A Midday Cocktail You Can Feel Good About.
The dropoff happens in the parking lot of Home Depot.
Inevitably, we arrive 10 minutes later than anticipated, stopping short into a faint parking spot, harried and apologetic. He emerges from his car, all white-teeth smile and clogs, and we shake hands.
We never linger over the transaction, rather get straight to business; he's got somewhere to be and we've got plants that don't wait in Texas sun.
“This stuff looks great. Have you been getting paid on time? Did you get your money for last time?”
We assure him we're quite happy with the arrangement, and ask if they're happy as well—have the products been of the quality they expected? He grins and says they love it; in fact,
“ It makes a killer tuna nicoise salad.”
And so goes the selling of potatoes, green beans and lettuce mix to Brennan's of Houston. They're a big, well-established restaurant in Houston familiar to businessmen and other finely-dressed parties keen on high-end Cajun and the warm glow of Bananas Foster. And they buy from us, a tiny new farm, at a curb on the periphery of a Home Depot parking lot.
It says a lot, this transaction.
Not just that we share attributes with the illegal drug industry or that we end up buying a lot of PVC and 2-stroke engine oil (I mean, we are already there).
The chef from Brennan's that first contacted us about buying our produce lives just as far from that Home Depot as we do, and agreed to meet us there to make the delivery trip more convenient for us than trekking all the way to downtown Houston. This makes a huge difference to us, it's the whole reason we can sell to them.
And selling to this restaurant has been a near-perfect experience thus far. As a small farmer, you dream that you'll grow delicious food and with it you'll feed your neighbor, your community.
But beyond that ideal, there's the reality of maintaining and growing a business. Paying bills, loans, and planning ahead. You recoil at the thought of wasted food. It can be a scary prospect, the idea that you lay out your fields, order seed, plant and steward, and then...what if you have ripe food that you can't sell? What if you have to sell it far cheaper than you planned, far less than the price that covers all that effort that went into growing it the way you believe in?
Eeek to the max.
Enter the Restaurant, tablecloth-cape streaming and white toque hat puffed with heroism. There are horror stories of farm-chef relations gone sour and jaded, stories I've heard through farmgossip but also seen firsthand. It's simply not sustainable for a farmer to sell her eggs at 2 dollars a dozen, nor for a farm to grow 500feet of cabbage for a coleslaw deal that never comes through. Conversely, it's not easy for a restaurant to rely on the inconsistency of farming.
Not only did Brennan's invite us to a beautiful lunch early on in our MoonDogness in a desire to meet us and talk shop, but they've followed through with the promises made on their end. And so far, we've been able to follow through with ours. (Thank you, semi--semi consistent rain.)
I can say with confidence that I believe in the Bananas Foster. That tuna nicoise, too.
We've chanced on a community that pays fair market prices for our food (which allows us to keep growing for them and others) and promotes our business to their patrons in the best way I know—through their tongues and bellies. And I like this.
We are a restaurant culture, for better or worse, and it pleases me to provide food not just to devoted folks determined to source locally who buy from us at home—although you are our lifeblood—but to put a little local on the menu for the rest of the lot. In time, that will change to a LOT of local.
So, until we've got a restaurant in Galveston County who turns our taters and kale into dinner, do yourself a favor and visit Brennan's.
Hell, go do it even when we're producing more and selling to restaurants up and down the coast, 'cause here's a tip...they have a 25 cent martini during lunch, and I hear it goes great with tuna nicoise.