We’ll be selling to four Columbia restaurants in 2011 (that we know of), and each has specific and unique reasons that make us grateful for their support. I can say from both experience and hearsay that some restaurants and chefs are more difficult to work with; not returning calls or contacts, not upholding their promised orders/interests, not holding realistic expectations of farmers, not handling produce well, and so on. Not everyone who claims or uses local sources is equal in their actual execution of that ideal. I’d suspect that many restaurant customers really don’t see the behind-the-scenes differences in how restaurants work with farmers (or not). Here’s why we love the ones we do work with (note: the exclusion of a local restaurant shouldn’t be taken as implicit criticism; there are many we’ve never approached).
An all-around class-act restaurant, Sycamore serves excellent food in a perfect atmosphere, and chef Mike Odette is a real pleasure to work with. He’s always interested in working with diverse, seasonal ingredients, reliably responds to contacts, is willing to pay a fair price for good product but also to gently explain when we’re asking too much, and is just all-around supportive and easy to work with as a farmer selling direct. He’s been a real mentor for us in developing our restaurant sales; very helpful in helping us understand and meet the high standards he requires for his ingredients, and as far as I’m concerned is the model of how farm-table interactions should work from the restaurant end. The first time I saw our farm on their menu, I felt like I’d won an award, and it’s still a thrill to serve them.
Courtney may be the most flexible of our contacts in adapting to changing conditions and supplies, and has often salvaged a poor market day for us and others by buying up unsold stock at the end of the morning and finding ways to use it on their broad, diverse menu. They juggle purchases from many different farms and do a really nice job of trying to support many different growers. They’re very willing to take unusual items like sweet yellow cucumbers, will preserve items for the off-season (like freezing bulk okra), and again are easy and supportive to work with.
As the best option for organic & vegetarian/vegan food in town, Leigh really shares our values and gives clear preference to true organic farms in her purchasing. We can’t supply everything she needs, but she is the most willing to pay whatever price the farmer thinks is fair and builds her business around that core support for local, organic food and sustainability. We’re really grateful for her principles.
Red & Moe
A new customer for us last year, we expect to sell more and more to this maker of excellent true pizza. Trey & the owners take their commitment to using entirely local foods very seriously indeed, purchasing and preserving large quantities of ingredients throughout the year to minimize their ties to generic food service. We’re really looking forward to building this relationship, especially with some of our larger core crops like garlic (they bought & used a lot last year).
We’ve hosted & fed all these folks at our farm, some multiple times; just their willingness to take the time to visit and learn about their sources tells you something about their commitment and value to local foods. All have supported us and taught us about our business, and we’re grateful to them. Please thank them by supporting their restaurants.