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Homegrown

It keeps evolving

Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches was founded in 2009 by Ben Friedman and Brad Gillis to reduce environmental impact, craft great food, and provide exceptional service.

"Over the years, our evolution has been centered on adapting our supply chain to our scale. With 10 stores, we have to distribute food in a more streamlined way than we did in the beginning. We have created a unique patchwork of vendors, many of them small farms and producers. Slotting them into the larger, more sophisticated distribution system has been the biggest challenge," says Ben. This past November marked a big step with rebranding as "Homegrown" (less focus on sandwiches), and launching new menus based on the work of two recent hires, Executive Chef Michaela Skloven (photo above) and Director of Supply Chain and Sustainability Darren Yondorf.

Michaela and Darren were both hired in April 2017. "At the time, they were working on their summer seasonal sandwich and for my interview, I made a Za'atar-roasted eggplant and zucchini, herbed farmers cheese, harissa aioli, cucumber, pickled red onion, and farm greens. They said, 'you're hired!' and I came on board to tweak the menu. Within a week or two they decided to overhaul the whole menu. It was a huge project, rebranding, refining our sourcing guidelines, changing some of the recipes and adding items. We focused on an all-day menu, moving away from sandwiches and becoming more of an eatery. We want to serve crave-able food that is healthful and tastes good. We offer some pizzazz and delicious ingredients with a finer touch."

Michaela started working in restaurants in high school. While studying anthropology at Stanford, she took a half year off to attend culinary school in Italy and knew cooking was it for her. She returned, graduated from college, then moved to New York to attend the Institute of Culinary Education. Her internship was at Gramercy Tavern; they hired her once the internship ended. "Mike Anthony was the chef de cuisine at the time and is now the Executive Chef. He was my mentor," Michaela recalls. "He taught me to cook seasonally and respect ingredients. I was there for three years."

Chermoula roasted veggie bowl

She moved on briefly to Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York City outpost, where she learned about fine dining and how to make things look beautiful. "There's a certain way of cooking, a certain level of ingredients. I learned so much in a short period of time, like being able to taste something in my head before I made it. I use those lessons all the time. But I missed the more rustic cooking styles. I moved to Franny's (now closed), a beloved woodfired pizza place in Brooklyn, and worked for the company for five years. They cooked everything over the wood fire and had great charcuterie. This is where I caught my style and stride. We went to the farmers markets three days a week, then based the menu on what we found, and had close relationships with farmers, butchers, and fish mongers."

Homegrown hired Michaela because they felt she could take the best parts of fine dining and translate it to food for the masses. "I take flavors you find in fine dining and translate them into healthful and crave-able items." And she was excited to join because she likes the restaurant industry but also wants to make a difference. "The idea of Homegrown being mission driven is very appealing to me."

Michaela and Darren work hand in hand on putting items together. "I'll say, 'can you find me this?' or he'll say, 'I have this, how can you use it?' His role is sourcing the best organic, local, and sustainable ingredients for us. Sometimes people grow things organically, but just can't afford the certification process. We also consider footprint. Darren knows how people farm or fish or raise animals." Homegrown Sprouting Farms in Woodinville is the company's own organic farm. "We grow on about a half-acre at a given time, rotating around a two-acre site," explains Darren. "The farm is certified organic, uses no-till farming methods, drip irrigation, cover cropping, and a myriad of other sustainable agricultural practices. No-till is a unique practice as it solves for soil erosion which is one of the food system's biggest links to climate change. We grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh herbs for our core menu, as well as special seasonal crops like eggplant or red kuri squash for seasonally-rotating menu offerings."

Smoked pastrami sandwich

A relatively short growing season in Western Washington keeps them from supplying everything the Pacific Northwest stores need year-round, but during summer months, they can supply 80-100% of the stores' usage of what they grow on the farm. "For alternative sources, we leverage the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list to guide our produce sourcing, and purchase from local and regional distributors to source local and organic vegetables. All of our animal-based ingredients are hormone and antibiotic free, and our eggs and beef are from pasture-raised chickens and grass-fed cows."

The new all-day menu has expanded breakfast options with sandwiches, bowls, and porridge. Bowls added for lunch and dinner are substantial, like the Sonoran Grass-fed Steak grain bowl. "We went with bowls as a different option to sandwiches; most of our bowls are protein-dense and based on a gluten-free ancient grains mix featuring amaranth and quinoa. We also altered some of the sandwiches as well as changing the bread. That was a big project! We taste tested breads for a month until we found one we liked that worked in our toasters. It's thinner and crispier, and it changed everything: it toasted hotter and the cheese melted differently. Now we have it figured out and the feedback has been phenomenal. The bread has a small amount of olive oil in it, so it crisps nicely on top, has a good texture, and doesn't overwhelm the other ingredients." Gluten-free bread is also available.

Michaela's next project will be the summer seasonal menu. History shows us that each season will bring us something delicious. The mission lives on.

Homegrown

 
Eight stores currently
Capitol Hill, downtown Seattle, South Lake Union, Queen Anne
Mercer Island, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond
Two stores in the San Francisco Bay area

eathomegrown.com

Turkey, avocado, bacon sandwich

Photos courtesy of Homegrown with exception of Michaela

 

Connie Adams/April 2018


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