A year before Urban Farmer Cleveland was set to open, a restaurant team from Portland, Oregon, traveled east to meet Cleveland’s farmers, ranchers, and fishermen.
“We went to Cleveland and talked to farmers and ranchers to let them know what our intentions were,” says Matt Christianson, director of culinary operations for Urban Farmer. “Since then, we have grown those relationships and their operations along with ours.”
Once a month, the restaurant takes delivery of a whole cow from New Creation Farms that feeds at least 600 people with dishes such as braised beef and short ribs. “We do all of our own grind,” Christianson says. “And we render all of the fat from the cows and use it as candles.”
With its local, organic sourcing and décor that showcases the work of community artisans, Urban Farmer Cleveland’s Steakhouse has quickly made its mark on the city’s vibrant restaurant scene. Owned by Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group, Urban Farmer presents a chic ambiance that evokes the quaintness of a restored farmhouse and the minimalism of mid-20th century modernism.
The 260-seat restaurant is the second outpost for Urban Farmer; the original location is firmly entrenched in the downtown scene of Portland, Oregon. A third iteration is slated to open next year in Philadelphia.
Meats take center stage on the menu. With three butchers who work in a temperature-controlled butchering room, Urban Farmer specializes in dry-aged beef and is also able to menu an incredible selection of charcuterie and barbecue. “We even make our own pastrami,” says Christianson, who estimates the restaurant uses about 80 percent local ingredients during the summer months and 30 percent during winter.
Connected to the Westin Cleveland Downtown and opened simultaneously, Urban Farmer serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. Tickets average $15 at breakfast, $20 at lunch, and $70 at dinner. Urban Farmer employs about 75 people and runs the hotel’s food and beverage as well as its Starbucks.
About 40 percent of revenues come from the sale of beverages, including a variety of craft cocktails and a large selection of international wines. “We look to hire the edgiest bar staff in town,” says general manager Troy Christian. “We want to stay well ahead of the trends.”
Christian says being adjacent to a 500-room hotel is also a boost for business. “The hotel definitely gives us an advantage because we have guests built in and it makes for a really brisk brunch business,” he says.
About 60 percent of guests are first-time diners, but Christian expects that number to head south over time as more locals embrace the concept.
Located in the financial district, a couple of blocks from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Urban Farmer has two private dining rooms, a patio, and a lounge, and often does two and a half turns in an evening. The restaurant averages between $50,000 and $60,000 a month in private events.
“Before we opened, this area of town was deactivated. There wasn’t anything here,” Christian says. “The most surprising thing to me about our first year is the amount of business we have been able to do. We are definitely up from our original estimates by 15 percent, and that is in a year with a lot of inclement weather.”
He estimates it took Urban Farmer about six to eight months to get service levels it wanted, in part by closely monitoring social media sites and working with an outside mystery shopper on a monthly basis.
“To really provide the level of service we are looking for it takes a while,” he says. “You have to keep your finger on the pulse of the restaurant to make sure all the standards are adhered to, and you never want to let them dip.”
Sage Restaurant Group, which operates 10 restaurants across the nation and employs about 5,000 people, typically doesn’t do much marketing when opening a unit. “We want the word to spread organically,” says Christian. “You want the restaurant to have solid legs under it first. You want to work the kinks out in the beginning.”
Moving forward, Christian says there will be a bigger push to become fully integrated within the community. “I want to give our chef team the opportunity to do cooking demos and really fine tune our outreach to Cleveland.”