Chef Cassie Parsons, a leading figure in the farm-to-fork movement in Charlotte for nearly a decade, has left uptowns Harvest Moon Grille to focus on new ventures.
And whats next for her and her partners isnt just the Lincolnton restaurant they announced back in July. (That, dubbed FarmerBakerSausage Maker, is slated to open in November, in a 100-year-old building.)
Its a five-year plan to open five restaurants in small communities, plus a USDA-inspected meat processing facility for local farmers and a well, no. Lets let her tell it:
It sounds kind of crazy. But I want to create a network of economically impactful restaurants (using) real food from real farms.
We want to create a model to show food impact, the creation of jobs for the next generation of farmers, job creation for the culinary industry.
The National Restaurant Association posts a hot-trend list each year, and five of 2013s top 11 have to do with what Parsons is talking about: No. 1 is locally sourced meats and seafood, followed by locally grown produce. Fourth is environmental stability; seventh, hyper-local sourcing; 11th, farm/estate branded items.Charlotte, meanwhile, is experiencing a boomlet in small-restaurant openings, many of them chef-driven and committed to seasonal, regional foods, from Tim Groodys brand-new Fork! in Cornelius, which opened last weekend, to the upcoming Stagioni (Italian for season) from chefs Bruce and Kerry Moffett, scheduled to open mid-October.
Focusing on food grown or raised within 100 miles, on small farms, in a sustainable way, has been the point for Parsons and partner Natalie Veres since 2004, when they began raising heritage-breed Tamworth hogs at their Grateful Growers Farm in Denver.
They sold meat to area restaurants, but found some doubting that diners would be sufficiently interested in local to pay for it, rather than typically less-expensive products from national purveyors.
So Parsons began Harvest Moon as a food truck in 2009, aiming to prove that diners did care, and would pay.
I wanted to have fun, make money and show the concept could work.
The idea found a bricks-and-mortar home in 2010 at the Dunhill, and since then has drawn attention from such varied sources as CNN and the New York Times (during the DNC) and musician David Byrne (who blogged about it). Parsons has snagged awards, such as Global Green USAs Citizen Entrepreneur and a Community Sustainability Award from Sustain Charlotte, and helped begin community gardens, including the recent North End Opportunity Farm uptown.
Davidson is next
Shes not shy about her desire to change the food industry, speaking most recently at Februarys TEDxCharlotte about establishing sustainable, local food systems.
So this venture with partners Doug and Lillie Marshall (half-owners, Parsons said, with computer and human resource backgrounds) aims at nothing less than that: changing the industry.
Buying from area producers using sustainable methods boosts the ability of the community to be economically more self-sufficient, keeps green space productive, and can help preserve the art of growing food, as the new restaurants website puts it, in addition to creating jobs where people live, cutting commuting costs.
Davidson is next, with negotiations already begun but a target opening 12-18 months away, Parsons said. South Charlotte and uptown are possibilities as well.
But which of the remaining four concepts in her head Spanish tapas bar, noodle house, Mexican place or brewery will Davidson be? She doesnt know yet.
Shes got to get the meat processing in gear first. She envisions farmers bringing in meats to be processed and getting it back in packages, so they can sell it themselves (and leave some to be sold in her venues as well).
The Harvest Moon Grille at the Dunhill will keep the name and continue to employ the concept, said hotel general manager Craig Spitzer, with chef Patty Greene (whos brilliant, says Parsons) at the helm.
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