Mossback started with what many in the restaurant business would consider an hilariously inadequate budget. For the first week we cooked out of a dorm fridge, a cooler, a panini press on a folding table and the old electric oven/range that came with the house. Bit by bit we've acquired a refurbished line fridge, an undercounter fridge from a falafel joint in Everette that we turned into a bar with six beer taps, actual sharp knives and enough other odds and ends that we can pretty convincingly play restaurant. We are still using that electric range, though, and one of the four burners gave up the ghost months ago. Looking forward, we'll need to run propane into the kitchen, get a professional (used) range, and put in enough refrigeration that we can start buying whole animals from our farmers, and put up more of the seasonal harvests for winter use, when all anyone has is leafy greens and sweet potatoes. For these reasons, we've been opening up to the idea of private investors.
Of course, the first thing a business-minded individual would say, upon looking at our operating expenses, is: "why the hell are you paying so much for food?". Or perhaps: "you know you could get a case of eggs for one fifth of the price you're paying, right?". And they would be right. We are going far out of our way to pay more money for just about every ingredient we use, making our profit margin slim by the standards of an industry famous for being next to impossible to make money at. While pondering the best way to answer those questions, I realized that I take for granted, being surrounded by such a great community of radical farmers, chefs and producers, that everyone has read everything by Rachel Carson, Bill McKibbon, Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, and on and on. But there are undoubtedly folks out there who aren't familiar with the economic, environmental and communal ethics that drive us, and others in our community, to do what we do. People who probably think "local" and "sustainable" are just two more among the latest in a long history of yuppie food geek trends and buzz words.
With that person in mind, I've been carrying on a conversation in my head between Mossback and Clueless Possible Investor. Here's the most succinct way I've come up with to justify our stupid business practice:
As an investor, you have to always be looking further down the road than the person next to you. You have to have tremendous patience for a tremendous return. You know that making money in the long run means spending money up front. A local food web, and indeed our restaurant, is built on these same principles. Only we're not looking a few years down the road, we're looking way down the road! No quick buck is going to distract us from building something that can truly last. That's what "sustainable" means, after all. To prove that the current modis operadi of our food system is unsustainable, these next two paragraphs are really important:
The food industry's common practices are inherently unstable in the long run. Mega farms are growing food in places that can't sustain the crops, supplemented by diminishing water from over-tapped rivers and aquifers, relying on petroleum based chemical fertilizers, petroleum based chemical pesticides and petroleum based chemical herbicides, picked and processed by under-payed and ill-treated migrant workers, then transported across the world in gas-powered trucks, boats, trains and planes with petroleum powered refrigeration to warehouses with more trucks and refrigeration, until they finally make it onto the truck that takes the food to whoever is going to cook it for whoever is going to eat it, and statistically, throw 40% of it away.
That system is destroying top soils. It's polluting the environment, it's diminishing the genetic diversity of our planet, it's forcing the small farmers who care for and foster the land out of business because it's artificially lowering the cost of goods. It's a system built on the assumption that fossil fuels are forever (and forever subsidized), water will always flow, the environment can absorb whatever we dump into it, and migrant workers can't get lawyers or they'll be deported. So far, that's all proved to be true. To quote the man who jumps off the top of a 30 story building, as he passes the 10th floor: "so far so good!".
So yes, we could get all of our ingredients for a fraction of what we pay, but we're looking to invest in something that will last, even if it means paying a bit more in the short term. We're lucky enough to live in an area with enough hard working, like minded people, and in a temperate and fertile region to boot, that we don't have to look too far for good ingredients grown sustainably. For that matter, we don't have to pay that much more, because those farmers aren't trying to get rich either, they're also building something to last. And the people who come to our restaurant? They're willing to pay a little extra to support a sustainable food web. Nobody is buying a yacht any time soon, or a used Honda Civic for that matter, but in the long run we'll all be better off for it. That's why we do what we do.
And just to say it, even though it's obvious, even though it's trite and overstated, even though it feeds the stereotype of the yuppie food geek.. food that's grown sustainably, grown for flavor instead of durability, food that's picked ripe and hits a cutting board the same day.... tastes better.