This week we sat down with Bob Parker, owner of two of Downtown’s favorite restaurants: Dreamland BBQ and Railyard Brewing Co.
Beth Anne: Thanks for sitting down with me to give perspective from a restaurant owner in this movement to promote local food. What would you identify as barriers that exist for restaurants to buy from local farms?
Bob: Cost. Convenience. Having it brought to the restaurant. I don’t mind having to pick it up twice a week at different places. We go to the farmer’s market on Coliseum Mondays and Thursdays and we get fresh local Catfish on Fridays from Destin Connection. We haven’t been doing stuff like that on our regular menu, it’s all special.
BA: So Railyard hasn’t always featured a local special. What influenced this transition?
Bob: I like E.A.T. South and I like what ya’ll are doing. E.A.T. South helped in our transition to featuring locally procured lunch specials. I don’t think I would have thought about this stuff if it weren’t for your presence here.
BA: So E.A.T. South played a pivotal role in that?
Bob: I drive by your farm every day coming into town. I don’t think our produce comes from you guys but it’s that reminder that-hey, there’s something happening-there’s food local that we can get that’s good. I wish we could do more, I wish we could do tomatoes seasonally, but they are so expensive. I think when we move our store we are gonna do some of that--we’ll put stuff on the menu that’s going to cost more money-maybe fried green tomatoes. I like what Randy from the A&P Social does-it makes me think about this stuff a lot. I like eating at A&P. Having Central and A&P use E.A.T. South-it helps. Those are the two places where I eat. I would say having those two promoting what they do on social media reminds me of it and then having Ms. Barbara who comes in every morning, Mon-Fri and cooks for us. She cooks, well you’ve had it. I think if you do that consistently for a long time, people start buying into it and participating. When we started about a month or two ago, we weren’t selling much but I think word gets out that hey-there’s a place downtown that’s serving a special every day that’s pretty good that’s not necessarily healthy but it’s locally sourced. We’re not trying to get people to eat unhealthy every day but--come twice a week. It’s something different that we can offer that incorporates some of the local produce and fish. We are not farm to table by any means in the sense that everything we do is like that but I think that would be a cool transition to make as we move over to our new store. With the local beer, I mean we are the only local brewery. If you want a locally brewed beer that was brewed last week you have to go to us.
BA: Do you feel like this focus on local is a movement that’s catching on or do we have a long way to go?
Bob: I don’t know if it’s a long way to go or just that it’s getting the people on board who would be interested in the first place. I think the market is the locally-owned restaurants.
BA: Well I think that’s our focus.
Bob: I’ve learned if you can get us involved in going down to the farm, that actually changes things. We got Randy to come brew beer with us that he will serve at his store--that makes it real.
BA: ...the connectedness….For us I think it’s not so much about moving our produce because our production is very small but it’s about moving local farmers' produce and how we bridge that gap with people.
Bob: With us and them. I don’t know any farmers besides yall.
BA: Yea, to me that’s our role. We know the farmers and we know the restaurants. So we have to find the common space to bridge those connections.
Bob: I think for us some of it’s price-point driven but it's possible to do it as a special. That way we don’t have to buy much and we are able to serve it for a couple of days.
BA: Well and I think as a restaurant owner, it may be possible for you to get to know the farmers and have a conversation with them and be able to work out a deal with them. I think having those relationships is what’s unique about promoting our local economy. You can’t have those conversations and relationships…
Bob: ...with a guy in California. Unless I go there, which I can’t.
Bob: I’d like to go visit some farms. I’d like my people to go see that because ya know, we are city folks now. I grew up in the country with a garden and getting my hands in soil every day but I never do that any more. My kids don’t do that.
BA: I think it would be cool too, and this is big picture down the road, but to maybe have monthly visits with restaurant owners/chefs to go visit a farm and see what they do and see what they have to offer. Maybe even do a little work for them. I like the idea of building the local grower and seller relationship.
Bob: You guys need to be an advocate for the farmer to us. Otherwise, I’m not going to know or be excited about their produce. I would like to have a pig farm one day. I don’t know what that would look like--I don’t want to run it, I don’t want to be a pig farmer. I just want Dreamland to have locally-sourced meat, if I could work that out. I’d like to find a partnership with a pig farm. Maybe it’s a special on the menu. That’s a big picture dream because it’s one of those things that might not be profitable but it would be really cool.
BA: Well I hope that dream comes true! I also think it would be cool. I want to thank you for your time and valuable feedback. I hope this is the beginning to a larger conversation between farmers and restaurants.
You can like Railyard and Dreamland on Facebook! Make sure to stop by Dreamland for some famous barbecue and stop by Railyard for the locally-sourced lunch special and the freshest batch of beer in town!