Maker Story: Brady Ryan, San Juan Island Sea Salt

Born and bred on San Juan Island, Brady Ryan is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Honestly, with San Juan Island Sea Salt as our subject for this Maker Story, we just couldn’t resist the lob of an analogy that means “a good and honest person.” Its roots are biblical and its compliment pure. Brady, like all of our Makers, is one of the good ones. 

Settle in for a fun journey that starts on San Juan Island, takes us to Seattle, and brings us back home to the archipelago at the center of our state’s otherworldly beauty. 

A Homemade Christmas Gift That Became a Business

Home from college for winter break, Brady and one of his buddies wanted to make their parents a thoughtful gift for Christmas. They boiled their home’s native saltwater on their parents’ stoves and that thoughtful (albeit messy) science experiment became the seed of the business that would eventually grow into what San Juan Island Sea Salt has become today—but not right away. 

Brady attended the University of Washington in Seattle, earning a degree in Mathematics. After college, he stuck around the mainland, working and interning at places like Local Roots Farm and the Ballard Bee Company. 

After a while, though, home started calling to Brady, and he answered. He hails from a farming family, so returning to his (literal) roots just made sense. 

How San Juan Island Sea Salt Is Made

That first salty experiment provided some big lessons, not least of which was how to problem-solve for using less electricity to make sea salt. Remember those jobs Brady took after college? On the farm he was working on outside of Seattle, he had built greenhouses. What if, he thought, he could use greenhouse technology to make sea salt? 

By 2012, Brady and his future wife, Leah, built their first evaporation house on San Juan Island, and San Juan Island Sea Salt was born. 

San Juan Island Sea Salt Made In Washington


The process Brady and his team employ uses the power of the sun to slowly evaporate large ponds of seawater inside their greenhouses. The greenhouses increase the temperature of the air inside, which speeds up evaporation (and keeps Washington’s penchant for precipitation out). In a departure from the historical process used by many sea salt farmers, Brady and his crew let the seawater evaporate all the way down, which brings the whole wild and briny mineral rainbow of the ocean into their salt. The result? Bigger, broader, and—dare we say—better flavor.

For The Love of Local Sea Salt

Brady began selling his salts at local farmer's markets, beginning in one of the not-great times for farmer's markets in the Pacific Northwest—December. On their first day at their first market, they sold $700 worth of salt. He knew he was onto something pretty great. 

San Juan Island Sea Salt now boasts 14 evaporation houses, producing around 20,000 pounds of salt each year. 

Gourmet Salt Blends

Brady and his team offer about 30 unique products (and just opened a brick-and-mortar store in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island), many of which we carry. Whether you’re looking to go all in on seasoning your fruits of the sea with their Friday Harbor Seafood Blend, satiating your sweet tooth with a Salted Honey Caramel, or (safely) adding a little extra smoke to your next grill out with their Steak Blend, you will be happy as a clam (Side note: are clams happy? How can we know? You can imagine our water cooler conversations involve big life ponderings here at Made In Washington) with the quality and variety Brady offers. Purists will love their OG offering while Everything Bagel connoisseurs will grab Everything But The Bagel Salt by the armful.  

San Juan Island Sea Salt Gift Set at Made In Washington


Here’s something very cool we know for sure, regardless of where you stand on your salty preferences: Store-bought sea salt is chemically refined to be 99% sodium chloride. The ocean is much more diverse in its mineral makeup, so expect trace minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and much more) to remain in all San Juan Island Sea Salt products. When you eat it—on your avo toast, infused in a chocolate bar, sprinkled on juicy slices of a perfectly-ripe summer tomato—you’ll be reminded of the Salish Sea. And we’re not sure about you, but we’ll take as many reminders of the Salish Sea as we can get. 

San Juan Island Sea Salt and Made In Washington

So, when did we make our love of San Juan Island Sea Salt official? In 2017. 

We asked Brady how he thought the partnership was going. This is what he said: “To us, it's really the perfect venue for our products—a business that focuses on and celebrates artisan-made local goods. Made In Washington has been a great partner for us over the years, helping us grow our business and employ more folks in our small town! And as a customer, I love Made In Washington for just really fun product discovery.” 

A Salt Farm on San Juan Island With Big Love for Washington State

To keep ourselves from blushing, we thought we’d ask Brady a broader question, our favorite—what he loves most about his home state. 

“I love the diversity of ecosystems and people,” he told us. “Like going from Ocean Shores to the Okanagan to San Juan Island and downtown Seattle. It's just such a beautiful range of places and people and plants and animals. And the fact that I get to ride a huge, beautiful ferry through gorgeous forested islands to get home is pretty cool, too.”

We happen to agree. With all of it.  

San Juan Island Sea Salt, a sea salt company powered by the sun, is designed, crafted, and made in Friday Harbor, WA.