Fast-Casual Spots are Revolutionizing the Farm-to-Restaurant Relationship
Roughly 60 miles outside of New York City, in the Hudson Valley’s Black Dirt region, Larry Tse is growing heirloom fruits and vegetables on 15 acres of land. In 2018, the farm harvested roughly 70,000 pounds of produce including summer squash, Persian cucumbers, Sungold tomatoes, and honey boat delicata squash. But unlike other upstate New Yorker farmers, Tse doesn’t sell the fruits of his labor to farmers markets, grocery stores, or even distributors: He is the resident farmer for the fast-casual restaurant brand Dig Inn, with locations in Boston and New York.
“We’re in a position where we can put more resources towards trialing new and different varieties of vegetables for our research and development team to use,” said Tse. “Ultimately, the goal for our farm and my role as a farmer is to help Dig Inn better understand the intricacies of farming and how to be a better partner to our supplier.”
Dig Inn is one of a growing number of eateries, along with fresh&co, Sweetgreen, Chopt, Little Sesame, and Tender Greens, that in the past decade disrupted the fast-casual restaurant model by focusing on seasonal food, sourced from local farms. Now, some of those companies are changing the farm-restaurant relationship by purchasing their own farms.
When brands turn to the land
“We wanted to go a step further with farming our own land, in order to take our quality and target taste profiles to the next level,” said George Tenedios, co-founder and CEO of fresh&co, which owns 18 locations in NYC and purchased a 35-acre farm on the North Fork of Long Island in 2017.
The North Fork was a natural location for a fresh&co farm as many of the farms the company already works with are in the area. Currently, about…