A date-night destination has become a new hub for meal distribution, creating unexpected cash flow for strapped restaurants and area farmers.
The Anchorage was approached by an anonymous donor with a gift of $50,000 to aid Greenville restaurants while COVID-19 was shuttering dining rooms last spring. Beth and Greg McPhee prepped their commercial kitchen to churn out ready-to-eat lunches for agencies that serve the food insecure and quickly realized it was a task for more than a single restaurant. A second matching amount soon came their way.
“It happened really fast,” says Beth McPhee. “They were looking for someone to prep hundreds of meals per week with an emphasis on using local produce, and we thought, ‘We can do that and so much more.’”
Twenty-two weeks later, ReGrow South Carolina is completing the final steps of becoming a registered 501(c)(3), launching a website and a fundraising arm. But of more import, 13 restaurants and 20 farms have enrolled to provide meals to a half-dozen agencies at $15 per meal. Each restaurant has made a commitment to deliver 100-300 meals per week to specified agencies and agrees to purchase ingredients from area farms or bakers.
The $15 per meal price is something that Greg McPhee calculated to the dime. Running an independent restaurant like The Anchorage means more than being a skilled chef; it also equates to an acuity for inventory management and real labor cost. He knew that adding up to $4,500 weekly in guaranteed cash flow to an independent restaurant’s balance sheet could be the difference between keeping an employee on payroll or making rent. It also adds a hefty recurring order for a local farmer.
“With $15, you can buy local ingredients, get the containers and still make a profit. It was a way to guarantee that the restaurants could pay their staff, too,” says Beth McPhee. “We want to make sure it is a full-circle program. Restaurants support the farming community to create something delicious and healthy that’s representative of what they do. These are not a typical free meal.”
The project grew exponentially when Beth McPhee applied to Greenville County for a grant from the CARES Act. ReGrow received the green light for $500,000 in funding to spend and invoice by Dec. 31. It has been no small task. And, as a one-woman show, she worries that ReGrow won’t be able to exhaust the amount of funds available in the short term.
The program quickly ramped up from four restaurants — The Anchorage, Ji-Roz, GB&D and Automatic Taco — to 13, and the restaurants came with their own relationships with area farmers and co-ops. Naked Pasta says the program gave them the opportunity to tap into Swamp Rabbit Food Hub in a bigger way.
“Swamp Rabbit Food Hub is a key source of goods for us, but our orders with them have tripled since we started working with ReGrow,” says Brett Barest of Naked Pasta. “It’s fun to place that order, and we’re happy to call ‘all hands on deck’ and stay to 9 or 10 p.m. to make these meals happen.”
Naked Pasta was paired up with Greenville County Schools, specifically Grove Elementary, whose students are heavily free- and reduced-lunch families. A total of 390 of their students are receiving meals from ReGrow to take home over the weekend, and Naked Pasta is supplying about half of them.
Thirty-two ounces of broccoli and cheddar soup in large single containers went home last week, followed by stuffed peppers and beef and rice casserole this past week. The bell peppers came from JBo Ranch in Honea Path, rice was sourced from Carolina Planation Rice, and all-natural Angus beef came from Trail Place Farms in Roebuck.
Chris Barest, principal of Naked Pasta, says that joining the efforts of ReGrow SC was a simple decision. “It’s always about making enough money, but also it’s about sending food to people who need it,” she says. “It’s impacting me in a way that we are able to give to the community in a broader spectrum than we normally could; people who wouldn’t typically buy our products will get to have something really good to eat.”
What ReGrow needs right now is greater restaurant participation and more agencies to distribute meals to their communities. To learn more about becoming a participating partner, email [email protected]
The Muscle Behind ReGrowSC
It takes committed restaurant teams to churn out hundreds of lunches each week, but it’s a task this supply chain has embraced.
Fork and Plough
Oak Hill Café
LaRue Fine Chocolate
The farmers and suppliers:
Swamp Rabbit Food Hub
High Valley Farm
Trail Place Farms
Blue Ridge Creamery
Reedy River Farms
Sandy Flat Berry Patch
Southern Berkshire Farm
Growing Green Family Farms
Oak Hill Farm
DarkSpore Mushroom Company
Johnson Family Farm
Split Creek Farm
The Bradford Watermelon Company
Loaves and Fishes
Poe Mill Achievement Center
Select Schools of Greenville County Schools
Upstate Food Not Bombs