Farmers' Market Makeover

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

At Hearst Tower’s Café 57, Restaurant Associates decided to up the ante at its annual Green Market. Instead of just offering fresh produce to customers, RA now invites local vendors to showcase their products to Hearst's employees.

Hearst Tower’s Café 57 has added another month of weekly events to its annual Green Market. Last year, the café hosted a farmers' market from June to mid-October. Every Wednesday, Executive Chef Jayson Brown bought fresh produce from New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket and then set up the café’s own mini-greenmarket. This year, Restaurant Associates, the firm that manages Hearst’s employee foodservice, decided to start the Green Market in May and invite local vendors to showcase and sell their products. 

“We saw a huge response last year when we featured the farmers' market on Wednesdays through the summer months,” says Rupa Rao, general manager for Restaurant Associates at Hearst. “We started brainstorming ideas and we realized we wanted to promote more items than just produce, since at a typical farmers' market you see homemade breads, condiments, etc. Keeping this in mind, we decided to partner with some local vendors who share our vision of being green.”

Rao adds that Café 57, which serves between 1,100 and 1,500 meals per day, features local ingredients—which in Hearst’s case means no more than 150 miles from New York City whenever possible. To kick off the local vendor month, New York City-based Sullivan Street Bakery set up a display of its artisanal breads, pastries and pizzas. The other local vendors were Brooklyn-based Tumbador, which featured organic chocolates; Thurman, N.Y.-based Nettle Meadow, which featured the farm’s signature triple cream cheese; and Holtsville N.Y.-based J. Kings, which featured fresh Long Island asparagus, fresh rhubarb and beefsteak tomatoes, among others.

“The local vendors have all been great,” Rao says. “Sullivan Street’s pizzas were a huge hit. Tumbador does custom packaging, so they packaged certain sweets with a few of Hearst magazines’ logos. Nettle Creek featured several goat cheeses that were well received, especially the three cream Kunik; and with J. Kings produce we set up a program where customers could order fresh produce in advance and pick up their bags, along with recipe cards, on J. Kings’ market day.”

Adding the local vendor aspect to the Green Market formula allowed for growth in terms of awareness, adds Rao. “It also allowed for the customers who look for the market in June to get an early treat with some of the best products being sampled right here in their building. Plus, adding some of the new items such as local breads, cheeses and honey along with an array of farm fresh produce would add variety and value for our guests.” The café sells an average of $700 at each farmers' market. Participation has also gone up to 65% with the re-introduction of the market.

To fully educate the foodservice staff at Café 57, Brian Schwagerl, Hearst’s vice president of real estate and development, had the idea to take the team on a tour of local farms to follow some produce from farm to the café.  In October, five Hearst and Restaurant Associates employees toured three Long Island farms and—along with a camera crew—completed a video showing the life of a beet. The video was uploaded to Hearst’s Intranet and also played in the café so customers could learn about where their food comes from.

“Aside from being fun, the tour was totally inspirational,” says Rao. “Talking to the farmers in person and listening to their commitment and passion validated my own vision to do the right thing for local communities. My appreciation for freshness by tasting lettuce, beets and corn right off the farm was amazing. Aside from setting up the green market with local produce and product, it is truly important to tell the story to each guest that stops by.”

Rao says having passion for the initiative is her best advice for other directors looking to set up their own market.

“Supporting local businesses makes sense no matter which way we look at it,” Rao says. “It’s good for the wellness of our guests, the local economy and the environment. There are so many opportunities to team up and cross promote within the industry, which makes perfect sense for the business.”
 

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