One of the biggest challenges in the integrity food space is walk that matches talk. Talk is cheap and easy; walk is expensive and difficult.
Our farm supplies about 50 restaurants, all of whom fall on some sort of continuum between charlatan and true blue. Several years ago we got so frustrated with the green washing (that's calling yourself green but not really doing anything with it) that we began posting what our restaurants purchased so people who saw our name on the chalk board in the establishment could have verification on our website. The backlash from restaurants was so threatening that we discontinued it: "You're not going to be my policeman!" the chefs angrily responded.
Too many buy a little bit from local and integrity farmers but then get most things from the industrial Sysco truck. That's just the nasty truth of the supposedly integrity food business. Buy enough to put the farm name up on the marquee, but then get most from conventional industrial sources. I'd say in general the restaurants our farm supplies are above average, but I couldn't prove it.
So it is with great pleasure and honor that I get to applaud one that's all in, and a recent convert, I might add: Primo Family Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington D.C. Owned by the Jim Nicopolous family, this 25-year Greek restaurant has become a true blue powerhouse in the greater D.C. area. As we say around here, "they've drunk the Kool-aid."
You can always tell when a restaurant makes the commitment to honesty because their orders go through the roof. Look, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that an 80-seat restaurant serves more than 10 chickens a week or 20 pounds of pork or 10 dozen eggs. To be sure, as farmers we're glad for every order, regardless of size. And some local-oriented restaurants are quite small. But having been in this business for decades, we have a pretty good sense of volume. We know what it takes to keep the lights on, how many covers get prepared each day, and sometimes the volume in compared to the covers is offensive to the notion that the walk is consistent with the talk.
Monday, Jan. 21 Teresa and I will be at Primo Family Restaurant, meeting and greeting patrons and explaining our farming techniques along with owner-chef Jim. These folks are buying whole cows, whole hogs, tons of chickens. I mean, this one restaurant could keep a farm like ours in business. That's the power of one that truly jumps all in for walk-talk consistency.
If I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times: "but my price points won't let me do it." A restaurant expense budget is divided in thirds: ingredients, overhead, labor. Ingredient prices can double and only increase the cost of a plate by 25 percent. To put that in perspective, a dinner that sells for $20 will normally be divided this way: $5 ingredient; $5 overhead; $5 labor; $5 profit. If you double ingredients to $10, you've only added $5 to the plate so it moves from $20 to $25. I don't know anyone who would balk at a $5 upcharge to have the best ingredients in the world and enjoy participating in a restaurant's commitment to go all in.
When the army says they're "looking for a few good men," I say "we're looking for a few good restaurants." Patronizing pastured meat products from local sources is one of the litmus tests for a restaurant's commitment to integrity. I'd like to call out the most blatant charlatans we've dealt with, but this is a blog about a winner, and I hope everyone who can will patronize Primo Family Restaurant in Alexandria. Tell Jim I sent you.
Another true blue is Ivy Inn near Charlottesville. I'll post about them another day.
As a patron, how do you know if a restaurant is true blue?