Source, The Times Herald, Gary Puleo
What is arguably the crowning jewel of the King of Prussia Town Center dining scene will open its doors on Nov. 1.
But before Founding Farmers welcomes customers to its first location outside of the Washington D.C. area, the restaurant founded by cutting-edge farmers and savvy restaurateurs will unveil the unique First Bake Café & Creamery on Oct. 25.
The first level café, anchored by a small diner-style counter below where the full-service restaurant and bar will operate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, introduces a new model for the Farmers Restaurant Group’s chain of restaurants: a neighborhood spot for house-made doughnuts, hand-rolled bagels, coffee, milkshakes and ice cream that will open at 6 a.m daily.
“What I love about the counter is the neighborhood feel it will have and my hope is that it will be a very democratic place, where a firefighter and an investment banker can both feel at home and gather over real food and real conversation,” said owner Dan Simons, who launched the first Founding Farmers nine years ago in Washington D.C. with his partner Mike Vucurevich. “And your server is right there keeping your coffee cup filled.”
With more than two weeks to go before the 284-seat, second-level restaurant opens, diners eager to sample chef Joe Goetze’s spins on American comfort food such as Farmhouse Waffles; Pennsylvania Pot Roast; Spicy Fried Chicken and Donut; Fisherman’s Stew and Roasted Prime Rib Sandwich had already been booking their tables at WeAreFoundingFarmers.com.
“Our first weekend, we are nearing 700 reservations for the first Saturday,” noted managing partner Fran Lake, who added that the fervent anticipation is part of the magic surrounding the restaurant.
“We want to be the neighborhood restaurant, where we see people in here three or four times a week,” he said. “There’s a special charm to restaurants like this where people feel comfortable, like being in their own home, with the hospitality and the food and the microclimates that are warm and inviting, where you can pop in anytime.”
From the bright sunroom flooded with natural light from windows and skylights to the subdued living room just steps away from the bar, to the “secret” General’s Parlor — capturing a bit of the Valley Forge sensibility with a refurbished antique mantle and playful murals with rabbits at play, it’s named after General George Washington and is tucked behind a faux library wall — the floor plan and diverse décor conspire to create the “microclimates” that offer diners the perfect setting to match the mood or the occasion.
Farmers Restaurant Group, owned by 47,553 American farmers who make up the North Dakota Farmers Union, was born through the farmers’ mission to “unbundle” the corporate food chain while serving made-from-scratch and thoughtfully sourced food and earning their proper share of the profits.
“The farmers had this idea in the early 2000s as a way for the farmers to get a greater share of the food dollar. They don’t claim to know how to run a restaurant, so they needed restaurateurs like Mike and I,” Simons said. “They came to us wanting to be partners and said they would make it their life’s work. I had no reservations. These are Midwest farmers who are totally innovative. These guys are forward thinkers. The handshake matters, the integrity is real, not like the typical East Coast-West Coast business transaction. We shared the same values and their vision aligned with the way my partner and I live our lives, the way we feed our kids, the way we believe in cooking. I’d rather buy from a family farm in Wisconsin than a corporate farm in Pennsylvania. Sometimes you just get lucky and you get the perfect coming together, and that’s what we had.”
The core group is in North Dakota, “but family farmers are like a tribe across America,” Simons said. “There’s also a National Farmers Union, which are also our investors, with the North Dakota Union, the Wisconsin Farmers Union and another couple hundred individual farmers from different states, including Pennsylvania. We also have some investors who are not farmers, but the majority of the company is owned by the farmers.”
The first Founding Farmers opened in 2008 in Washington D.C., quickly expanding to five locations in or around the D.C. metropolitan area.
“We opened when the world was falling off the financial cliff,” Simon said “As a business model, it was a pioneering concept and I think it is still is. I don’t know of another restaurant group where the majority partners are American family farmers. Ten years ago even the phrase ‘farm to table’ wasn’t everywhere like it is today. I don’t use that phrase anymore because I just think it’s become a marketing term. We have a lot more real, individual stories to tell about farmers and our food than trying to slap one of those bs labels like ‘farm to table.’ ”
The name Founding Farmers barely begins to tell the chain’s story, Simons said.
“It’s all transparent and our name kicks it off, Farmers Restaurant Group. Mark Watney supplies the grain for our distillery directly from his family farm and is also president of the North Dakota Farmers Union. But whether the farmers sell us something or not, they share in the profits of the restaurant. A lot of those farmers sell grain to the North Dakota Mill, which we buy all of our flour from, so when I sell a loaf of bread here, the farmers who sold the grain benefit. Some of them are investors. If I make a profit on the bread, the farmers who’ve invested who didn’t sell me the flour benefit as well,” Simons explained. “Their share of the food dollar has gotten smaller and smaller over the last 40 years as the money is scooped up by distributors, brokers and retailers and the farmer has gotten squeezed. So we’re trying to find different ways to get them into that food dollar.”
Launching the chain’s sixth restaurant in Pennsylvania following an invitation by developer The JBG Companies was part of a natural evolution for Founding Farmers, Simons allowed.
“The supply chain from here is something we were already familiar with. I’m bringing in a lot of Pennsylvania-produced product like eggs, chicken, produce, which we were bringing to D.C., Maryland and Virginia. So we just felt that King of Prussia had an appetite for a more mindful restaurant like ours. We’ve been the most booked restaurant on Open Table for the last five years,” he added. “Now our job is to create our unique offering for breakfast, lunch and dinner here in King of Prussia.”
Founding Farmers, 255 Main St., King of Prussia hours are (breakfast) 7 to 11 a.m., Monday to Friday; (lunch and dinner) 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 to 12 a.m. Saturday; 2 to 10 p.m., Sunday.
Farmers Market Buffet Brunch, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday (no breakfast menu on weekends.)