Vegetables are the focus at Chef José Andrés’ fast casual Beefsteak, and now the restaurant has a chief of produce.
Filling the role, Bennett Haynes will work with executive chef Pat Peterson to ensure Beefsteak’s menu reflects seasonality, freshness, and local sourcing when possible.
“With the way our menu works, we can highlight specific local, seasonal produce items when they are at peak flavor. This is what creates more opportunity for local farmers looking to supply restaurants like ours—their window for a high volume, great flavor crop may be for only a few weeks or several months in a given season,” Haynes says. “What is most important to me here is figuring out ways to help local farmers build sustainable businesses, and restaurants like ours can only benefit in the process.”
Beefsteak, which has five locations, highlights vegetables across its menu—in bowls, salads, soups, and sandwiches like the beefsteak tomato burger with pickled red onions, sprouts, caper herb mayo, olive oil, and sea salt on an olive oil brioche bun.
“If we can anticipate that our favorite tomato farm at the Dupont Farmers’ Market is going to have a big beefsteak tomato crop between mid-August and mid-September, and they know what our needs are in terms of volume, then we can plan ahead to be there for them,” Haynes says. “The same is true for farmers growing winter storage root crops—we are able to serve as an outlet for their high quality, locally grown produce, harvested in the fall and then stored well into the winter months.”
Haynes works with a network of producers to coordinate crops available with Beefsteak’s plans and to also connect growers and cooperatives with distributors—a process that can be particularly difficult in the fast-casual segment.
“The biggest challenge to connecting in a meaningful way with local farms is distribution,” he says. “It is up to someone like me to connect growers and cooperatives with these distributors, so that their produce can reach a new market … the fast casual market is rapidly expanding, yet is relatively new at trying to source from local growers.”
Before joining Beefsteak, Haynes was a community organizer in Thailand for The Alternative Agriculture Network and returned to the U.S. in 2011 to start Ralston Farm, where he specialized in diverse produce farming with restaurants clients that included Uncle Boons, Jockey Hollow Bar, and Brick Farm Tavern.
Haynes says that as Beefsteak grows, it will continue to partner with farms and cooperatives that are already looking to scale or are already scaled for production in the wholesale market and the menu will continue to evolve in reflecting seasonality in dishes.
“I look forward to opening new restaurants in new regions where we can learn from the local growing climate and see where we'll have seasonal opportunities,” he says. “The most important thing is to be honest and transparent about your supply chain … There might be future opportunities for like-minded fast casual brands to cooperate on sustainable sourcing. Our food system is incredibly complex and global; the more informed we are about the food we consume, the more we will be able to improve our food system and environment.”
By Alex Dixon