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Photo report:

US (IL): An abundance of market opportunities for mushrooms in Chicago

"About 15% of our production is sent to retail, which is relatively small but steady, and we're growing organically. We have the production capacity, it's just a matter of scaling and making sure our production is bulletproof," says Joe Weber, Founder and CEO of Four Star Mushrooms (FSM), a specialty mushroom producer based in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago.

Joe Weber, pictured in Four Star Mushroom's West Town facility

Catering to chefs and consumers
Retailers sell a limited range of specialty mushrooms, if any, and these are often damaged and of inconsistent quality. "We are working towards vertical integration as food service distributors in general take 30-40% and often do not treat the product with the care that we do. Our products are premium and prices are reflective of that."

All retail stores that Four Stars services, are stocked by the team themselves. Mariano's, a Kroger brand, is one of Four Star's primary customers.

One of the fruiting rooms and a close up of mushroom varieties set for same-day delivery

The remaining 85% is sent to hospitality businesses. "Some of the world's most renowned chefs are out customers and supports," Joe shares. The company initially catered to Michelin-starred restaurants and has since expanded to larger restaurants, hotels, and clubs. Many chefs have left Chicago and moved to NYC, Washington DC and Miami and have requested FSM to ship them the products. However, the company is currently dedicated to the Chicago market, but aims to continue relationships with excellent chefs across the country.

Lion's mane freshly harvested

Quadrupling production
Joe's love for his city is reflected in Four Star's namesake, which features Chicago's four famous stars. Simultaneously that's a reflection of the company's core values, quality, trust, innovation, and sustainability. The farm produces seven varieties of mushrooms, including lion's mane, chestnut, blue oyster, black oyster, maitake, golden enoki, and king trumpet. With 17 grow rooms in operation, Four Star Mushrooms is set to increase its weekly yield from 2000 pounds (ca. 907 kg) to potentially 8000–10000 pounds (ca. 4.5 kg).

Four Star's delivery boxes for the catering industry

"We're looking to maximize our yield per block, increase cycles per month and decrease our per-unit cost. Ultimately, we want to get the most out of our blocks. From input to delivery, we want it to spawn." Despite controlling for significant portions of the supply chain, FSM has strategically decided to source spawn from high class producers to reduce the risk that spawn production poses.

The facility is home to 17 grow rooms

"If you don't have everything buttoned up in spawn production, you can lose crops to contamination. Even in maintaining sterile protocols, the risk is not yet worth the reward. It's more expensive but more consistent. Yet, that's something for the future."

The addition of a storefront in their West Town facility allows the local community to purchase fresh produce and taste new creations from the future on-site kitchen. "We believe our mission resonates with the people."

'Open to the community'. Urban residents are always welcome for a visit. As seen in the right photo, there is plenty of room for Four Star's expansion plans, such as their shared kitchen experience.

Nothing goes to waste
With sustainability at the core, Four Star doesn't want to waste any production. Excess mushrooms are dried, made shelf-stable and sold to chefs to turn them into stock for instance. On top of that, used substrate blocks are sent off to a regenerative farm, which Joe has partnered with since 2022. "They break up the blocks and spread them over their soil to boost fertility. Up until now, they've saturated more than 60 acres with our blocks and have had amazing results."

For more information:
Four Star Mushrooms
Joe Weber, Founder and CEO