Napa, California, might be best known for its varietals, but an ambitious new “fast fine” concept has planted roots firmly in wine country.
Since April, Heritage Eats has been serving up hyper-local, globally inspired fare. Its founders, Ben Koenig and Chef Jason Kupper, both worked at the fine-dining establishment The Thomas Restaurant before deciding to strike out on their own.
Like many emerging fast casuals, Koenig and Kupper went into business with a mission beyond the bottom line. What sets Heritage Eats apart from the pack is its dedication to special varieties of meats as raised by local farmers.
Similar to heirloom varieties in produce, heritage breeds are specialized variations of livestock that were more common before the advent of an industrialized food system. According to the Livestock Conservancy, these animals were selectively bred to thrive in the local environment, and today, many varieties are dwindling in numbers. Kupper utilized his existing relationship with Cochon 555—a series of educational events promoting the use of heritage-breed pigs—to make a commitment to heritage meats part of the concept’s DNA.
“For us it was a pretty simple decision. We think that we’re part of the reason for saving these breeds from extinction,” Koenig says. “We wanted to be part of the solution. We look at brands and businesses of the future ... and we think the ones that are going to succeed over this current generation are ones that have different layers and are purpose-driven.”
Heritage Eats might source local ingredients from the special breed meats to local produce (of which there is no shortage), but the flavors are decidedly global. Although customers are welcome to build their own sandwich, salad, bowl, or other meal, the preselected menu options include a Báhn Mì Dutch Crunch—lemongrass pork, Asian pickle, creamy cilantro and boom sauce on a Dutch Crunchroll—and the Jamaican Bao, featuring Jamaican jerk chicken, cabbage slaw, and pineapple habanero sauce served on bao buns. The two say that because the flavors are from around the world, the menu is very spice-forward.
“We decided before we opened that we wouldn't hold back. We weren’t going to toe the line of being timid; we wanted to be pretty aggressive with our seasoning and all the flavors we're introducing,” Kupper says. He adds that offering samples to guests is an excellent way of introducing them to new flavor profiles and unexpected combinations.
Only three months into their operation, Koenig and Kupper have already received praise from locals, tourists, and other foodservice professionals. Developers have also approached the pair about expanding Heritage Eats. Although they are flattered by the praise and will hear out various business proposals, Koenig says they want to be smart about growth.
“We built the brand with an eye toward the future, certainly, but we do know that without success here in our first location, future locations aren't possible,” Koenig says. "I think we both have enough of a pulse on our business to know when the time is going to be right."
By Nicole Duncan