Lori Stern, owner of Cow & Quince Market and Restaurant in New Glarus, Wisconsin, is out to do more than serve up great tasting seasonal dishes made with locally-sourced, sustainably raised or grown ingredients.
In a manner of speaking, she’s looking to entice some members of her community to get into business with her by offering a Community Supported Restaurant, inspired by the popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model where farmers get paid up front by their “shareholders” for the products grown throughout the season. Along with being a CSR-focused restaurant, Cow & Quince also serves as a hyper-local market for the fresh vegetables, fruits and meats available in the area.
At the upcoming SOIL SISTERS event July 31 through August 2, 2015, Stern’s Cow & Quince will be showcasing the amazing abundance the area has to offer, featuring numerous locavore specials while hosting the SOIL SISTERS: Taste of Place. The Taste of Place is a culinary farm-to-table gathering where you can try out a variety of flavors while you meet some of the farmers and food artisans behind the ingredient list. Delicious dishes prepared by Chef Jared Austin will include Summer Vegetable Tarts, featuring heirloom tomatoes from Grassroots Farm, greens from Scotch Hill Farm and cheese from Landmark Creamery.
We caught up with Stern, who sometimes does overtime at her Lucky Dog Farm, also in New Glarus.
Q: While you own Cow & Quince Market and Restaurant, you’re also a farmer at Lucky Dog Farm and operate a farmstay B&B. How can you be in two places at once?
You forgot “teach yoga.” It’s the yoga that enables me to be flexible and float between all these endeavors. But actually, my wife LeAnn is the farmer and has really taken on the B&B now that Cow & Quince is open. And our adult children tease us that now we are just one “B” since we send our overnight guests to Cow & Quince for their breakfast…after coffee or tea on the farm and a farm tour if they want one.
Q: What drew you to plant roots in Wisconsin?
I am originally from Wisconsin. I was born in Milwaukee and my mom’s family was in the West Allis area for a couple of generations. After living in the Pacific Northwest for almost 20 years, it was time to come home to the Midwest. LeAnn is also a Midwest girl and her family is still here.
Q: What motivated to you open a market in addition to the restaurant?
Opening a restaurant was terrifying! I loved the idea of an old fashioned dry goods store originally. Actually, my Great Grandpa Max had a dry goods store in West Allis on National Avenue. People always ask if I grew up on a farm…Cow & Quince with the market is actually closer to my roots than farming.
Q: What’s a CSR and why did you decide to set up and market Cow & Quince in this way?
CSR stands for Community Supported Restaurant. We wanted to be very community-oriented from the beginning. We also opened with very little capital. So the CSR model helped with both of those challenges. People pay ahead for food and products they are going to purchase in the future. It’s very similar to a CSA, where you pay the farmer ahead of the harvest to give her the capital she needs to buy seeds/feed and get the food in the ground or raise it up.
Q: How do you define “farm-to-table” cuisine?
It’s really about eating local ultimately. Using fresh ingredients that did not have to travel a great distance to get to your plate. But inherent in ‘farm to table’ are values related to animal welfare, food miles, food waste, sustainable and organic practices. I think the term sort of calls all of those things to mind. And when we source for Cow & Quince, those things are at the forefront, in addition to wanting to support women and disadvantaged farmers with our purchases as well.
Q: What dish are you most known for at your restaurant?
That is a difficult question! Our chef likes the Julia Childs’ quote “if you are afraid of cream, use butter.” So we’re probably known for making generally delicious food. Since we have only been open over the winter, we have had to get creative with essentially meat, potatoes and cheese. We can’t wait for fresh veggies! We don’t own a can opener so all of our food is from scratch. If I think of a menu item, the recipe is going to get complicated quickly…and I think so much of what makes dishes delicious are the stories behind the ingredients. Knowing the farmer and his/her passion.
Q: What inspires you in the kitchen?
Putting flavors together in new ways, fussing over ingredients, infusing fats with herbs and spices…and baking. Baking is my thing. I really leave the rest to our amazing chef Jared Austin and his trusty flavor bible.
Is there anything you love to eat that you don’t already grow on the farm or get from other farmer-friends? After living in the Pacific Northwest, I have a real love of Asian food and Asian Fusion. I enjoy sushi, coconut curries, shrimp. But I won’t eat sushi unless I am near an ocean. I also love tropical fruit…but when it’s local. Whenever I travel somewhere tropical, I eat a lot of fruit.
Q: Your family plays a big role in the restaurant. Please share how your daughter and son-in-law are involved.
My daughter, Hallie Weintraub, is the general manager. She moved from Portland to help get things started and running. Our chef is my son-in-law Jared Austin…but that was not originally the plan. He is such a talented chef. He was actually helping me interview other people to cook when he decided that it was something he would be excited to do. So he told me he wanted to work for me three weeks before their wedding and four weeks before we were scheduled to open. It was hectic!
Our son, Zachary Weintraub, is a filmmaker and he flew out a month ago to take some footage for a kitchen expansion fundraising campaign we will be launching in the next week or two. And, of course, LeAnn is a presence at Cow & Quince as well. It took a lot of sweat equity to transform the space. So many friends lent a hand and paintbrush to the effort. It has been amazing from the start.
Q: What’s the biggest perk of being a female restaurateur?
Indulging my love of baking and sharing it with others. We are an intimate enough space and the kitchen is wide open, so it feels like home. It’s like I am inviting the community into my kitchen to sit for a while, watch food being prepared and enjoy a meal.
Q: Favorite season and why:
Spring…baby animals, possibility, the coming warmth and longer days, and of course asparagus and morels!
Q: Tell me a little about your yoga studies. When did this start? What type of yoga do you teach? Who comes to your regular class? Isn’t it a bunch of the other soil sisters?
I started doing yoga seven years ago and I practice Ashtanga. I used to be absolutely committed to my six days a week practice, but getting the business up and running has definitely impacted my practice. Now I am lucky to get five days in a week. I’m only teaching on Saturday mornings. A few of the soil sisters join me. Kriss Marion of Circle M Market Farm is a die hard morning gal and comes over at 6 am Tuesdays and Thursdays to share practice with me. I love it. Otherwise I have folks in the community who come.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
Nothing actually…I am too tired by the time I go to bed.
Q: What do you do on your day off at the restaurant, if there is such a thing? Work on the farm or hosting guests are your B&B?
There is a saying that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. There is also a saying: You can sleep when you’re dead. Those two statements are my life summed up.
Q: Any “best advice” for inspiring food entrepreneurs?
Just when you think you understand all of the licenses and requirements, there are more. And I hate to say this when I am not certain of my success, but “just do it already” is my advice. No amount of planning will prepare you for what it will really be like.
Q: One thing you couldn’t live without (any category)?
My morning latte…prepared by LeAnn, no matter what time I have to leave or even if I am going to just drink it at home.
Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko are co-authors of Homemade for Sale, Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance. They also operate Inn Serendipity, completely powered by the wind and sun.