Many restaurants around Alaska are on board with the public’s demand for locally grown foods. But getting produce from farm to table quickly can pose a challenge for busy restaurant kitchens. That’s where one entrepreneur spotted a business opportunity.
It’s quiet during in mid – afternoon at Spenard Roadhouse, an Anchorage restaurant popular with just about everyone. Chef Jacob Zellner has a moment away from kitchen duties to discuss what he’d like to do with tomatoes on specials he’s planning.
“That can be tricky. We use several different tomatoes, but the one’s we are trying to feature .. the Heirloom tomatoes, we use twenty pounds in a couple of days. For a special, that’s pretty nice.”
Spenard Roadhouse is one of the eaterys that strives to use locally grown produce in its dishes. But, the chef says, the kitchen can prepare about a thousand dinners on a Saturday night, so finding time to go shopping at farmer’s markets is not easy.
So who ya gonna call when you need 20 pounds of Heirloom tomatoes fast? Kaila Byers is the one woman behind “Arctic Harvest Deliveries”.. a new concept in community supported agriculture. That’s CSA to the uninitiated.
One woman, one truck. That’s what it takes to link Matanusaka Valley produce growers to trendy restaurants in Anchorage.
Byers picks up produce from up to 9 growers in the Valley .
“So they are selling to me wholesale, and I am a distributor, just like any other distributor.”
Then she makes same – day deliveries to more than a dozen Anchorage restaurants, selling the vegetables at retail prices.
And what a delivery. Giant onions, bristling bunches of kale, string beans and kohlrabi.. tomatoes the size of your fist. Every kind of vegetable the Valley is known for. Kitchen managers in trendy city eateries like the Beartooth and the Bridge snap them up.
Byers runs deliveries three days a week.. and alerts the restaurant kitchens to what is available beforehand. Her business, started this year, seems to be unique.
Byers completed an environmental and society program at UAA. She says she didn’t necessarily want to farm, but wanted to stay in a *related* field. Distribution seemed to be the missing link between Valley fields and city restaurants, so Byers decided to put her efforts in creating one. She Byers says the restaurants have been receptive to the idea.
“They’re excited I think to have another avenue for getting it besides the farmer’s market, it makes it a little more convenient for them and they are able to put in an order with me for a bunch of different stuff and it comes from different farms. Yeah, they all seem pretty excited about it.”
Chef Zellner says amen to that.
“Using the delivery service from the Valley has been really easy for us. In the past, we have had to go to each farm individually to see what they have to offer. But Using Kaila and Arctic Harvest Deliveries has really kind of streamlined that whole process. We’re not running to the farmers market on Saturday to find out what we can serve that night. ”
And Byers says her business supports local growers in a new way.
“The farmers are very supportive of me and they like that as opposed to some of the bigger distributors that are buying some other stuff, I am actually promoting local, instead of reacting to what my restaurants want, I’m saying, ‘this is all local’. I am trying to promote what is available locally, and I think the farmers really appreciate that.”
With summer on the wane, leafy greens are in diminishing supply, but Byers says there’s plenty of root crops that will last through winter.
“So I think I am going to try to do it through the winter, maybe down to once or twice a week, and there’ll be potatoes, cabbage, beets, maybe some other root crops.”
The success of the delivery service prompted Byers to start a CSA for consumer subscribers. There are two drop sites in Anchorage, now. With only four weeks left in the season, she’s got a a subscriber list growing now for next year. Check Arctic Harvest’s Facebook page for details.