Farm to table, locavore, locally sourced. These are all ubiquitous terms these days in the heady chef-inspired world of restaurants. The truth of the matter for an owner-operated, neighborhood pub is that the model makes little financial sense and comes at a cost.
Why did we choose to source locally and why do we continue despite the challenge to survive in a low margin high cost paradigm?
There are any number of reasons that restaurants could and should adapt to a locavore sourcing model.
For me the inspiration was born of a “Patagonia” sense of stewardship towards the world and wondering what Dressel’s could do to become more of a solution and less of a problem. We started in 2007 by switching to a “naturally raised” big box beef supply chain that promised a happier cow with no additives. Reality check, $1.75 a pound ground beef now costs $3.50. Likewise, we purchased Amish raised poultry
for chicken sandwiches. Still it felt like a step in the right direction.
Next up was our first local farm relationship with Reckamp Farms. We started buying a single hog and having it partially processed by a Jonesburg family meat business, Davis Meat Co. Some of the butchering was done back at the pub and little by little we started building our menu around the source of the product.
Through the Davis’ we hooked up with a local beef rancher, Bob Ridgley, and eventually figured out how to turn a whole cow into a balanced section of the menu. It seems simple but the reality isn’t such. Then there’s the cost.
You might assume buying animals yourself and eliminating the middleman would be cheaper but it’s not. Our ground beef costs over $4 a pound to bring in the door and I’m driving to Jonesburg myself to get it.
Vegetables are a whole other story. When we opened the floodgate of fresh vegetable to local sourcing, I saw my produce costs double in less than a year. Sure the product was great and fun to work with, and the occasional caterpillar in a salad could be laughed at, but the premium has made the challenge of balancing a menu and price point with the expectations of a “pub” to be supremely difficult.
After 8 years of playing the farm to table, chef driven menu game I’ve reached the conclusion it’s a mixed blessing and has to be approached thoughtfully.
Perhaps the biggest pro for myself and our team is the ability to shake hands and deal directly with the source of the food we eat. The connection that binds the red of rural Missouri with the city of blue is worth pursuing.
Good people, good products, and something tangible in an ever-fragmented, techno-spastic, fake news world makes it seem worth the effort in our over-competitive, over-saturated, overrated dining out world.