Local Foods, a public market, cafe and distribution warehouse focusing on sourcing, selling and serving food produced in the Midwest, opened today at 1427 W. Willow St.
The 3,000-square-foot market just off an industrial stretch of Elston Avenue is stocked with local produce from Midwestern farms; honey, syrup, spices, drinks and sauces made within 300 miles of Chicago; meats and cheeses from local farms; and other assorted vittles one may find at a summer farmers market.
Prices are a bit higher than one may find at a mass-market grocer like Jewel, but, CEO Andrew Lutsey explained, “You’re going to know exactly where your food comes from. Our focus is on celebrating seasonality and celebrating all of our local farmers.”
Local Foods also is the new home of the Butcher & Larder butcher shop, a formerly independent meat purveyor run by Rob Levitt that specializes in top-quality beef, pork, poultry, lamb and sausages.
The butcher shop is flanked by a 16-seat diner called Stock, which is headed by chef Abra Berens, formerly of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Floriole, Vie and Hoosier Mama Pie in Chicago. It sources all of its products from the wholesale and distribution end of Local Foods, which occupies 27,000 square feet in a warehouse portion of the converted building. Dishes include Michigan-style pasties, Chicago dogs, beef-fat fried potatoes, buckwheat spaetzle, smoked chicken and rice soup, cornmeal cakes and tapioca.
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On the wholesale side, Local Foods partners with farmers in the region to provide fresh produce, meat and dairy to restaurants in the Chicago area, taking care of logistics and billing. Its local clients include some of Chicago’s best-known restaurants and chefs, including Jared Van Camp of Element Collective, Mike Sheerin of Trenchermen, John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina and Abe Conlon of Fat Rice. Other customers include restaurants like Vie, Farmhouse, Nana, Inovasi and the Radler.
Backed by a slate of investors, including serial entrepreneur and Local Foods Chairman Jim Murphy, Local Foods was founded in early 2013 by Andrew Lutsey. Dave Rand and Ryan Kimura later joined as Lutsey’s business partners.
Lutsey is a third-generation food industry veteran with a financial background; he most recently worked on the operations side of his family’s cattle, hog and poultry farm in Wisconsin. Rand has been a partner at a grass-fed cattle ranch in Marengo. He also logged in time at grain farms and salmon canneries and was the farm forager for Chicago’s Green City Market. Kimura advised on global strategy and technology at Deloitte and has worked at food organizations including the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition and Slow Food Chicago.
They later took on Murphy and his investment vehicle, Carbon Green, to build out the warehouse on Willow, which also houses Hand Cut Foods, a commissary that prepares and delivers meals to several schools in the region, including Gems World Academy, Francis W. Parker School, Latin School of Chicago and Kendall College. Local Foods also is affiliated with a new 7-acre greenhouse operation in Rochelle called MightyVine Tomatoes, which is slated to begin supplying hydroponically grown tomatoes to the Chicago market this fall.
Lutsey said he expects the public-facing portion of the business to make up as much as 40 percent of Local Foods’ annual revenue by year-end.