CORNING — Joel Mahr wanted to have his own restaurant by the time he was 40 years old. And he wanted a restaurant that embraced locally grown meat and produce.
Mahr missed his first goal by just a year, but the second is very much a reality after he and his wife, Jill, opened Primrose here May 8.
The restaurant, located in a former men’s clothing store in this Adams County community, features farm-to-plate marketing, including locally raised produce and pork.
Mahr was the chef at Lot 2, a restaurant in Omaha. While there, he prioritized locally grown products.
“The restaurant just took off when we opened it,” Mahr says.
“But Omaha is really growing, and it was becoming very competitive and very expensive.
“We saw an ad in the (Adams County) Free-Press about the cafe, but the building needed a lot of work. Then we were showed this building and we bought it.”
Jill grew up on a farm near Nodaway, so she was familiar with the area. The Mahrs and Jill’s parents, Lee and Shari Fulton, had been selling produce at the farmer’s market in Corning for the previous five years.
“We always liked how the town looked from there, and that the Main Street was always full,” Mahr says. “It just felt like this was where we were supposed to be. I always say we didn’t choose Corning, Corning chose us.”
Jill’s parents sold produce to Lot 2, so they already had a reliable local source available for the restaurant. Pork comes from a farm near Greenfield. An agreement was recently reached with an aquaculture farm near Webster City to supply fresh fish.
Beef comes from a Piedmontese herd in western Nebraska. The Mahrs also use locally grown fruit, herbs and flowers for their entrees and cocktails.
“We’re trying to find a good source of farm-raised chicken, too,” Mahr says.
Establishing strong connections is vital for farmers looking to market directly off the farm, says Jason Grimm, food systems director for the Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development in Amana.
“A base knowledge of all the rules and regulations is also important,” he says. “For example, if you’re selling meat, you need to know about using a licensed and inspected locker. Knowing how to package products is also something that needs to be learned ahead of time.”
Grimm says farmers are connecting with restaurants, grocery stores and schools all over the Midwest. He says getting the word out about the farm and what is being sold is necessary to attract attention in what is becoming a competitive field.
“Here in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, there are a lot of farms that are trying to market directly to a restaurant or store, so you have to be able to stand out,” Grimm says. “Any chance you get to go to an event should be taken, because the restaurants are there.”
Social media is another avenue farmers can use to attract attention, he says.
Grimm says new restaurants in more urban areas like Iowa City must have some sort of farm-to-plate program.
“If you aren’t promoting the use of local food, you aren’t going to start out very well,” he says.
Grimm says while some grocery stores are buying less from farmers, schools are buying more. He says Oct. 11 is Iowa Local Food Day, and many schools are committing to serving two locally grown items that day.
“Farmers need to be aware of this opportunity,” Grimm says. “I just see this getting bigger and bigger. It’s a great way for the schools to support the community.”
Mahr says the Corning community has come out in numbers to support the new restaurant. The menu includes entrees, appetizers and cocktails.
Daily specials also are offered at the restaurant.
“Those are pretty much dictated by the garden,” Mahr says. “Right now, we have a lot of beets, carrots, potatoes and zucchini, so we are featuring them quite a bit.”
He says he and his wife are looking forward to what the future brings.
“We’ve been really pleased with how things have gone,” Mahr says. “We’re looking to add menu items and continue to bring locally grown food to the people who support our restaurant.”