PLATTSBURGH — Some restaurants in the area opt for locally grown and raised food for their menus because they see any extra effort and cost as an investment that pays off in the long run.
Matt Ray and his wife, Jess, co-own Livingoods, a downtown Plattsburgh restaurant. Matt Ray has a hard time seeing why they wouldn’t use locally sourced food, especially in harvest season.
“Philosophically it just makes sense to me. Why buy a product that has to be shipped from far away?” he said. “It’s important for the environment and for the local economy.”
Although more expensive, the food is a higher quality and lasts a lot longer in the cooler, he said.
He sources food from Quarry Garden Vegetable and Art Farm in Chazy when it’s available. Ray also walks to a vegetable stand near his house when fruits and vegetables are plentiful, but he needs a much larger quantity than the average farmers market customer.
“That has been my challenge … finding farmers that can meet my demand,” Ray said. “Not just what I need, but when I need it.”
Because of Livingoods’ demand, he searched for years for a local beef supplier that could meet his needs. In August, he found Kilcoyne Farms in Brasher Falls. He pays the difference in price out of pocket and hasn’t changed the burger prices on the menu, although he did raise the price for Burger and Beer Night from $10 to $11.
Customers welcomed the price change because they were glad that Livingoods had made the decision to use local and pasture-raised beef.
“I made a mention on Facebook,” Ray said. “Customers said they’d gladly pay more.”
However, the food at Livingoods is far from being 100 percent local. During the winter, the Rays receive products from a distributor in Florida. Customers often ask if Livingoods uses food grown locally, but during the winter they can’t expect the tomatoes on their salad to be from here, he said.
“But when it’s harvest time it would be foolish not to buy from local farmers,” Ray said. “If you’re in this business and you like cooking, how could you not be inclined to use local food?”
Michelle Kelley, who owns The Pepper, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh, feels the same way.
“It’s good to support the community,” she said. “And it just tastes better.”
From April until October, Kelley buys some of her produce, mostly various greens, cilantro and other vegetables, from Fledging Crow Vegetables in Keeseville. She was introduced to the idea and to the owners of Fledging Crow by a chef at The Pepper.
Kelley said she and others working at the restaurant advocate for local food, although it is more expensive.
“During the summer, I take the loss, but it’s a much better product,” she said.
Kelley also recently began buying her chorizo sausage, a meat popular in Mexican dishes, from D & D Meats in West Chazy. The price is comparable to what she was paying a non-local supplier, Kelley said.
She incorporates the local food into the menu and into specials.
“People definitely notice the difference in the product,” Kelley said.
The Eat ‘n Meet Grill and Larder in Saranac Lake has a different way of doing business. John Vargo, the owner and sole chef of the quaint eatery, focuses on sustainability. He tries to do more with less by reducing operating costs in order to keep fresh and local food affordable for customers.
Vargo changes his menu daily based on what local food is available.
“Farmers come in the front door and bring in their stuff,” he said. “The customers can see what they’re getting.”
Customers can’t miss the products that Vargo uses, as the seating area doubles as the pantry, and the kitchen is visible over the counter.
“I’ve been using local food since day one. For me, it’s a given,” Vargo said. “The No. 1 reason why I use local stuff is because it’s in season.”
Instead of tomato on a burger in the winter, Vargo said he will use roasted red pepper. In the summer, when he can get cucumbers cheaply, he’ll can them so he doesn’t pay for overpriced pickles come winter.
“It’s all about the relationship between me, my customers and my suppliers,” Vargo said.
“It’s a different way of thinking, and it’s serving us well.”