By Andrew Parr
This article is the third in a series of five that will focus on different aspects of the restaurant industry. The series is based on five panel discussions created through a collaboration of Jensen Cummings’s Best Served Live and Connor Holmes’s & Gertie Harris’s Fireside at Five. Cummings has also developed the Paragon Pillars, the “North Star” guiding all of his conversations. The Paragon Pillars set the lofty goals of creating an environment in which restaurants can attain 75% employee retention and satisfaction coupled with 19% net profit at flow state. Jensen Cummings also gets a tip of the cap for the assist with this piece. Fireside at Five finds its genesis from FDR’s Fireside Chats. Its mission is to provide a welcoming environment where passionate and engaged professionals can connect with other diverse colleagues in a facilitated and intentional format.
The topic of conversation for this third panel focuses on searching the supply chain; how do we source and secure our food? Today’s contributing panelists are Justin Brunson, owner of River Bear American Meats, Mike Callicrate, Owner of Callicrate Cattle Company and Ranch Foods Direct, Ben Deda, CEO of FoodMaven, and Christopher Wells, Co-Founder and CEO of Piecemeal. Cummings lead off today’s chat with a trident directive to understand best practices for raising and growing food, logistics and transportation in regard to food access, and costs associated with determining market value and how to earn market value from the ultimate purchaser.
The United States food supply chain is broken. This became immediately evident with Deda’s opening salvo that 40% of food in the US ends up in landfills, 70% of American farmers are operating in the economic Red Zone, and 42 MILLION Americans are currently food insecure. These are not the numbers from a third world nation across the globe, these are the numbers for our United States of America. Callicrate indicates some of the contributing factors that have led us here are industrial agriculture as an extraction industry and vapid price shopping consumerism which can lead us to purchase food that is so inexpensive that it is also devoid of nutritional value. The US spends 6.4% of its household income on food, the lowest in the world. That statistic is without specific value in a vacuum, however as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, one can certainly extrapolate the lack of value Americans place on food, its production, the laborers who raise it, respect for our land & soil and the care of the animals we eventually eat.
Callicrate continued by discussing the benefits of regenerative and restorative farming. A process by which we break the chains of industrial agriculture as an extraction industry. Bringing health back to our soil brings health back to our food and our community. He finished his thought with this, “if you lose your soil, you lose your civilization.” Deda posited that a sustainable food economy is a local food economy. This thought is why we have seen examples of exclusively local and regional food styles and ingredients throughout time. Food had traditionally been prepared from ingredients that were readily available to those preparing it. This speaks to why a quintessential product, for example, jamón ibérico can come from such a modest tierra as dehesa. As described by Dan Barber in The Third Plate, the Spanish definition of tierra is not just the land we stand upon, but all of the totality of inputs and outputs that create the ongoing living conditions influenced by that land. The dehesa is inhabited by bulls, pigs, sheep, goats, geese, eagles; oak, beech and pine trees, and a variety of grasses. It requires each of these components to both take from the land AND give back to it in order to maintain the regenerative ecosystem that allows for jamón ibérico and the dehesa to flourish century after century.
In regard to market value, Brunson interjected that previously, as a restauranteur, he ran one of the most expensive (to the consumer) restaurants in Denver. Brunson educated himself and continues to do so by actually visiting the farms that produce for him. He is then able to share that knowledge with his staff, who can then share it with the customer. Ultimately, this intensive and thoughtful process allows him, even now as a USDA certified processor, to charge what the product is worth. Wells noted that change takes effort, and that using technology and producing simpler tools for restauranteurs to use can connect suppliers to purchasers while creating significant transparency. If, for example, every user across Piecemeal was part of a purchasing cooperative that showed pricing across the system, every participant would have access to every other user’s purchase prices and the suppliers pricing; as well as information about the quality of food at that price point and why it is priced as it is. The goal here is not to drive down pricing, but rather for purchasers of any size to have access to pricing that is a perfect match for the value of what they are buying. Brunson said we need to get the consumer away from a cheapest is best mentality. “Cheapest is worst,” he said, “it is ruining the environment and the economy. CHEAP SUCKS!”
The panelists were all in agreement that the significant drive has to come from transparency and education. Callicrate said he knows a restaurant is “on board” with a value driven philosophy when they let him train their staff. Deda talked about understanding the various certifications out there such as USDA, third party, process and what is not a certification at all; but a label solely for the purpose of marketing. Brunson reinforced that the best way to buy and sell great product from great animals is to educate the staff and the consumer about what they are buying and why they are better off for buying it. Wells left his job as a multi-unit supervisor for a large burger chain after reading an article that stated 60% of children in underprivileged neighborhoods from a major metropolitan city received their antibiotics from fast food.
We have a very long way to go, but so much can be done simply by asking questions and buying from producers who value the entire system and understanding that giving back to the land costs more. Ultimately, that’s ok, because in the end we will be eating food that is better for us. As Brunson said, “If you aren’t eating a $15 sandwich, what the hell are you eating?”
Andrew Parr is a restaurant and hospitality industry leader with over 25 years of experience including operations, consulting, project management, & mentorship. He is the Founder + Chief Advisor at Angry Olive Consulting in Denver, CO.
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewparr/
Additional information on Best Served + Fireside at Five and The Paragon Pillars:
Best Served + Fireside at Five chats can be viewed on YouTube
Chat 3 of 5: Searching the Supply Chain
Best Served Fresh episode discussing the Paragon Pillars
Additional resources related to the topics of this article are provided as food for thought and not as specific endorsements of the authors or contents of the links:
Statistics Worth knowing
Andrew Parr, Angry Olive Consulting's Founder and Best Served Creative’s CHO, is a restaurant and hospitality industry leader with over 25 years of experience including consulting, project management, restaurant operations and talent acquisition. His education includes a BA in Psychology and History from the University of Wisconsin along with a JD from Hamline University School of Law.
Andrew was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, and currently resides in Denver with his wife Jody and their dog Cooper. Andrew is a Past President of the Board of Directors for the Scleroderma Foundation – Rocky Mountain Chapter.