It's a busy Sunday brunch time at Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse. Behind the line, cooks shout orders and the dining area is filling up with customers. A blues band is getting ready to play a set, a weekly tradition here.
Company president David Katleski joins me in a big booth near the kitchen. The sounds are like any other busy restaurant, but there's something different going on here. He says in 2007 he did a carbon footprint analysis and determined that the average distance food was travelling before it was served was 3,000 miles. After that, he says, “I changed the way we did business. So we really changed our business model to incorporate locally-produced food.”
Now, Empire works with over 60 producers to source its ingredients locally as much as possible. The restaurant and brewery has even invested in farms and started its own garden, blurring the line between the restaurant business and the farming world. Katleski says the new way of doing business just makes sense: “After I learned much about the amount of local foods that were available, it just seemed to be prudent. You know, we're keeping the dollars in New York state, we're keeping jobs in New York state. And frankly, the food tastes better as a result of it.”
Now, Katleski says the restaurant's menu is designed around what the company can source locally. An elk burger comes from Canastota, and the Kobe burger comes from Cazenovia. A spicy pig burger features local ground pork, New York state cheddar, and a chili sauce made from local peppers, when they're in season. And Katleski says business is good. “You know, we're seeing, since we've done this, huge growth. Thirty percent growth, each year over year. So, I have to attribute it, although I've never taken a poll, I have to attribute it to our commitment to local and our ability to do something good with the local ingredients.”
Many of those local ingredients come from Greyrock Farm, near Cazenovia in Madison County. Owner Matt Volz says he offers a fresher option for restauranteurs: “The stuff that we're harvesting Thursday or Friday and they're gonna have in the restaurant on the weekend. So it's fresh stuff, it's gonna taste really good. It looks really great.”
A Jefferson County restaurant, too, is getting in on the local foods trend. The Hops Spot, in Sackets Harbor, prides itself on its great selection of microbrew beers. Its motto is “All Craft, No Crap.” That cheeky slogan could apply to its food as well. The menu features locally-sourced grass-fed beef burgers, local cheese curd used in its poutine – a not-exactly healthy but tasty concoction of french fries, cheese curd and gravy – and a variety of regional produce used in salads and appetizers.
Ryan Chaif owns The Hops Spot. He says he thinks with so many farms close by, it just makes sense to use local beef rather than having it shipped from as far away as Texas. And, he says, “just to use the local farmers keeps the money within the community, and it helps them out.”
Chaif says his customers seem to appreciate the regionally-sourced fare. That's true of at least one diner – Paul Linnertz, of Syracuse. He and his family have a lake house in the area and his daughter scoped out The Hops Spot online, he says. “I had a hamburger that was local beef. I think that it's good for the local economy that they continue to use local products, so that everyone can continue to survive in this tough economic time.”
His burger was tasty, too, he says.