Food & Culture
Seattle’s Mushroom Queen
First, it was a cupcake empire and cannabis edibles. Now, Jody Hall is focused on liquid mushrooms.
By Stefanie Ellis June 16, 2022
If there’s a trendy new culinary craze in Seattle, chances are Jody Hall is behind it. Hall, of course, founded Seattle’s iconic Cupcake Royale back in 2003. At the time, it was one of the first cupcake cafés west of New York City. She then became what “Money” magazine called “The Weed Queen of Washington” after founding cannabis edibles company The Goodship.
Now, Hall is at it again. She opened Wunderground, an adaptogenic (health-focused) mushroom coffee and tea company last June. Seattleites can visit the café at 11th and East Pike, but Hall has much bigger dreams, namely a thriving e-commerce company with a national presence.
She conceived of the idea after hearing a speech by mycologist Paul Stamets, who spoke about how mushrooms can save the planet.
“When he talked about the power of mushrooms for immunity, I realized I wanted to create coffee with mushrooms,” Hall says. “Mushrooms have been used in Eastern cultures for thousands of years. The West is waking up to the benefits, which include brain clarity and focus, emotional health and calm.”
For Hall, it’s yet another stop on a journey defined by an uncanny ability to recognize opportunity while adhering closely to a set of deeply held values.
As late as the 1980s, in a flannel-forward, magically overcast land called Seattle, cupcake shops did not yet exist, and there were only 30 Starbucks locations. A young Jody Hall, who was earning a degree in business administration from Seattle University, crossed paths with a man named Howard Schultz.
She joined Starbucks in a marketing position right before the coffee giant went public in 1989, two years after Schultz bought the company.
“I had a feeling this company was going places,” she recalls. “It was a culture of people first, and I was passionate about this work.” Hall was also passionate about coffee culture in general. “To me, coffee is about community and conversation. I love the pace, the vision and the ritual of coffee.”
She positioned the brand on a national level, creating awareness through noteworthy partnerships such as a music café at the Sundance Film Festival, where Ben Affleck enjoyed coffee while watching Peter Gabriel play. She worked with VH1 and Harry Belafonte, partnered with Oprah Winfrey on literacy events and was responsible for sponsorship of music festival Lilith Fair.
All of this was fertile ground for the brewing of another idea: her own company.
“In my 11 years there, I opened 25 new markets, working for a genius entrepreneur, pitching ideas like sponsoring Lilith Fair, creating in-store performances, and doing PR and media,” she says. “I loved the pace and culture, and when I left, I thought, ‘I think I need to do this.’”
While she figured out what her “this” would be, she worked on national partnerships and promotions for outdoor gear retailer REI. After moving on a few years later, she dreamed up her ideal company. It took her a year to write the business plan for Seattle’s first cupcake bakery and café, Cupcake Royale.
“No one was doing cupcakes outside of New York City, and I feel like one of my superpowers is vision,” she recalls. “I saw the future of Starbucks. I knew it would be something. Following that intuition, I could see a future with cupcakes.”
Over the course of Cupcake Royale’s history, Hall has donated 40,000 cupcakes to raise money for local nonprofits. Washington farmers grow the wheat for her product. She uses local dairy and organic eggs and prints her compostable boxes locally.
Part of creating what you want to see in the world comes from defining who you are as a brand, and Hall was able to do that early on, using the platform she built through Cupcake Royale to talk about issues of importance. She’s a staunch advocate of affordable health care, paid sick leave, marriage equality and shopping local. She created the “Gay Cupcake” and, in partnership with Seattle-based national columnist Dan Savage and the “It Gets Better Project,” donated more than $10,000 to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Hall, who provides health care coverage for her employees, also discussed skyrocketing insurance rates with President Obama at a roundtable discussion about the challenges small-business owners face.
As a serial entrepreneur on a quest to create positive change, Hall wasn’t satisfied. After expanding to ice cream in 2012 and offering scoops at Cupcake Royale locations, she saw another opportunity after Washington voters approved recreational marijuana: cannabis edibles.
She and her pastry chef, Nicki Krebs, worked with food scientists for a year to create premium products for Goodship, which she hoped would change the narrative of how people perceived cannabis.
“We were really innovating,” Hall recalls. “We had four different cookies, a chocolate bar line, individual chocolate coins and a line of confections, including paté de fruits. It’s exciting to sink your teeth into something that evolves your vision for the world.”
Ultimately, Goodship was acquired in 2017 by Privateer Holdings, and Hall was able to dream up her most recent entrepreneurial endeavor – coming full circle to the product that started her career: coffee. After two years of research and development with experts from La Croix, Odwalla and Starbucks, Wunderground was ready.
Many of Hall’s former Starbucks colleagues came in as investors. It seems they knew that with Hall at the helm, there would be a lot packed into those coffee bags.
“We’re at an epidemic of loneliness, depression and anxiety,” Hall says. “Our coffees help remove the cloud that overwhelms us.”
Wunderground works directly with small farms, putting 75% of the premium price back into their pockets. They use organic mushrooms grown on natural wood substrate tested for pesticides and heavy metals, and only extract from the fruiting body, which ensures most of the beta-glucans and polysaccharides that come with the mushrooms aren’t lost in the production process.
Then, of course, there’s the flavor. The café offers mushroom sandwiches, grain bowls, salads, mushroom-infused bone broths and drinks like the brain wash, with a vanilla syrup containing 500 mg of mushrooms.
Hall now frolics in a mushroom forest — queen of the empire she built, surveying all that she owns with a quiet sense of accomplishment and optimism rooted firmly in life experience.
“When people see what you see, and you realize your powers are real, it’s a really exhilarating feeling,” she says.
Think of it as an extension of Seattle’s world-famous coffee culture, with a unique and healthy twist.