even helped create some of the picnics. Aramis, 11, is a sixth grader at Harbour Pointe Middle School and Natalie, 17, is a senior at Kamiak High School.
Aramis is her taste-tester for all the foods she packs for the kid picnics. Natalie gives feedback on food pairings, ease of eating and price points.
While Colman loves picnicking in the San Juan Islands — Proper Picnic offers a special map that shows 15 of the best places to picnic there — Colman also recommends laying a blanket and opening a basket at Driftwood Beach on Whidbey Island and Edgewater Beach in Mukilteo.
“The goal is to get people to go out and live every day to the fullest,” she said. “We have so many beautiful places to explore. It doesn’t have to be perfect weather and it doesn’t have to be a traditional meal. It’s just about going someplace you’ve never been and seeing where the day takes you.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sarabruestle.
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