With permission from the author, here is an excellent article first published in Our Local Table Monadnock Summer 2010 edition, featuring the good work and success of an area restaurant using locally sourced foods:
Burger & Fries, Please (But Make It Local)
By Marcia Passos Duffy
When Jessica Graveline opened Fritz restaurant in 2003 at The Center of Keene, her mind was focused on fries—not local food. But Graveline began to ponder weightier issues—such as preservation of open spaces, the survival of small farms, and the importance of contributing to the local economy—after she attended a few local food forums held in the region. “I started to realize the importance of using local—on many levels,” says Graveline. By using more local foods in her business Graveline figured she’d not only help preserve local farms, but she’d get fresher, better tasting food. And her customers—“Fritzers” as she likes to call them—would know exactly where the menu’s ingredients came from. “When you put all these things together—and think about the goodwill it could create with customers—it was a no-brainer to start using local ingredients,” says Graveline.
Grandma Knows Best
Graveline started incorporating local foods gradually into the menu by adding ostrich and buffalo meat burgers. The meat was sourced from local farmers’ markets and online through Yankee Farmers’ Market based in Warner, NH. But Graveline’s signature menu item—fries—was still being made with Russet potatoes purchased from traditional restaurant distribution sources. But that changed when her grandmother pointed out the obvious. Graveline spent the early years of her life on Savage Farm, a potato producer in Deerfield, Mass., where her parents rented house on the land. “I hadn’t thought of getting potatoes locally until my grandmother said one day, ‘Why don’t you call up the Savages and get potatoes from them?’” says Graveline. Her grandmother’s suggestion turned out better than expected. Graveline discovered that the Savage Farm grew two varieties of potatoes that were even better than Russets for making fries: Snowden (an oval white flesh potato) and Norwiss (a round, thin skinned white flesh potato).
Both varieties are high-starch, high-density potatoes grown specifically to make potato chips (one of Savage Farm’s major customers is Cape Cod Potato Chips). “These varieties of potatoes can take high heat…which makes them cook up really well as fries,” says Graveline.
By the time Graveline moved Fritz to its newer, larger space on Main Street in Keene, she was ready to use even more local foods—and her customers were asking for more.
But Graveline was confronted with a marketing dilemma: “My business model was not based on using solely local foods…but fast, casual and affordable quality food.” If the restaurant were to offer 100 percent local for every item on the menu, the “affordable” part of the business plan would have to change. “I didn’t want to change the whole image of the business.” When produce is in peak season the difference in price between local and “away” produce is negligible. It is more expensive to source all ingredients locally—especially year round. “It is not an option for me to buy local all the time,” Graveline says. “And not everyone is ready to choose local with their discretionary income every time they make a purchase. We need to be competitive and have a price point for everyone.” Her solution has been to keep sourcing some high demand items—namely her signature fries and burgers—with local farmers and add more seasonal items as they become available.
Local, in Season
Today Graveline buys beef from Bo-Riggs Farm in Sullivan. She gives her customers a choice of three burgers: Buffalo Burgers are four ounces, and Bo-Riggs Burgers are five ounces—both priced at $5.75 which includes burger fixings. She has kept a non-locally raised beef burger on her menu at a slightly lower price of $5.23 (for a six-ounce burger). “It’s not a huge price difference… but it is worth the extra money for the higher quality and taste,” she says. And is there a quality difference when cooking with locally raised beef? “You know when you buy supermarket ground beef and it’s gray in the middle? That’s not the case with local ground beef,” says Graveline. “They are not pumping local beef with dyes to make it look fresher because it just is fresher.”
During the summer months, Graveline purchases greens and tomatoes from local farmers, namely Abenaki Springs Farm (Walpole) and Tracie’s Farm (Fitzwilliam). She also uses eggs for salads from a small farm in Marlow called Hodgepodge Farm (“Their 12 year old son delivers eggs to us on Friday,” she notes). Wine is from New Hampshire’s Candia Vineyards. For dessert, puddings are available from Echo Farms in Hinsdale.
This season she plans to sell mushrooms from Wichland Woods (Keene), and jams and jellies from Cheshire Garden (Winchester) in a separate retail space in the restaurant that will be dedicated to selling local products. The benefits of going local have gone above and beyond what Graveline initially hoped when she started. For one, it has opened up a lot of interesting conversations with her customers about food and farms, she says. Best of all, Graveline knows she is doing her small part to help the local economy: “It’s good to know that I’m doing what I can to help our community,” she says.