Last night, my wife and I joined Vermont’s Central and Northeast Kingdom communities in celebrating the first anniversary of Claire’s Restaurant in Hardwick, VT, a place that quickly established itself as a “must stop” experience for those in the area.
Claire’s was founded in May 2008, after four years of effort by its four co-founders. The restaurant employed a community supported business model to raise the necessary capital – 50 community members invested $1,000 each in exchange for restaurant credits. This intimate connection to the community has proven a better-than-expected success, as one of Claire’s owners indicated last night that during its first year it achieved patron numbers projected for its fourth year – nearly every day. Why?
In addition to its beautiful space and wonderful staff, probably the biggest reason is Claire’s chef, Steven Obranovich, who spends time nearly every day talking to local farmers and processors about what’s available, what’s in peak, etc., and then adapted his menu to accommodate those local products. The Claire’s web site describes his task as follows:
From his kitchen on Main Street, our chef plans his menu every day after talking with farmers. Steven is looking for local ingredients at their peak… nourished on the soil and water of Vermont. From there, he begins a journey that might take him down the road to a cheese maker or baker. He considers how the weather has flavored this season’s produce, what local herbs or spices from far away might best bring out that uniqueness, and which cooking techniques are most suitable.
It’s working. Earlier this year, Claire’s announced (proudly) it had purchased between 70-80 percent of its food from within the Hardwick and surrounding communities. Considering the restaurant is located in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (translated: cold), this is saying a lot.
During our first summer, keeping up with the rush of business, nearly 70 percent of every dollar spent for the food on Steven’s menu went to farms in our community. The majority of those are within 15 miles, and just a few are farther afield in the Northeast Kingdom. Most impressive were the results for our first winter of operations. During the coldest days from January through March, Steven highlighted our winter bounty so that we increased our purchases to 79 percent directly from farmers and artisans in our communities.
By supporting local businesses, Claire’s and its customers are continually increasing demand for local products, which in turn keeps money circulating in the local economy longer. Everyone is winning.
And the food is spectacular! Claire’s was recently awarded the Editor’s Choice Award from Yankee Magazine for the Best Community Concept, as well as a spot on Conde Nast Traveler Magazine’s Hot Tables list.