From Mercer Island to Italy and Back with Charcuterina

May 17, 2023 | by Adam Willems

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All photos courtesy Charcuterina

Mercer Island resident Nicole Dowds grew up in a household accustomed to cheerful company, which eventually inspired her to start Charcuterina, her Mercer Island-based charcuterie board catering business. “My mother, from South Korea, always invited our neighbors and friends to our place,” Dowds recalls. “She just threw a dinner party all the time.”

These dinners taught Dowds how to connect with others over meals, and doing just that in Italy defined her career path and shaped her chosen family. On an extension program during her time as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, she traveled along the cliffs of the Amalfi coast and hills of Tuscany. At a small wine bar in Rome, a server brought Dowds a beautifully presented – and tasty – salami board. 

“I totally fell in love with it,” Dowds says. “I came back to the States and started making it, just with a little more decoration.” During the early months of the pandemic, Dowds shared the Rome-inspired boards with family and friends and posted her edible artwork on Instagram. Corporate offices started calling to solicit her creative services, compelling her to create a full-time business centered around her talents. 

“I’m really just having fun. I don’t consider it as work, it’s my passion,” Dowds says. “I really love making people happy with my little touch.”

Dowds celebrates her preferred-vendor status with major corporations like DocuSign and Meta, the parent company to Facebook, and works with individual clients across the region on boards that reflect the diversity of the Seattle area — and of her clientele. Dowds personalizes her boards, designing them to embrace the themes and flavors that they prefer. “I always have an idea after speaking with my customers,” she says. 

Mercer Island is an optimal home base for her business and family, Dowds notes. She initially moved to the island in 2016 to provide a quality education to her son, who’s now a junior in high school and is passionate about the Boy Scouts. But Dowds says her neighbors and community will keep her here after he graduates, as will Charcuterina.

But centering her business on Mercer Island hasn’t kept Dowds from finding inspiration from new flavors and experiences abroad. A recent trip to Spain encouraged her to design boards featuring potato-based snacks, croquetas, and jamón. Like Charcuterina’s other boards, these new offerings include organic and GMO-free ingredients, just as she prefers to serve her own kid and family.

In the coming months, Dowds will launch an events company in Italy. “I’m going to offer weddings and special getaways for families, and private and personalized local experiences,” she explains. In importing ideas and tastes from across the pond and exporting curious clients to experience life abroad, Dowds aims to show off Mercer Island as a gourmet cross-cultural hub.