By Tony Rosenfeld, co-founder, b.good
Back in the 1980s, a whole bunch of national, fast-food chains pushed into the Boston area, and I couldn't have been happier. Not only did these restaurants serve most every meal with a mountain of fries, but they also plastered pennants and game jerseys of all my favorite Boston sports teams across their walls. "Give me fries" my 10-year-old self thought, "and we're good; cheer for our local sports teams and we're basically family."
Fast forward 20 years, and I was cooking for a living, a little more cautious with my fry intake and eager to make an impact with food. Two long-time friends asked me to create the menu for b.good, our very own fast casual restaurant. We agreed b.good would be completely different than the fast food giants taking over the industry. It was to be built on locally sourced food and have a seasonal menu cooked from scratch.
Additionally, all our restaurants across the country would highlight that area's great local ingredients in season. Instead of putting up local sports memorabilia, we envisioned our walls full of the pictures and stories of the farmers and artisans that crafted our food.
Making locally sourced food work
Our dream of a chain centered on local sourcing has now become a reality. b.good operates 54 restaurants in 11 states and expects to reach 70 locations by the end of 2017. It hasn't been easy, especially at the start.
Back then, my two-door Honda Civic would overflow with flats of berries and sacks of sweet corn from trips to the farmers market. We hounded folks to the point of irritation in search for the best local beef, dairy and grains. With increased buying power, the hunt has become a little easier, not to mention the desperately short New England growing season has toughened us up. Like Sinatra's “New York, New York”, if you can source locally in New England for the entire year, you can do it most anywhere. Locally sourcing is all about dedication and putting in the time and effort into making it happen. Below are two pointers that have helped our team accomplish locally sourcing of our ingredients in all our locations.
Learn the system from the ground up
It would be nice if I could share a simple method to how b.good has been able to scale locally sourced food at all our restaurants, but the truth is that we approach it the same way we always have — by having a lot of conversations to understand who grows what and how it can fit into our cost structure.
Generally, at least six months before a new b.good restaurant is set to open, we are on the ground in that area, visiting local growers, tasting, testing and talking to as many natives as we can. Many of our best connections don't come from a Google search, but word of mouth. We've found that everyone is connected — one dairy farmer knows somebody who smokes their own bacon, and that person knows of a place that has local honey and so on. Visiting each local site of our restaurants has significantly helped b.good accomplish locally sourced ingredients.
Absorb some costs at the top
Of course, there is a budget to what we do. For b.good's local sourcing program to stay strong and intact, we need to be able to make it work financially. We know that there is only so much our customers can afford to pay for our burgers, salads and bowls, and we know that our local farming partners have their own cost constraints as well.
It's a delicate balance, so we try to address cost at the top, in a thoughtful and respectful manner, to see if there is a middle ground that will work. It is probably the hardest part of sourcing locally, but the most essential to create lasting partnerships. Be sure to keep in mind the cost of the goods and the cost for the consumers and try to find a middle ground, even if that means absorbing the costs elsewhere within the business.
Ultimately, the connections we have made with local growers around the country have been one of the most fulfilling elements in building b.good. We recently updated our tagline to read “Food with Roots.”
To us, the "roots" are emblematic of, among other things, the relationships we've made through sourcing; the meaningful way in which we are able to partner and grow with farmers and artisans of each new area. Combine it with a side of our baked fries, and you've got a formula that works for today's world.
Want to hear more about B.good? Jerry Gamez will speak at this year's Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, July 18-20 in London. Registration is still open.