Wearing Our Pride on Our Sleeves

This is Kyle – our fearless VP of Design, Merchandising and Supply Chain, and unsurprisingly, the best dressed person in our office. He’s been at Toad for a little over a year and he’s already shaking things up (in the best way). Like creating our first ever Pride Tee. We sat down with Kyle to talk inspiration, the outdoors, and what’s on any respectable Pride playlist. 

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Let’s just start big: Why did you decide to make this T-shirt? 

KYLE: Our first Pride Tee is about continuing to raise awareness about inclusivity and openness in the outdoors. Obviously, these T-shirts are making an actual impact with dollars (100% of the proceeds are donated!), but more so it’s about showing Toad&Co’s support for inclusivity everywhere.

100% of proceeds are going to the Venture Out Project. Why did you choose to work with this non-profit?

KYLE: We knew we wanted to partner with an organization that was working with LGBTQ+ youth to build their confidence. Getting kids comfortable with themselves and with nature is so important. I grew up in Northern Idaho and found a lot of confidence in the outdoors and sports. The Venture Out Project is a fantastic organization that brings together all ages of the queer community to experience the outdoors. It’s so inspiring, and frankly, so necessary.

The outdoor industry isn’t known for inclusivity and diversity (though it’s starting to turn around!). What do you think outdoor companies can do to be more inclusive to all groups, especially LGBTQ+ communities? 
KYLE: Show up. Outdoor companies need to show up at events and break down the walls about what the “outdoors” are and who “belongs” there. Spending time outdoors is about connecting with yourself, with friends, with nature… There’s no reason there should be barriers to anyone in the outdoors.

History pop-quiz: Do you know the origins of the rainbow flag? 
KYLE: I do! It started in the wake of Stonewall and it was a symbol to invite all walks of life to feel like they’re part of the greater community. It was designed as a flag to inspire people to rally together.

*Editors note: Woo, 10 points to Kyle! The first rainbow flag is attributed to Gilbert Baker – an Army vet and drag performer living in San Francisco in the 70s – who teamed up with Harvey Milk in the wake of the Stonewall Riots to create a flag for the LGBTQ+ “nation.” The most common LGBTQ+ flag has six colors: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, royal blue for art, and violet for spirit. There are many variations of the classic rainbow flag and dozens of other flags associated with the LGBTQ+ community. Hopefully you’ll see them all flying high at local Pride events this summer.

What does Pride mean to you? 
KYLE: For me, it’s about community and letting people be who they are. Celebrate what makes you uniquely you.

How are you planning to celebrate Pride this year?  
KYLE: I’m traveling back to Ohio to spend time reconnecting with family and friends. My husband and I started a whiskey distillery in Columbus so we’re having a big party. As for Toad, I’m excited for us as a company to show up at local Pride events this summer (Pride celebrations go well beyond June in California…). At the end of the day, Pride is just a celebration of people who care about people. It’s about supporting the good stuff out there. 

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Final question – name 5 tracks (or artists) on repeat during Pride: 

Dance Yrself Clean – LCD Soundsystem 

Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra 

I Want Your Love – CHIC 

Take Your Mama – Scissor Sisters 

Together Again – Janet Jackson 

Here’s the full playlist.

 

Dr. Drew’s Car Camping Hacks

When the phrase “car camping” comes to mind, you might envision the well-curated craft of surviving in the out-of-doors a la Wes Anderson. It’s a well executed blend of home sweet home meets the great outdoors into a savory alfresco. But when is comes to driving a rickety 1959 trailer across the country on our Save the Planet, Wear Sustainable Tour, the line between survival and car glamping begins to blur. But Dr. Drew, our Tour Manager and Master of Wingin’-It makes tight tour dates and long hours between the white lines look like a breeze. We caught up with Dr. Drew for his advice and insights into easy summer car camping. 

Cot or inflatable or sleeping pad? No more sleeping pads! Cots or inflatable only to help keep the ol’ back in fighting shape.

Sleeping bag VS. Blanket? What you want is a high “warm and cozy” factor and the freedom to move freely. In the summertime, I go blanket. Currently using: ​Down-filled Kammok Bobcat Trail Quilt (mostly because I like the name). For a lighter but equally cozy option, I’m all about the Cashmoore Blanket

Jerky – A tasty protein filled snack that keeps froth levels high and hunger levels low. Currently munching: Epic Provisions, high quality product and a mission-based company. 

Kitchen – Never hit the road without a way to heat up water. No matter where you are, you can fire up a hot meal and warm the soul. Currently using: Jet Boil Genesis Base Camp System. Lightweight, packable, everything you need to get gourmet if you want. 

Quinoa – Fills you up in desperate times. Good sweet or savory. 

Trail Mix – When the Jet Boil runs out of fuel and you have to go caveman style. I’m currently snacking on Shar Snacks (rhymes with “bear”), which I picked up in Austin. Organic and responsibly sourced. 

A good book – Currently reading: History of Haight Ashbury by Charles Perry.

Audio Book – The sound of another human’s voice can be quite comforting on the open road, especially when it reminds you of home. Currently listening to: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

Illumination – Headlamp: Princeton Tec. String lights: Revel Gear Trail Hound 30ft. Back up: Bic Lighter and soy candle.

A good sweater – Keeps ya warm and doubles as a pillow. Currently wearing: Midfield Hemp Crewneck.

Tunes – DemerBox for indestructible tunes and a long battery life. Currently jamming to: 2 Spotify playlists, Highway Sounds (more rocky/bluesy) and I’m With Her (all the badass ladies). 

Bug Control – When you’re in Charleston in the summertime, you need all the help you can get. I’m not a fan of the chemical sprays so I like to wear clothes with Insect Shield® Technology built right into it. Currently wearing: Debug Mission Ridge Pants and Debug Peak Season Shirt – they keep the bugs out and still look presentable for date night. 

Trash – Rule #1: try not to make any. I like to make my own meals, buy in bulk with mason jars, and avoid takeout. But if you’re driving, stick a box on the passenger seat floor, a perfect receptacle for cherry stems and peach pits. 

Hydration Station – My ultimate long drive hack: strap a Camelbak to your seat and never deal with water bottle caps and spills again! 

Happy Trails. Come out and see the Save the Planet, Wear Sustainable Tour on the road. Check out national summer schedule here

5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

 

Over the course of human history, food has taken on different meanings for different people. For some, food is simply the fuel that drives the body. For others, food is an art, creatively crafted to please all of the senses. And for an even smaller group, food is the centerpiece of a competition that knows no cosmic limits. A competition so vast that it’s been said that contestants prepare for weeks, fine tuning their creations, testing daring new recipes and sometimes even the limits of science itself… Born out of bread, cheese and boldness, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown is a culmination of visionary chefs, experimental ingredients and the desire to create one grilled cheese to rule them all.

The Competitors Table: A place of battle waged with bread and cheese.

Now in it’s 5th year, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown started in 2011 as a modest competition between Toads and friends. The goal? To create the greatest grilled cheese sandwich in the known universe. Over the years the competition has grown, just like our bellies on the night of competition. In its second year, the Smackdown escalated with the addition of the Golden Spatula, the highly coveted trophy awarded by an elite team of judges. The Smackdown grew considerably through its third and fourth years, but nothing could have prepared us for the epic clash of carbs and dairy that was the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown held at Toad HQ in the early days of April 2017. 

The real winners in this competition? Whoever got to eat this.

Undoubtedly, the best part of the Smackdown (besides the heaps of cheese consumed) is the support from our Santa Barbara Community. This year teams representing Alpha Resource Center, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Salty Girl Seafood, UCSB’s Bren School, Ontraport, and Visit Santa Barbara joined the competition. Toad&Co represented with three teams including past winners Nina and Ian. The judges had their mouths full this year with two 30-minute heats and 9 grilled cheeses comin’ in hot! And as much as taste will win over a judge, presentation turned out to be just as important this year. Contestants plating their sandwiches on everything from fine china to polished wood platters, and many sandwiches were accompanied by a specialty cocktail. In the case of SB Fire Department, a straight shot of tequila was the perfect garnish. Because getting the judges a little liquored up is surely a good way to win them over. 

Team Santa Barbara Fire Deptartment bringing the heat with their spicy grilled cheese dubbed En Fuego.

As contestants crafted their delicacies, onlookers drank in a delicious pale ale from local Telegraph Brewing and fought off the evening chill with Tuscan Tomato Soup from non-profit Organic Soup Kitchen. As sandwiches began to take shape, hungry masses gathered round to snap up samples and compare notes. Even though the esteemed judges award the Golden Spatula, the crowd was tasked with picking the People’s Choice Grilled Cheese by the end of the night.

As attendees mingled around sampling the various specialty grilled cheese sandwiches, one sandwich began to emerge as the crowd favorite. Pure Cheese,  a delicious combination of pepper jack and cheddar cheese, spinach and mushrooms, created by Alpha Resource Center, quickly racked up votes for this year’s People’s Choice Award.  More than just a killer grilled cheese team, Alpha Resource Center is a shining star in our community – they’re a multi-faceted service center providing support and information for families of persons with developmental disabilities . Part if our mission is to empower adults with disabilities, so we couldn’t be more appreciative of all the great work Alpha Resource Center is doing to empower and integrate adults with disabilities in our community. Grilled cheese smackdowns, local park maintenance, rock bands, community volunteering – there’s nothing the Alpha folks CAN’T do! 

Organic Soup Kitchen kept everyone full with their delicious Tomato Soup.
For those of us with a more traditional palette, the make-your-own grilled cheese station was a hit!

As an evening breeze began to whisper through the trees, the judges huddled around more for warmth than secrecy. Choosing between all of the cheesy goodness must have been a challenge, but a winner had to be crowned. In third place, Phil and Billy from Santa Barbara Fire Department  Got the “Overall Hottest Award” for their spicy En Fuego sandwich. In second place, Toad’s  Nina and Ian got accolades for their tres chic, artisanal sandwich, The French Onion. With second and third place announced,  a hushed silence fell over the crowd (minus our Ops Manager Neil who was far more interested in finishing off the keg). Weeks of experimenting with recipes and cooking methods had led up to this moment: The Golden Spatula went to Natalie and Danielle from Visit Santa Barbara for their exquisite and entirely local-sourced Fromage de la Riviera! 

3rd Place – Phil and Billy representing Santa Barbara Fire Department. Living up to their “Overall Hottest” Award, indeed.
Previous winners Ian and Nina ended up in second place this year. From the looks of it, they will be back with vengeance!
1st place – Natalie and Danielle representing Visit Santa Barbara. You go girls!

For anyone who’s ever been to the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown, you know grilled cheese sandwiches are more than just food. They are shining effigies of the two greatest things on earth: bread and cheese. And when those most perfect things meet in the holy confines of a griddle, it’s pure magic. The 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown will be here before you know it, so everyone better start practicing now. Practice makes perfect, and that means lots of test-runs eating sample grilled cheeses. You know, in the name of science. 

Friends, grilled cheese, and beer – good times guaranteed.

Trek Across Maine

 

There’s a reason our tagline is “Keep Good Company.” Everything is a little bit better when you’ve got someone to share it with. Or hundreds of people. That’s how our gal Courtney Edmands felt when she completed Trek Across Maine, a 180 mile bike ride to benefit the American Lung Association. Courtney is one of the Toads at our Freeport, ME store. She’s equal parts heart and spunk, and someone whom we feel pretty darn lucky to keep company with. Here’s a snapshot into her Trek Across Maine. Ride on, Courtney!

 
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180 miles wound through rural towns of Downeast Maine, amongst stunning golden meadows and mountain views, over bridges and alongside rivers. From Sunday River in Bethel, ME to the Atlantic coast in Belfast, sleepy vistas jolted awake as 2,000 cyclists put petal to pavement for the Trek Across Maine event over Father’s Day weekend. With clear, sunny skies and a steady stream of like minded folks by my side, the road was my ultimate happy place (even during mile 101).

In it’s 32nd year, Trek Across Maine is a 3 day ride from mountains to the sea that benefits the American Lung Association. It’s an event that we Mainers look forward to every year. Participants from outdoor sporting companies, bike vendors, local hospitals and individuals from across the state come together to bike for a cause. view

Taking a leap out of my comfort zone, I signed up for the life changing experience. It was inspiring to see the collaboration efforts amongst all the different communities. Dedicated staff and volunteers created a stunning, well laid out course with all the necessities we needed along the way. Crowds came out to cheer us on as we rode through little towns. And friends and family heard our call to donate, no matter how much, to the cause that we were supporting. It really does take a village. That and some well-greased gears.

Over the 3 days I pushed my physical and mental limits. When the horn was blown at Sunday River on Day 1, all 2,000 of us started down the path together. Motivating music and encouraging cheers faded into sounds of wild wind, clicking gears and calls of “On your left!” Hours of road signs, kitschy local advertising and wide open spaces gave way to mind games of endurance. And every so often I was confronted with the true danger of the road: holding a long breath while zipping past a hefty cow farm!

But boy, did we celebrate at the end of the day! After 60 or so miles each day, we’d roll into the final stop with sore feet and happy hearts. Exhausted but never too tired for a cold beer, we would find our way to the local live bar. At the end of Day 1, we made our way to The Dugout in Farmington, ME where we enjCourtneyEoyed perhaps the most refreshing beer to date (but after 60 miles on a bike, just about all refreshments have new meaning). Over local Allagash White and Frye’s Leap IPA from Sebago Brewing, we reminisced on the great landscapes we’d just rolled through. Folks swam in the river, cheersed in the beer tent and spent some time tuning up their trusty steeds. It wasn’t completely rugged, but there’s certainty in remembering 60 miles are ahead the next morning…

So we woke up, legs bound to bicycle, and the only option was to keep cranking chain. Ten miles turned into child’s play, being “just around the corner” from the next check point. We’d hear hoots and hollers up ahead when riders at the top of the hill had made it, encouraging us to keep on keepin’ on. After hours on the road, you realize you might be on the same path as everyone else, but the adventure has become your own.

Three days later, the aches and pains gave way to gratitude. I was proud of myself and proud of everyone for making the trek across Maine, and I was proud to support such a great cause. Knowing that we made an impact on The American Lung Association made that last ride across the finish line that much sweeter.

And in case you were curious, why yes I DID bike in a skirt! I will say the Toad&Co Whirlwind Skirt was, and continues to be, one of the best “bike to beer” pieces I’ve ever owned. To be able to wear it over cycling shorts and transition comfortably to a more dressy dinner piece in one swift motion… incredible! I receive compliments to this day when I wear it (which is embarrassingly often). If it’s good enough for the bike path, it’s good enough for me!

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Canoemobile Update: Santa Barbara

 

On a misty Tuesday morning, Team Toad made our way down to the Santa Barbara Harbor to hit the high seas with the Canoemobile! As part of our longtime social mission to provide opportunities for adults with disabilities, we gave a grant to the National Park Foundation earlier this spring to get 1,000 adults with disabilities into national parks in 2016. The Canoemobile, operated by the skillful team from Wilderness Inquiry, has been touring the country to get folks into 24ft Voyageur canoes to paddle through our national waterways. We were lucky enough to have the Canoemobile come through our hometown and take us and our friends from Alpha Resource Center out onto the water for two unforgettable days. Alpha is a local organization committed to empowering individuals, supporting families and building a community that values the contribution of all people, regardless of ability.

Morning and afternoon fleets of Voyageur canoes lit out for the open ocean over the course of two days as Toads, W.I. crew and about 50 Alpha clients mingled with harbor seals, paddled with sea lions and waved at tourists along the Pacific coast. For many Alpha clients (and even a few Toads), it was their first time in a canoe. Nerves gave way to giggles as our canoes left the dock and sea salt from wayward paddles hit our faces.

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Paddling across the ocean together, we pointed at birds and laughed at the waves, smiled as the sun peeked through the clouds, and sat mesmerized while pelicans dove head first into the water. Strangers just a few hours earlier, here we were, people from different backgrounds, upbringings and abilities, who had all come together for the exact same thing: joy.

It was an afternoon that will stick with us forever. Some Alpha clients found a new love of paddling (a few even came back for multiple paddle outs!) while others were simply proud of themselves for conquering their fears. In addition to making some quality new friends, we Toads were reminded that the work we do every day is so much more than making clothes, and that feels pretty darn good.

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Thank you SO much to the folks at Wilderness Inquiry and the Canoemobile crew who are changing lives everyday, and thanks to the folks at Alpha Resource Center who came out to paddle with us (check out their video of the event below!). If you’d like to volunteer with the Canoemobile (and trust us, you definitely want to!), check when the Canoemobile will be in your area and click on the link to get involved. Bon voyage!

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Supporting the Wild Places We Love

 

This year marks our 20th year as an outdoor brand and our 11th year as members of The Conservation Alliance. The Conservation Alliance is a group of outdoor businesses who come together to support grassroots organizations working to protect threatened wild places throughout North America. Since the outdoors inspire us to live and work and play everyday, we recognize our responsibility to help protect the lands and waterways that we rely on. Working with The Conservation Alliance is one of the most direct ways that we can make a difference.

Every year, Alliance members (meaning each employee at Toad&Co and other member companies!) vote for nominee organizations to receive Alliance grants. The grants come from a fund that member companies collectively contribute to each year. When you shop Toad&Co, we give a portion to the Conservation Alliance. So you’re a big part of the conservation effort, too.

This year, 20 important conservation projects have been awarded grants to continue their efforts to protect wild lands and waterways. As avid nature lovers and members of the Conservation Alliance, we Toads are proud to do our part to protect wild places for future generations. Thanks for supporting our causes, we couldn’t do it without you.

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For more information on the 20 organizations and their conservation projects, visit theconservationalliance.com 

Field Notes: The Temple

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This is the third in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. Jeff and Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

2007_Sakura_of_Fukushima-e_007_rotatedKyoto is covered in sakura trees, or cherry trees. In late March the cherry trees blossom and people flock to see the pink and white flowers explode across the city. It’s a big deal in Japan. In fact, the national weather service tracks the movement of the “sakura front,” a wave that travels south-to-north every season and heralds the blooming of the sakura and the coming of Spring across Japan.

We were in Kyoto when the sakura front hit. Kyoto is the historical capital of Japan, where traditional Japanese culture coexists perfectly alongside modernity. Shrines were full of worshipers in kimonos, businessmen and women bustled in downtown intersections and tourists flooded the monkey forest. Naturally, we had to sample everything Kyoto had to offer.

We explored the city by following the cherry blossoms from temple to temple. Some were crowded with tourists and locals marveling and taking selfies with nature’s spectacle. And other temples were virtually empty. Tipped off by a local, we escaped up a hillside trail to sit in silence and bathe in the mountain light at one final temple.

For almost an hour we were the only people there – or so we thought. We strolled the grounds and were surprised to see a smiling monk and his dog sitting quietly at the dragon fountain. There wasn’t much shared language between us, save for some laughter and light in our eyes. But we didn’t need to say much to fully understand each other. It was calm and silent – a full exchange. We stayed with the monk and his companion for an hour or so, then departed just as sweetly as we’d arrived. Arigato. Sayonara. Thank you for the talks.

Field Notes: Coffee With A View

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This is the third in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. Jeff and Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

“For me, there is no other place like Jackson in the world. I haven’t found anything better. Except maybe a corner of Switzerland.” Such were the words of Stefan Grainda, the quirky, Jack-of-all-trades owner of Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters in Jackson, WY.

You can tell what kind of people run JH Coffee from the second you walk into the shop – it’s warm and inviting, smells incredible, and the slight din of a whirring machine lulls you into pure contentment. Metal tableaus of cowboy life line the walls and a mix of locals and tourists trade tips on which roads are snowed in and which runs are primo for an epic day on the slopes.

Stefan is a chatty man and more than happy to talk all things coffee with anyone who asks. He told us how he came to the U.S. eleven years ago from a long line of coffee brewers in the Czech Republic. He began his search for an American home in California, but soon decided that beach towns were too “full of laziness.” Instead, he followed his best friend to the mountains and moved his coffee business to Jackson.

Precision is key to good coffee. Stefan hand-roasts, hand-brews and custom-builds all the machines that line the shop. And he only uses the best organic coffee beans – strictly 100% organic. He’s proud of the fact that JH Coffee Roasters was the first coffee joint in town to go all-organic. He hand-roasts the beans in small batches, without a computer, the old school way: Everything by eye and smell. Everything by hand.

When Stefan isn’t brewing, he’s out playing in the Tetons. “It is wonderful. You work 3-4 hours until the snow builds up, and then you pack up and go.” He says the first time he saw Jackson, he knew it was his home. And after a simple yet perfect cup of coffee, watching the sun rise higher over the mountain range, we understood exactly what he meant.

4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

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Veni. Vidi. Cheesy.
They Came. They Saw. They Grilled Cheese.

Centuries from now, when anthropologists look back on the great battles of history, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown will rank among the mightiest battles of humankind. A modern day Battle of the Bulge, the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown recently rocked Toad Headquarters on an unseasonably warm spring evening….

This whole thing started a few years back when we heard that April was National Grilled Cheese Month. A holiday we can all get behind, we asked our friends to throw down their best sando’s in a bid for the coveted Golden Spatula Award. Thus, the first battle of the Grilled Cheese Smackdown was waged. Scorned and ready for redemption, the 2nd Grilled Cheese Smackdown pitted veterans vs. newbies, duking it out for Biggest Cheese. The 3rd in a series of intense battles, the 2015 Smackdown saw the rise of an empire as a two-time winner was awarded the Golden Spatula for a second time. So this year, armed with bread knives and sticks of butter, seasoned masters and a handful of new recruits went head to head in the cheesiest, gooiest, most savory Smackdown this side of Waterloo.

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The competition pitted 10 teams against each other – teams from partner non-profits, like-minded local companies and two teams from Toad. At 5:30pm, with griddles on high and spatulas ready at the whim, five teams in Heat #1 brought their finest:

  • Salty Girl Seafood: Newbies to the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, the Salty Girl Seafood team came in swinging with their Bristol Bay-ngin Sockeye Sliders – a sustainable take on a tuna melt, sub sockeye salmon for tuna and avocado cream cheese for swiss. Sounds whacky, tastes amazing. Salty Girl Seafood is a 1% for the planet company that sources and distributes sustainable, traceable seafood to ensure the continued health of oceans, fisheries, and fishing communities.
  • UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management: One of the great Smackdown masters, the Bren Team took on Asian fusion with their Vietnamese Bhan Mi Grilled Cheese. The Bren School is a graduate program focused on research, teaching, and community service related to solving environmental problems.
  • Santa Barbara Fire Department: Never one to shy from the heat, local firemen Phil and Billy were serving up heaping samples of their Goudalicious Grilled Cheese (the key: LOTS of cheese). The SBFD has operated continuously since 1881 and keeps 123,000 Santa Barbarians safe. Thanks guys!
  • Ontraport: We were a little intimidated when we heard the Ontraport Team had a Ringer – Lee Abbott who’s currently competing on Food Network’s All Star Academy! Lee and Brendan certainly lived up to the hype with their smoky Grilled Cheesy Beer Pub – they were infusing mushrooms with beer on site! Ontraport supports entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.
  • Sonos: New kids on the block Sonos came prepared with a slow-cooker full of comfort food. 1 part cheese, three parts sloppy joe, smashed between two thick slices of Texas Toast, lathered in butter, grilled to perfection. Sounds like our new favorite slow jam. Based in Santa Barbara, Sonos is a leading brand in premier audio technology (trust us – we’ve got Sonos speakers bumpin’ every day).

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With the bar set high, our second heat had to whip up something truly mouthwatering to change the judges’ minds. Hailing from the far reaches of the globe with only the most refined palates, our judges came to the Smackdown prepared for greatness. Back-to-back Smackdown winner’s Nina & Ian from Toad&Co cast the first two votes, followed by First Smackdown winners Kathryn and Michael from local cheese emporium C’est Cheese. Cooking up tomato soup for the event AND doubling down as a judge, Anthony from the Organic Soup Kitchen was born to judge the GCSD. Rounding out our judges were 3-time Smackdown participants Eric & David from LoaTree, an environmental lifestyle company that profiles changemakers, builds community and inspires action through unique storytelling and marketing. With such sophistication salivating over every sammy, the stakes were high for the second crop of contenders…

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  • Toad Team #1: Our materials manager Deborah and her beau Toby threw their very stylish hats into the ring for the first time with their “Sunnier Side of Grilled Cheese”. What was so sunny? Sunny side up eggs! And in case you couldn’t wait for breakfast for dinner, a pink box of bribes Danish pastries dared you to take just one more bite…
  • UGG: Shoe designers Sara & Sam rocked green Ugg slippers and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” shirts while cooking The Filthy Lephrechaun. Does it get any better than whiskey and corned beef? It does when it’s in grilled cheese form.
  • Santa Barbara Symphony: A regular attendee and first time competitor to the GCSD, the brother and sister duo representing the SB Symphony took us to the rolling hills of Northern Italy with their Tuscan inspired Eat, Cheese, Love. The Santa Barbara Symphony was founded in 1953 on the belief that a special city deserves a special orchestra.
  • Patagonia: We managed to pull some Patagonia folks off the trail and outta the surf for a few hours to whip up a killer grilled cheese. Forgoing a griddle altogether, Team Patagonia sautéed a mish mash of cheeses on the camp stove and stuffed the concoction into a hollowed out baguette to make the “It’s Better After Midnight” Grilled Cheese.
  • Toad Team #2: The dynamic duo in the office and in the kitchen, our Toad&Co women’s designers Guin and Sarah put their home-grown know-how to the test: Proud Minnesotan Guin made her own beer cheese while Santa Cruz raised Sarah pickled bread & butter pickles from scratch. The result? The pretzel-bun beer cheese grilled cheese served with a side of popcorn and brown ale, aptly named Das Bier Belly.

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It was a knock-down, cheese-out fight. The judges toiled while the crowd sampled the best of the best. Local brewers Telegraph Brewing Company kept our whistles whet with their finest lager and the Organic Soup Kitchen made sure we always had piping hot soup to accompany our sammies. After two heats, the carnage finally abated and from the ashes of the Grilled Cheese smackdown rose the victor: Das Bier Belly, from Toad&Co’s Design Team! Honors were given for the “People’s Choice” and “Make America Grate Again” Awards, and the “Fish Outta Water” Award went to a fitting choice. For the winning grilled cheese recipes, click here. Thanks again to all teams who participated and keeping good company with us! We’ll see you next year for the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!

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Field Notes: The Whale Boat

This is the second in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. Jeff and Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

Iceland

It was July in Reykjavik, Iceland and though the sun had been up since 4am, it was colder than Southern California in January. It was early, a crisp harbor morning, and the harbor docks were full of excited passengers in orange jumpsuits preparing for the high seas. We, like many tourists in Iceland, had succumbed to the whale watching tour brochure, beckoned with images of fierce breaching orcas and majestic humpbacks dancing. Touristy or not, it seemed like an experience we shouldn’t pass up.

An hour into the tour, we spotted a minke whale – a small, common ocean dweller. We ran to the edge in great anticipation, because where there’s minke there’s orcas. But two hours passed and only one more minke sighting. By hour three, the same two minke were still on the horizon. The captain tried to lift our spirits as he fawned over the beauty of the minke. But after hours shivering in plastic jumpsuits, the minke lost it’s luster.

Jeff and I found ourselves wishing for some rehearsed pirate stories or even an Icelandic cover of “Copacabana”. But alas, nothing save for hours left at the sea with n’er a true whale in sight. So we did what any respectable tourists would do: We authored corny whale jokes and presented our material to the crew (formally, on napkins, of course). Perhaps they were as bored as we were, but one of the crew members actually handed us a microphone.

Jeff stood tall, took center stage – errr, ship – and posed the question: “Where do whales go for a fun Friday night?”  Nothing. “The orchestra!” Crickets. But like the whale watching tour, we forged ahead. Jokes about a porpoise’s purpose, how a humpbacks’ favorite band is “The Killers”… One by one, our jokes ebbed and flowed, some getting a chuckle here and there while others utterly tanked. But when all was said and done, and we’d finally docked without a single orca sighting to boast of, Jeff and I agreed – it’d been a whale of a good time!