All of the 47,000-plus farmers in the NDFU do not supply the Farmers restaurants with product, though many do. “We’re allowing American family farmers to be investors, which allows them to share in the American food dollar, even if they haven’t sold us any product,” Simons says. “Because it’s a way to strengthen farmers, and smaller individuals can invest smaller amounts.”
The farmers union is also a resource for the restaurant group. When it opened in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, last November, it worked through the union to tap into Pennsylvania suppliers and now all meat comes from that state. “The network is really valuable. These folks understand all sides—it’s serious supply chain, not about finding a small box of tomatoes. They have to understand production, logistics, etc.,” Simons says.
It also means the farmers stand 100 percent behind their food and the restaurants. “They have a desire to provide food they would have their own family consume,” says Mark Watne, president of NDFU, and a farmer himself.
The goal for the restaurants, Watne says, is that they serve 100 percent family farm-sourced food and every item made from scratch. The goal for the farmers, he adds, is that they have a place to sell food, as well a connection to consumers and a subtle way to educate them. There are some financial earnings, too, of course.
The mission will stay true as Farmers Restaurant Group expands, though growth is not going to happen quickly. The company will remain in the Mid-Atlantic and move to the Northeast (Boston and New York for example), because, Simons says, that’s where they have the greatest supply expertise. Plus, each restaurant offers fresh baked items, so when the company goes into an area, the first restaurant has a bakery, which can then provide subsequent locations, so two to four are clustered in an area.