Seth Tibbott founded Turtle Island Foods, dba “The Tofurky Company” in 1980 on $2,500, his life savings from his 8-year career as a teacher/naturalist in the Portland, Oregon public schools. The company’s first product, tempeh (a fermented soy bean cake from Indonesia), was made and delivered in small batches to fledgling natural food stores in Portland and the west coast.
The first 9 years in business were a financial struggle. America was not quite ready for tempeh yet and Seth’s take-home pay averaged $290 for those years. Living the dream but losing his shirt, Seth rented four trees in 1984 near the tempeh shop for $25.00 per month and built a 3-story tree house in which he lived for the next 7 years.
In 1995, the company’s fortunes changed with the introduction of the first Tofurky roasts at Thanksgiving. 500 roasts were sold that year throughout the Pacific Northwest but soon a larger, national market came calling.
Today, 38 years after its founding, Tofurky is still a family owned, independent enterprise and Seth is the company’s Chairman; stepson, Jaime Athos, is now CEO, carrying the dream forward. Tofurky is a model of “slow growth” and is unique for never having any equity investment except for $17,000 from Seth’s brother Bob in 1989. Today, Tofurky products are sold in over 21,000 stores worldwide on 6 of 7 continents and are made in a new eco production plant built to LEED Platinum standards. Seth has been overseeing Tofurky sales in the export market for the past 4 years which has afforded him the opportunity to witness firsthand the current explosion of veganism throughout the planet.