If you're in the food-service industry, freshness is always top of mind. Fresh food not only is more pleasing to the palate but to the eye as well. Yet the thousand or more miles that fruits and vegetables must travel to reach U.S. eateries—an average commute of seven to 10 days—oftentimes jeopardizes the good-looking, great-tasting food U.S. eateries depend on to attract customers.
And rotten produce ultimately leads to lost revenue.
"Throwing anything away is just money in the garbage. Waste is a huge issue for restaurants," said Matthew Hyland, chef-owner of Emily, a gourmet eatery in Brooklyn that serves wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, along with rustic small plates and pasta. "Everything comes out of our pizza oven with basil on it, so it has to be as fresh as possible," he said.
When Emily opened in 2014, Hyland was ordering his basil long-distance—and throwing 30 percent of it away. "Our basil was coming from all over the world, and it was going bad very quickly, he said. "So we'd be ordering basil almost every other day just to keep up a fresh supply in-house."
Finally, after nearly a year, Hyland decided to go local, to Brooklyn-based Gotham Greens, a company dedicated to growing high-quality vegetables and culinary herbs for local restaurants and retailers. Now, every week, Hyland drives the couple of miles to Gotham's and brings the basil back to the restaurant.
According to Gotham's co-founder and CEO, Viraj Puri, small-business owners who order produce long distance are reliant on a complex supply chain, as well as fluctuations in price and climate conditions. "Our mission is to really grow high-quality local produce consistently and reliably year-round," Puri said.
While many believe these small growers can't compete with the steep discounts of wholesale food distributors, Hyland disagrees. After just a few months' ordering from Gotham Greens, Emily's is already seeing the returns. "Gotham Greens is twice as expensive," he said, "but their products are already washed and picked, so we're saving on the labor cost … and decrease waste as well."
Hyland believes his customers, too, are starting to take notice of the quality of his basil. When Emily's first opened, Hyland said they served, on average, 128 people per night. Now he claims they seat about 180 patrons each evening. "Our locals really love us," he said.
—By Barbara Booth, CNBC.com