When the Busy Bee first opened in the 1940s, most dishes were likely made from scratch. But in post-war America food service began to chance. More factory produced items, such as baking mixes and sauces, could be manufactured at a lower cost and shipped across the country. Meat and dairy products benefited from refrigerated shipping, while out of season produce is flown in from other countries. As diners, we’ve gotten used to processed food. Busy Bee’s new owner, Larry Sloter, is bucking that trend.
Disclosure: Breakfast was provided by Marietta, Ohio CVB. Opinions, as always, are purely my own.
One of the recent trends is restaurants returning to a more localized food supply. There are a slew of benefits to be had. Knowing where your food is coming from is at the top of the list for many people. Other benefits include reduced transportation costs and emissions, supporting the local agricultural economy, and less reliance on single sources for a variety of crops. There’s a problem though.
Frustratingly, the farm-to-table restaurants I’ve seen in my area have all been geared to cater to an upscale clientele along with the high prices. They are trendy on Instagram, but do little to serve the local community. On the flip side, I live near many farms and orchards, but there isn’t a distribution system in place for local restaurants to buy fresh produce. Local sourcing will never work until it becomes a normal part of the restaurant industry. I had nearly given up hope, until I recently ate at two amazing diners in Ohio.
Discovering True Farm-to-Table Restaurants
The first, the Bates Farm Kitchen in Sandusky was an eye opener. The food was amazing; the chef grows some of his own vegetables and works to source ingredients locally. Two things stood out for me. They were serving the local population and the prices were in line with any other small restaurant. I left with a full belly and a little more hope for the farm-to-table concept.
Soon after, I was invited to breakfast at the Busy Bee Restaurant in Marietta, Ohio. The first thing that caught my attention was owner Larry Sloter’s enthusiasm and his vision of what restaurants should be doing. Similar to what I’ve been looking for, he is moving beyond the boutique farm-to-table concept and establishing a better method of what should be the norm in local diners.
Firstly, he has been going item by item on the old menu and seeing how they can shed the processed ingredients and return to making things from scratch. Instead of buying pancake mix or ordering frozen desserts, they make their own. Even butter is made in house. Butter!
Secondly, he is trying to source as much as possible from local businesses. The cream for that butter comes from a local dairy. The sausage and other meats from local butchers. When you look around the area, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be happening already. I also had the opportunity to talk to two of his local suppliers and learning how one restaurant’s changes has an impact on the community.
Local Partnerships Supply The Busy Bee
The first was a surprise. The Busy Bee has partnered with Broasters Coffee, run by an 12 year old local boy. Larry met Ashton Newland selling his coffee at the local farmers market and was willing to give him a chance to expand his business. So far, it has worked out for both of them. Ashton has been able to upgrade his roasting equipment from a hand cranked popcorn pan to an automated machine.
We also visited The Bee Barn, where owners David and Teresa Huffer have their own hives as well as selling equipment to other beekeepers in the region. Honey is often imported even though it is available locally anywhere in the US. Partnerships like this help small producers directly sell their supply for a reasonable price instead of having to ship to larger distributors for lower returns.
But hey, what about the food? I’m happy to report everything was excellent. I went with my favorite road food, the standard eggs/meat/potatoes/toast breakfast. Simple ingredients available locally just about anywhere. The most impressive dish our group ordered was the dinner plate size blueberry pancakes. Prices were within a dollar of similar restaurants, even though more effort is put into cooking and most is sourced locally.
The Busy Bee currently serves breakfast and lunch at their location in the Harmar District, though they are looking towards being able to manage enough locally sourced variety for dinners some day. There is also a food truck serving the same locally sourced dishes at farmers markets and events around the area. I highly recommend stopping in on your next visit to Marietta.
For hours and menus visit the Busy Bee’s website at http://www.busybeerestaurant.com/