2013 Award winner
Spike Gjerde & Amy Gjerde
Though it's a contradiction in terms, one might describe Spike and Amy Gjerde’s food enterprise as farm-to-table on steroids. Unlike many restaurants that merely dot their menus with local ingredients, the couple’s three critically acclaimed outposts use local ingredients as mainstays (with nonlocals making up only about 1 percent of the menus). Even more meaningful to the Gjerdes are the dozens of creative partnerships they have nurtured with Chesapeake-region growers and food artisans whose products are served at their Woodberry Kitchen restaurant, Shoo-Fly diner, and Artifact coffee shop. Thanks to their relationship with a Maryland vintner, they were able to replace citrus juice with custom- ordered verjus, an acidic grape juice; three nearby farms now produce fish peppers that fuel their hot sauce and chili powder; and the first batch of mustard seed, destined for spreadable mustard, was recently collected from a local grower. “They grow these things specifically because we need them,” says Amy, 41, who manages the front end of the business while Spike, 51, oversees the kitchen. “In a conventional model, so little of your food dollar gets back to the growers,” says Spike. “We try to return the maximum to them.” Their commitment to staying local sparked an enormous in-house canning program; more than 50,000 pounds of produce were preserved last year. “If you’re making pasta sauce in the middle of winter,” says Spike, “wouldn’t you love to pull down a jar of local organic tomatoes picked at the height of the season?” As far as Baltimore diners are concerned, the answer is a resounding yes.
Do you remember the moment you decided to start your business? What was it like? For us, it wasn't one moment but something that happened over time. It was a gradual awareness that we could base our business on direct relationships with local farmers and artisans, one that evolved and continues to evolve over time.
If you’re making pasta sauce in the middle of winter, wouldn’t you love to pull down a jar of local organic tomatoes picked at the height of the season? Spike Gjerde
What advice do you wish you had when you started?Do what matters to you, and only what matters to you.
What do you think is the key to being a successful startup?Finding partners with opposite strengths to yours. with people that complement you as a business person.
Tell us about your workspace. Our workspace is unique and dynamic: it's the farms where our growers work and live; its the Chesapeake Bay where we get our seafood; it's the kitchens in which we operate and the offices in which we collaborate.
What inspires you? The farmers and growers we work with are a constant source of inspiration for us. We are also blessed with great staff who are passionate, and tireless in their pursuit of providing a superlative dining experience. And our guests inspire us - their support, their interest in what we're doing and in evolving Baltimore's dining scene and the Chesapeake's.
What technology do you depend on to run your business? Do you do anything the “old-fashioned” way? If so, why? In a lot of ways, we're the definition of old-fashioned ––relying on the land and water around us, and what they produce, to nourish our guests. Much of our preservation program is done by hand. At the same time, we're blessed with technology such as a mechanized food mill which allows us to preserve on a larger scale.
What tools or techniques help you stay organized? Organization is key in restaurant operations, and we have weekly manager meetings, and daily staff meetings so everyone can stay on the same page. Our entire team has access to one calendar, and we use Google Drive quite a bit.
What's your next business goal or project? Our goal has been and remains to be supporting sustainable agriculture that respects the abundance and traditions of the Chesapeake region while helping to ensure its future. We plan to find new and interesting ways to do just that.