Shared passions sent Brunswick organic farmer and chef Matthew Raiford and food alchemist Jovan Sage to Torino, Italy, for a Slow Food International event in 2012. Sage was directing a national nonprofit that advocates food and farm work, and Raiford was a delegate for the organization, representing African American farmers in the Southeast.
Not long after they met, they were cooking together as hosts of several farm-to-dinner events.
“Matthew was executive chef at a Little St. Simons restaurant and running Gilliard Farms with his sister Althea. We were in a long-distance relationship and doing these events between Brunswick and Brooklyn, where I lived,” says Sage. She moved to Brunswick in August 2014.
Exactly one year later they opened The Farmer and The Larder restaurant and retail space. It is a haven for those who appreciate the delicious, wholesome benefits of organic food sourcing and cooking.
[tweetthis display_mode=”box” remove_twitter_handles=”true”]See how @UGASBDC_bwick helped these #smallbiz owners grow their part-time idea into a thriving restaurant:[/tweetthis]
David Lewis, area director of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center’s Brunswick office, had worked with Raiford on the business of Gilliard Farms. When Sage and Raiford began planning their new venture, they went to see Lewis.
“Matthew and Jovan were going to start a very, very small, part-time business where they’d teach cooking classes and sell organic products from the farm, other locally sourced foods and cookware. They were not planning to open it as a restaurant at first,” says Lewis.
He helped them develop a business plan for their original concept: a welcoming shop offering retail items, cooking classes and special dinners. Their vision rapidly outgrew the smaller location they had chosen, however, and they needed more income quickly. So they added a restaurant to the plan.
That led to a bigger challenge.
“It’s difficult finding someone who wants to finance a new restaurant,” says Sage. “There were definitely moments where we didn’t feel we had near enough funds to make this happen. But we kept going through the numbers with David, who told us, ‘You can do this, and you have the potential to do more.’”
Lewis showed them a software program they used to prepare their financial projections, offered to help them work through their bookkeeping and connected them with a bank.
“Armed with our business plan and spreadsheets, we had great conversations with the bank. And they gave us what they felt was safe,” she says.
The Farmer and The Larder opened as a 1,500-square-foot cooking kitchen and retail space that serves locally sourced farm-to-table lunches, dinners and brunch. Two cooks have joined Chef Matthew in the kitchen, and a dishwasher and two servers joined as staff. After opening with 22 seats, the retail space was redesigned to allow for more tables that now seat 40 diners.
“Our restaurant is a dynamic space. You can get everything from pots, pans and jams to culinary classes. Or you can sit at a community table for dinner. All of our equipment is custom-made and affordable. There are many well-made, thoughtful pieces from local artisans,” says Sage, who calls herself the “accidental restauranteur.”
Within the first year, sales have risen 50 percent, she reports. “We’ve been able to increase our initial projections by doing more events, more outreach and more of our own internal marketing and public relations work. We’ve tapped into something special in this community.”
The Farmer and The Larder has found its niche in Brunswick.
“Matthew and Jovan have a very hot product,” says Lewis. “They’re developing a national brand. Just look at their Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews. People come from all over just to eat there.” They’ve also won 2015 and 2016 Open Table awards.
Sage recognizes it takes more than a good product to be a success.
“Without David’s connection, we would have had a much tougher time. We may not have launched without his help,” she says. “It’s great to have folks like David out there connecting with our community and reaching out to small businesses to help them find ways they can be successful.”