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Chef lives dream of working with local food, farmers

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Article By: Iowa Farmer Today  


Bob Newell worked at private clubs, city clubs, hospitals, retirement centers, colleges and restaurants before becoming executive chef at the Rathbun Lakeshore Grille in Honey Creek Resort State Park in Southern Iowa.

This allows him to fulfill a dream — working with local food. “I’ve wanted to (work with local farmers) for 40 years,” he says in a news release.

But, he explains the companies he worked for in the past would not let him, because they required their suppliers to have insurance most farmers cannot carry.

Honey Creek Resort is unique because it is in a state park. “Here, the state encourages me to use as much local as possible. It keeps tax dollars inside state boundaries.”

When Newell moved back to Southern Iowa in 2012 to run the restaurant, he met Melanie Seals and her husband, Mike, who operated Country Road Produce “about two miles down the road.”

They looked at what Country Road could grow and what Honey Creek could use and developed a plan for the year. In 2013, Honey Creek purchased a variety of vegetables from Country Road, including carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and sweet corn.

For the first few months, Country Road couldn’t keep up with the restaurant’s demand, as the Grille served up to 500 meals a day when the resort was full.

Plus, the restaurant catered for meetings, weddings and other functions at the state park. But, the Seals soon adjusted. “It works out great,” says Newell of the relationship. “They deliver two or three times a week and (the vegetables) go right out the door.”

Since the partnership, Newell and Honey Creek Resort have received a lot of publicity. Newell and the Seals say where their produce comes from and goes to, and that generated “a fair amount of business,” says Newell. “Other restaurants jumped on board, too.”

At least two other restaurants now source from Country Road, says Newell, and he referred one of them. He says Country Road is working to increase its accounts with restaurants and sell less through farmers markets.

Newell purchases as many Iowa-grown products as he can, many of which are available through his distributor, Sysco. He uses Iowa-made Barilla pasta and Cookies BBQ Sauce, and buys Farmland and IBP meats, which are processed in Iowa. He has also found the Fareway store in Centerville to be a good partner, and since Fareway’s meats are Iowa-raised, “I get all my steaks and pork from them — it keeps the money in Centerville and provides them with a living. Fareway sends business out to me — it’s a win-win for both of us.”

Newell continues to make new connections with local producers and suppliers. He is searching for local honey and wild game.

He says being in rural Iowa, it’s important to utilize the people around him to build business relationships.

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