The farm-to-fork philosophy of local restaurants often translates to a menu brimming with farm-fresh ingredients. But sourcing locally, and in bulk, can be logistically difficult. Enter Durham's new Mint Market, an online farmers market connecting chefs and restaurant owners on a wholesale level.
Ricky Spero launched MintMarket.com on July 29. Sign-up is free for both farmers and chefs. Inventories of farmers are updated by Saturday and orders are placed Sunday; crops are harvested Monday and are delivered to restaurants by Tuesday.
Mint Market is composed of "tech guys at heart" who love local food as consumers. They realized there was a void in the restaurant purchasing process that they could help fill.
"Over the last few years, we have gotten really interested in how technology could help the local food economy," Spero says. "I've gotten to know a lot of the farmers in the area through the farmers market and the Carolina Farm Stewardship farm tour.
"Initially, when we started thinking of technology and local food, I buy retail, so that's where our thinking lies. But, when we got into it, we realized there is a big problem in wholesale."
Mint Market worked in a beta phase for about four months with a dozen farmers and a dozen restaurant chefs. Vendors include Ever Laughter Farm, Dock to Door seafood, Maple View Farm, Fickle Creek Farm and Hillsborough Cheese Co. Chefs from Nana's and Rue Cler are among the buyers.
"Our hardest design problem was the schedule for shopping, harvesting and delivering," Spero says. "We ended up thinking about it like a farmers market. Farmers and chefs have an established schedule. Once we realized we could go about it like a farmers market, we worked with their schedules."
George Ash, owner of Buns in Chapel Hill, says he sources local product when it's affordable enough for his low-priced offerings. With a restaurant on the outskirts of the UNC campus, he says he strives to serve a burger that's high quality but within a college student's budget. With Mint Market, he says, he bought beets from Ever Laughter Farm at "an incredible price" of $30 for 20 pounds. He roasted them and sliced them thin to top a burger along with goat cheese and a balsamic drizzle.
"Compared to a lot of guys in town, we're not exactly what you would call farm-to-fork. We source locally when it's within our means," Ash says. "[Mint Market] has a random selection, just like the farmers market. And it's really a cinch. Compared to ordering from my larger vendors, this is simple, even easier than using Amazon.com. And they deliver themselves, so you get to meet the farmers."
Ash says he likes perusing the site for the random selection to spark his creativity in the restaurant.
"I ended up with beets that were about the size of my big toe, but you use them for something," he says. "It's a pretty cool idea. At this moment, the inventory is getting a lot more interesting. Ten varieties of basil? You may not even find that at the farmers market."
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