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A2 eateries buy local to boost freshness, business

BY SARAH ALSADEN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 2, 2010

Many Ann Arbor eatery owners, longtime "eat local" proponents and newcomers to the bandwagon alike, have found that buying local ingredients results in more than just freshness — the choice itself to support area farmers and businesses appeals to customers.

have recently jumped on the “buy local” bandwagon, serving up ingredients from area farmers in an effort to help the Michigan economy, and owners say there are more benefits to the approach then fresher ingredients — it’s appealing to customers too.

Seva Restaurant, a vegetarian establishment on East Liberty Street, has been incorporating local items into its menu since its opening in 1973. Seva's owner, Maren Jackson, said she noticed a recent trend of other restaurants embracing local food, too.

Seva is a member of the Washtenaw County Think Local First, a network of local business owners that aims to educate the community about the advantages of supporting local businesses, Jackson said. Though it is often more expensive to purchase organic and local foods, she added that Seva continues to do so because of the quality of the products and the restaurant’s willingness to help the Michigan economy.

“(Purchasing local produce) supports our local economy,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to do as much as we can to help the Ann Arbor and Michigan economy grow.”

Nicole Young, a chef and kitchen manager for Arbor Brewing Company on East Washington Street, said her restaurant also buys a variety of local produce from farms and distributors across Michigan. Young said she was initially surprised at the variety of food available locally, which the restaurant has used in its seafood dishes.

Young said that though many of her customers have been coming to the pub for years, the establishment has begun to attract a new customer base interested in the dishes that feature local food.

“We are getting a reputation as a promoter of local foods, and we have people who come in for that and ask about it and we’re very up front with people about which ingredients on the menu are local,” she said.

Young said the restaurant’s owners, Matt and Renee Greff, were drawn into the local food scene about three years ago.

“It started out as the right thing to do to support the local economy, and the environmentally correct thing to do to reduce the food miles, and that brought in customers who value our approach,” Young said. “So now it’s become a mutually reinforcing system.”

Young said Arbor Brewing Company has come to rely on items from other local producers and distributors, including Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory, Ed’s Breads and Zingerman’s Delicatessen.

Grace Singleton, a managing partner at Zingerman’s Delicatessen on Detroit Street, said the deli supports local farmers and distributors. Zingerman's uses a variety of local items for its menu, ranging from dairy products and berries to wheat for its bake house.

“We’re in a really great location because of the farmer’s market, so you can walk over and talk to the people who are growing our food … it’s a really nice relationship,” Singleton said. “Produce is better fresh. It helps with the flavor of the product and it’s great to be able to use products that have been picked yesterday or even the same day.”

Like Zingerman’s, Silvio’s Organic Pizza on North University Avenue features a menu that relies heavily on local produce. Carolyn Teisan, front house manager at Silvio’s, said the restaurant uses 75 percent local products in the winter and up to 90 percent in the summer.

The restaurant uses local produce for everything, from dairy products, vegetables and pasta to beer, which is made at the Arbor Brewing Company, Teisan said.

“I think most people have no idea to what extent the food back there in the restaurant is either local organic or some sort of specialty food,” Teisan said, adding that Silvio Medoro, the restaurant's owner, himself goes to the market to purchase the items from local growers on Saturdays.

Teisan said Medoro tries to balance buying local foods with his vision for the restaurant.

“I think it’s a mix of being as local as possible and also staying true to his vision of doing authentic cooking from his region of Abruzzo, Italy, which is why some of the wine and certain products we carry would come from there,” Teisan said.

Amy Brown, a recent Silvio’s customer and Grass Lake resident, said she came to town just for the food. She said items on the menu had many nutrients and that the number of gluten-free options was impressive.

“It’s great for the local economy and I think the energy of the food is better because you get more nutrients in it, the closer it is from farm to the place you eat it,” Brown said.