Abundance is the driving force behind a Jacksonville restaurant that, based on name alone, could limit customer choices.
While the eatery at Gary West Smoked Meats doesn't adhere completely to the common definition of "locavore," it looks no farther than its own butcher shop and smokehouse for meats. With the local growing season on the horizon, parking lot planters and the owners' home garden will supply more at Locavore Pub & Grill.
"I'm a farmer at heart," says Whitney Murdoch.
First and foremost, she's the daughter of Gary West, who founded his namesake Jacksonville butcher shop nearly 50 years ago. Murdoch, 48, and husband Paul Murdoch purchased the internationally known company in 2003, shortly before the "eat local" movement took off.
Self-proclaimed "locavores" procure all their food within the 100-mile radius of their homes, although some make exceptions for salt, spices, chocolate and coffee. Whether "locavore" or just looking for traditional sources of food, conscientious consumers nationwide increasingly rely on small, family-owned operations in their communities to ensure quality, safety and nutrition rather than trust government certifications of "factory farms," including organic ones.
"There's just so much phony crap out there," says Whitney Murdoch.
Chemicals like artificial "smoke" and monosodium glutamate have no place in Gary West recipes, which use only beef top round, a small portion of every carcass, says Murdoch. Some of the trim becomes Gary West smoked beef sausages and hotdogs. But there's plenty of beef — raised on pastures close to home — left over for hamburgers.
"With this surplus supply of great beef, it was a no-brainer," says Murdoch.
Gary West was grilling up burgers more than a decade ago, but the practice lapsed since the Murdochs purchased the business and initially focused on its core product, jerky. When the demand became impossible to ignore any longer, the latest food trend furnished the restaurant's theme. Locavore Pub & Grill opened a year ago with a small menu of burgers, sandwiches and fries accented with specials that change according to the season.
"It's been an interesting time sourcing this stuff," says Murdoch.
To complement the housemade meats prominently featured on Locavore's menu, Murdoch grows vegetables organically at her home two miles away on Old Stage Road. Several Gary West employees are "amazing gardeners" who contribute to the restaurant's produce needs, she says. Even landscaping in front of Gary West's North Fifth Street store yielded ground last summer to tomato plants.
"We had baskets of tomatoes," recalls Murdoch.
If not fruits of its own labors, Gary West produce comes from local farmers markets or the new online growers market Rogue Valley Local Foods. Sauerkraut for sausages, hotdogs and corned-beef sandwiches is made locally. And Murdoch says she plans to supply eggs from her own hens this year. Her flock of about a dozen lay enough eggs daily to make two quiches, often featured as a restaurant special prepared with house-smoked bacon.
So much meat requires a lot of potatoes. After relaxing her locavore stance toward french fries and kettle-style potato chips during Gary West's busy winter season, Murdoch has secured a source for organic potatoes from a Klamath County farm that produces milk for Rogue Creamery, also featured prominently on Gary West's menu and in the store. With the Central Point creamery's weekly milk deliveries, the farm will send 50 pounds of potatoes to be cut up and fried to order at Gary West, says Murdoch.
"It adds a heck of a lot of labor, but it also makes really killer potato chips."
Whole potatoes are popular stuffed and twice-baked, available in the restaurant or for carry-out from Gary West's deli case, says Murdoch. Lasagna and meatloaf are other popular to-go entrees available daily, she says. Gary West also bakes fresh bread, hopefully this summer with Hanley Farm Horsepower Flour, milled locally from wheat grown at the historic Central Point farm.
Among the only stumbling blocks to a diverse, local diet is the lack of chicken raised locally and in enough quantity for restaurants, says Murdoch. To process poultry, Gary West would have to construct a separate facility to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations and couldn't justify the effort and expense for its insignificant poultry sales, she says. The restaurant's single chicken-breast sandwich and platter of wings use Oregon birds.
Although it's smoked in-house, pork also hails from ranches in Oregon and Idaho, which ensure humane practices, says Murdoch. Bison comes from Colorado, elk from family-owned ranches in the Rockies. All three meats are needed in more quantity at Gary West than local ranchers can provide, she says.
"This whole notion of 'eat local' is really hard," says Murdoch.
So beef from two Northern California ranches gets top billing. Adding $2 to the price of any burger ensures the beef is certified-organic from Applegate's Yale Creek Ranch. Customers staking their health and ethics on the meat's purity and provenance don't balk at the extra cost.
"If they have the choice," says Murdoch, "even if it's a dollar or two more, they'll pick it."