While the local food movement is not a new trend, it has recently started to trickle into the corporate event space.
“It’s definitely increasing. We’ve done a lot more corporate events in the last few years, or at least a couple, where clients are asking for (local food),” said Steve Johnson, executive sous chef at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee.
With seven restaurants on the property, Potawatomi has relationships with many local vendors that provide it with locally sourced, sustainable food. When its Locavore restaurant opened a year ago with a focus on Midwestern eats, those relationships expanded. “So to accommodate a corporate banquet event is easy because we already work with the vendors,” Johnson said, adding that Locavore’s menu is about 75 percent local. Some of the vendors Potawatomi uses are Milwaukee-based Growing Power Inc. for produce and lake perch; Milwaukee-based Clock Shadow Creamery for dairy and cheese curds; and Milwaukee-based Big City Greens LLC for microgreens. Bacchus executive chef Nicholas Wirth also said that more corporate event goers, and people in general, are looking for locally sourced and sustainable food. Subsequently, the downtown Milwaukee restaurant, a member of The Bartolotta Restaurants group, started putting in more of an effort a few years ago to use as much locally sourced food as possible. “We’re dealing with a much more educated and sophisticated clientele than we were 10 or 15 years ago,” Wirth said. “People are making smarter choices…I see that as a positive because it forces chefs to be more responsible and make better decisions when it comes to where they’re getting their product from.” Bacchus gets cheese from Uplands Cheese Co. in Dodgeville and meats from Jefferson Twp. Locals LLC. Jefferson Twp.’s products come from the Driftless Region of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. Other examples of Bacchus’ local food are cherries from Door County, berries from Michigan, and apples from Milwaukee-area orchards. The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee also serves locally sourced food at corporate events, although general manager Michael Falkenstein said it is more often requested by regular customers and hotel guests.
“I do think it’s a trend that will strengthen, though,” he said. “It will take roots and become something more regularly sought after.” Falkenstein began noticing an interest in local food at the Iron Horse four or five years ago. “We strongly believe in local, and we have a wide range of food products we source locally from Milwaukee or Wisconsin at large,” he said. “We can cater menus to any customer’s needs.” Among other locally sourced foods, the Iron Horse obtains eggs from Yuppie Hill Poultry in Burlington and protein from Bernie’s Fine Meats in Port Washington and Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy. “People now are realizing that supporting smaller businesses and local providers in their own backyard is a very holistic way to support the local economy,” Falkenstein said, adding that eating local food is also a good way to share Milwaukee’s rich history. Johnson said he believes people are interested in local food because they are more aware of and concerned about where their food comes from. “Across the food scene we are starting to see more preserving and canning,” he said. “It’s going back to days where ‘I wish I spent more time with my grandma’ and making preserves and pickling.” To Wirth, the appeal of locally sourced food comes from the quality. “People realize they are getting a superior quality product when it’s coming from 100 or so miles away rather than 1,000 miles,” he said. “They notice a difference in quality when things are grown near you and picked when perfectly ripe and in season. People feel good about walking down the street and bringing a bag of vegetables home for dinner.”