It wasn’t long before the idea took root, and by summertime, Conserva Culture was up and running. From its earliest days, it served as a financial stopgap for both the restaurants and the many producers, merchants, and artisans who regularly partnered with Barcelona.
The online retail shop can hardly be classified as a pantry-only operation since it sells everything from condiments, preserves, oils, vinegars, and canned foods to serveware, centerpieces, and original artwork. While most items hail from Spain and the surrounding regions, the collection also includes wares from India, Japan, and even Alaska.
For better or for worse, Americans don’t hold canned and other shelf-stable goods in high regard the way many other cultures do. In this, McConnell and Thomas glimpsed a way to challenge that mindset.
“There are incredible cultures all over the world—not just in Spain and the Mediterranean—but also like Japan, that have an entirely different relationship with their pantry than the American culture does. We have a very post-war relationship. Much of what goes into can is no good,” McConnell says. “Then you go to a place like Spain where the best things are put in a can. To them, it’s like, ‘If we put it in a can, we make sure that it’s good forever.’ You can open it anytime.”
A little less than a year into operation, Conserva’s community of sellers has grown to more than 50 purveyors with more being added on an ongoing basis. Current best-sellers include the Conserva Porrón—a sculpture-like glass pitcher not unlike a decanter—La Boella olive oil (sold exclusively through Conserva), and tinned seafood, including squid preserved in ink, from Güeyu Mar, a renowned restaurant in northern Spain. Güeyu Mar products only debuted in December, but they’re already garnering rave reviews, with the likes of Bon Appetit positing, “How on earth could such a delicacy come from a can?”