Q&A: Spike Gjerde dishes on the local food supply chain

Source: Bmore Media
Date: April 9, 2013
Byline: Julekha Dash

“That is going to be the bomb. This is the game changer.”

That’s what Spike Gjerde has to say about the Baltimore Food Hub, a $10 million food incubator to open in East Baltimore by fall of 2014.

The James Beard Award finalist and owner of Woodberry Kitchen and Artifact Coffee is one of several stakeholders involved in the project, inspired by a similar food entrepreneurship program in Philadelphia. Gregory Heller, who helped launch the Philadelphia program, is working with Gjerde, along with Baltimore workforce training group Humanim, Big City Farms and others.

The Food Hub is just one of many new ventures that Gjerde is cooking up these days. He’s prepping for the 5,000-square-foot butcher shop-restaurant that will open in Seawall Development Group’s conversion of the Tire Shop in Remington. Gjerde’s shop will open by the end of the year and employ eight to 12. He says he also expects to receive a liquor license any day now for Artifact Coffee, which will serve local wine and beer. (Artifact was recently named one of the best coffee shops in America by a food blog.)

The busy Gjerde took a few minutes to chat with BmoreMedia about these plans.

Tell us about the Food Hub.

It’s my vision that locally grown foods give back to our local farmers. We’ve got a long way to go. Can we grow enough food? These farmers are nowhere near the capacity to provide it. We’ve got a whole season ahead of us. Preserving is what we’re focused on now [to stock up for the winter months.] Woodberry [Kitchen] is a busy restaurant, with nine services a week. We do all our baking and butchering. We go through 1,000 pounds of tomatoes and sauerkraut in a day. Where and how that happens in our kitchen is a challenge.

What’s the next step with the Food Hub?

We’re looking for a commercial kitchen space. The goal is to have it by the time the tomatoes are here, before the summer. We want a basic, functional, existing commercial kitchen space with storage. The Food Hub is the permanent solution.

How so?

Canning and preserving is part of the Food Hub. We have baking and pastry in Woodberry. We’re expanding on that. If you understand what’s at stake, you know it’s worth it. I have a singular focus and that’s the local food economy and I don’t care about things that don’t relate to that. Growing local gets all the attention, but are we going to move that needle?

What’s the latest with the new butcher shop in Remington?

We’re working on the design now. It [will be part of] a local food supply chain that doesn’t exist. The local products, sometimes those are hard to find on the shelves. That’s why we’re doing it ourselves. That’s why we want to continue to expand on that. That’s why a butcher shop is so important.

What local beers and wines will you feature at Artifact?

Gjerde: Union Craft Brewing [in Woodberry]. They’re doing some amazing stuff. We’ll feature their beer in cans. It’s really cool. We’re about local and it doesn’t get any more local than that. We’ll have wines by the glass and carafe from Maryland and Virginia.

What made you decide to expand dinner service at Artifact?

It was always our hope that Artifact would be a morning, noon and night kind of place. The sourcing model is similar to Woodberry [Kitchen]. The way we think about food in Artifact is the same as in Woodberry. We’ll still have a fixed menu that changes. We’ve had hits and misses with this. We’ll use Artifact Monday and Tuesday nights to do other events.

What kind of events?

We’re limited in what we can do in Woodberry [Kitchen] with regard to events. We’ll have chefs holding cooking classes, farm products with the farmer there, a dinner with the chef visiting. Todd Gray in D.C. [of Equinox Restaurant] has a cookbook out on Jewish culinary traditions. We talked about how great it would be to do a dinner with seafood. Things like that — a chef dinner and wine dinners and community-based things. The space fits about 40.