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Chef Chris King and Darcy Cropp are two of five partners at the 616 Farm to Table restaurant, with their responsibility being the day-to-day operation.
Their goal has been to provide interesting menus using local ingredients, providing some of those ingredients from their own farm in Providence, North Carolina.
“We’ve been farming for about 10 years now,” King said as he prepped various breads for the oven — made from scratch with local flour produced in Ashland, North Carolina. “I came from Ashland, where there has been a big farm-to-table movement … we wanted to do that here.”
King said they have been pretty successful at sourcing local foods from Virginia and North Carolina, but there are a few products they have had problems finding, such as cooking oils, salt and pepper, and items like butter and cheese they haven’t been able to find at prices to fit their budget.
“We can’t buy cheese at $20 a pound; we’d have to raise menu prices to a level people couldn’t afford,” Cropp said. “We have to set our menu at an appropriate price.”
Walnut Winds Farm in Blairs, for instance, is one that provides food for the menu year round, King said, because they have huge greenhouses that can provide fresh items, such as cabbage, kale and tomatoes, year-round.
“We’re at about 90 percent local,” Cropp said. “Most of what we serve is delivered weekly, and if it’s not available, we won’t have it.”
“We’re working at 100 percent, but it’s tough,” King added.
Instead, the menu gets adjusted to reflect the fresh produce, meats and other foods that are available at that time.
They are proud of what they produce at their own farm — pork, chicken for both eggs and meat, various produce, herbs and cut flowers — and what they have found so far at about two dozen local farms, wineries (Tomahawk Mill makes vinegars that are “impressive,” King said) and local farmers markets.
Cropp said they are always interested in farmers who do “niche gardening” — growing things other people don’t.
“We’re getting in some purple carrots today,” she said Wednesday.
The restaurant was recently chosen as one of the 32 winners of a Virginia Tourism Corporation survey of favorite restaurants that focus on local ingredients.
Patricia Keppel, digital marketing content specialist for the Virginia Tourism Corporation said the survey was done during the annual culinary challenge that was marketed on the Virginia is for Lovers website and Facebook page.
Keppel said different surveys were done each week, focused on different types of cuisine.
For the “local favorites” category, Keppel said, much of the food had to be made from local ingredients.
“The primary ingredients all had to be locally grown,” Keppel said.
The 616 was the only restaurant in Southside to make that list, with most of the winners being located in larger cities.
The list can be found at http://blog.virginia.org/2016/04/defining-local-resident-favorite-restaurants-local-ingredients/.
Beyond the menuBeyond the menu, the restaurant provides several entertainment options each month, works in fundraisers for various local charities and sees occasional groups of curious children — like the group from the Piedmont Region Summer Governor’s School who stopped in to watch bread being made and learn about local ingredients Wednesday.
The students were taking a “kitchen chemistry” class with teacher Ginny Farthing, who said the one-week class was for fourth- and fifth-grade students, with sixth- and seventh-graders scheduled for the following week.
“We were thankful to able to come and see what a commercial kitchen does,” Farthing said. “It was a great coincidence that they were baking bread today; we’re going to bake bread tomorrow.”
For the next several months, the third Thursday of the month will be Community Day, Cropp said. The restaurant has invited local nonprofits to participate in the program, which will earn them 20 percent of the sales between 5 to 6 p.m.
“We’re all about supporting the community, local businesses and local farmers,” Cropp said.
There is occasional entertainment, ranging from musicians to poetry slams — but, Cropp said honestly, “We can’t afford to pay them.”
Instead, performers get a free meal and can put out a tip bucket.
“We’re trying to do what we can to support them,” Cropp said.
The ownerSteve DelGiorno owns the building and partnered with King and Cropp to operate the restaurant.
DelGiorno said he is pleased they are succeeding, as evidenced by the restaurant making to the “Local Favorites” list in the state’s annual culinary challenge.
“The local category was perfect for us,” DelGiorno said.
He doesn’t spend a lot of time at the restaurant, but does stop by when he is in Danville — which may become more often in the future, since he and his family are in the process of moving here from Nashville.
But still, DelGiorno said, he won’t be there all the time.
“I can’t be there full time and be doing everything else I’m doing,” DelGiorno said, laughing.
DelGiorno recently partnered with another local developer — Rick Barker — to purchase the former Exxon gas station at 1009 Main St. and convert it into a coffee shop, café and wine bar.
DelGiorno said they expect to close on the sale in early July, but have already hired an architect to begin making plans for the conversion. He also said he has a few other projects in the works, but is not ready to announce them as yet.
Denice Thibodeau is a reporter for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7985.