By Zagat Stories
The ripple effects of pandemic restrictions on restaurants are felt by farmers and other suppliers, who not only have unsold surplus, but also aren’t sure what they should plant for the next season. Restaurants are making some of these goods available through delivery, along with the rest of their menu.
Culinary director, DIG, New York
Let’s face it—it’s hard to buy food right now in New York City. It’s crazy. We’ve been leaning on what we’ve always done, which is following the food, staying in close contact from day one with our farmers as they’ve needed to shift what they had been harvesting, and we’re looking for outlets and trying to figure out how we can be good partners with them, and how we can sell it.
We started out very simple. The first farm box was just a collection of our vegetables. It’s similar to a CSA program, but it’s available for delivery. There’s no pre-order needed. There’s no subscription needed. It’s basically just the vegetables that people have been enjoying when they come in to eat at our restaurant, ordered and sent out to you in their raw form. Kale, broccoli, sweet potato, cauliflower, some nice lettuces. We quickly added on some pantry staples—milk, eggs, and flour, which just became the hottest commodity. We were able to work with Farmer Ground and provide local flour. It’s been pretty popular. I’m not surprised—I’m at home struggling to figure out how we get food into our house.
With our farmers, we’ve always had relationships where it’s like, “Hey, what are you growing, and what would you like us to buy from you?” As opposed to something purely chef-driven, which was like, “I need this in my kitchen now.” When the pandemic hit, the harvest didn’t stop immediately. But one of the most challenging things right now is everyone’s wondering what they should be planting, and how much. We have a small farm ourselves. We had to say, “Hey, we were supposed to be putting seeds in two weeks ago.” We’re going slower. We’re still planting a little bit. But boy, what are we going to need by August?
Cofounder/CEO, Belcampo, Los Angeles
Our food delivery has tripled. We have our own ranch and slaughterhouse in Northern California. So our supply chain and our sales of our raw product has actually remained the same. We’ve just moved a great portion of that raw product into new channels.
We increased the butcher offerings—raw meat offerings on delivery went from under 5 percent to just about a third of total sales. You can now order a whole chicken. You can buy a steak. You can buy eggs. One of the things that I launched was distributing CSA boxes at our butcher shops. We paired up with a really great local organic farm. Now you can buy your meat and get a CSA box from a local farm too. That’s been nice.
SUSANNA OK: We’re trying to do farm-to-table and support our local vendors. It was easy for us to get a farmer’s market bag going on. We have a farmer’s market every Sunday only about a block away. Because they’re once a week, a lot of people don’t get to the market. So we have worked with our farmers at the close of the market to buy whatever they didn’t sell that day. We pretty much sell it at cost. It’s actually an extension of the farmer’s market—have permission from the organizing committee to use their name and their whole thing.
For a flat-rate price, we curate the bag ourselves. Right now we’ve got beets with the greens still on top, daikon, bok choy, some honey sticks, Haas avocados, Cara Cara oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and Pink Lady apples. It’s sort of like the CSA box, but smaller. I think it’s a little more manageable. I don’t think anybody really knows what to do with a whole daikon, in general. That’s plenty for one person or one family.
NICO PENA: This is a big thing for me, because I’ve spent so much time dealing with producers. It’s super important that they stay supported. That’s what these meals provide, too. I had a conversation with a chef when the crisis happened, and we brought up farmers, and one joke was like, well, everything’s already in the ground and it’ll be fine. But ultimately everything has a life cycle. Even though the onions are in the ground, if nobody’s buying them, then they go to scapes, if nobody buys the scapes, they go into flower, and if nobody buys the flower, they go to seed. And then you just lost an entire field. And those are just the onions—think about all the other crops out there.