Eat Here St. Louis: A Personal Pipeline Connecting Local Farms and Local Restaurants
Preston Walker left his job in 2017 to pursue something more meaningful in life. To him, that meant connecting local farmers with local chefs through Eat Here St. Louis. The business acts as a broker of seasonal produce in the St. Louis area, providing a way for the economic trade-off of money and produce to remain in the city and benefit all parties involved.
Eat Here St. Louis was founded in 2008 by Andy Ayers, who initially built his businesses on his book of contacts as a chef and restaurateur as owner of Riddle’s Penultimate Café & Wine Bar in University City. He was one of the first chefs to highlight the origins of local produce on a menu, and much of the hyper-local progression in the St. Louis restaurant industry stemmed from his business.
By 2014, Ayers had expanded the business to work with 60 local farmers. Since Walker bought Eat Here in 2017, the company’s growth has continued; it acts as the liaison between 130 area farmers and the St. Louis restaurant industry.
Eat Here St. Louis supplies vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains, dairy, eggs, nuts and more local products to a number of restaurants and chefs in St. Louis—Vicia, Niche Food Group, Olive and Oak, Bulrush and Louie, to name a few. All farmers drop off their produce to the company warehouse on Manchester Avenue, just west of The Grove. An e-newsletter is sent out every Monday and Wednesday with the product that is available the next day.
Walker wakes up at 4 a.m. each morning to check the orders from chefs that came in the middle of the night (after dinner service) the day before. He then ensures that all of the ordered product gets delivered to each restaurant on time and packs up all three refrigerated vans to make their rounds beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Though Walker grew up on a farm in Macon, Missouri, that was established in 1839, the business has provided a steep learning curve in agriculture and botany. Walker balances the supply of seasonal produce from local farmers, with the demand of specific vegetables from chefs on a daily basis. He relays information about what is in season to chefs and the requests of obscure produce to farmers—a constant balancing act to ensure that chefs continue to buy local and farmers grow the right amount of produce.
When chefs desire a specific vegetable that isn’t native to the area, certain farmers can take multiple growing seasons to perfect the product, just so they can sell it locally. In the end, the trade-off is highly beneficial for farmers, who might not sell leftover produce at a farmers market. At the end of the season, Walker often buys the extra product a farmer may have that can be easily stored (grains, beans, etc.) and donates the leftover produce that doesn’t sell.
Images courtesy of Lisa Cichon.