Yarmouth restaurant bets on local, aims for affordable
YARMOUTH — A new restaurant on Main Street hopes its commitment to regional farms and producers will have a lasting impact on the local food scene.
Gather, which opened in mid-September, is an 80-seat restaurant at the Route 1 Main Street exit. It has a focus on locally farmed food and community-centered, casual dining.
The restaurant is in an old Masonic hall, with the kitchen highlighted on the former stage and the walls decorated with old-time farm implements, which the owner, Matt Chappell, dusted off from his sister's farmhouse. A 16-foot communal table is the centerpiece, made from former bowling alley lanes, arrows included.
"I looked for it specifically," said Chappell, who harvested the lanes from a former Gardiner bowling alley called Lucky Strikes. "The community table is in line with the name and the atmosphere."
Decor aside, Chappell said his primary goal is to bring regionally grown food to customers at moderate prices by partnering with an array of small New England distributors and growers – what he calls the "foodshed."
"Think of streams flowing in like a watershed," he said. "There's some scenarios where we are working with the growers directly, but predominately we're working with small distributors bringing in regionally produced food."
With a goal to have two-thirds of Gather's food sourced from New England, Chappell said they have to be flexible and work closely with local partners in order for the small producers to keep up with the pace of the wholesale restaurant environment.
One of the challenges for small food operations, particularly meat providers and distributors, is restaurants typically only want one particular cut, leaving the rest of the animal behind.
Ben Slayton, co-owner of Farmers' Gate, a butcher and meat distributor in Wales, is beginning his first venture into the wholesale business with Gather, providing meat from a collection of about 15 pasture-based Maine farms.
"We've stayed away from it until now and focused on direct sales," Slayton said. "It sounds really good to have all that business that a restaurant can provide, but they end of taking parts they want and leaving the rest, and there's no market for it."
Farmers' Gate's partnership with Gather is unique, Slayton said, and only works because of the mutual understanding he has with the chef, Chad Conley, who has worked on small farms in the past.
"Chad really gets it from the meat perspective," Slayton said. "It's hard to go local for meat when the national distributors are so much cheaper. Chad has worked with us and understands the business."
Slayton said they worked on different cuts for the steak and found ways to use other parts of the animal to allow them to keep up with the volume and try to keep prices down.
Conley, who formally managed the Freeport farm that services the Miyake restaurants in Portland, has also worked with Slayton and understands the needs of both the restaurant and the small producers, Chappell said.
Although the "local" label at restaurants is often synonymous with expensive, Chappell is trying to make locally sourced food accessible at reasonable prices, he said.
Along with the steak, which rings up at $22 for the whole meal, Gather also takes other cuts and grinds its own grass-fed beef for $12 hamburgers.
The restaurant also serves beer from regional microbreweries and makes it's own soda.
For now, Gather is open for dinner from 5-9:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, Chappell said. Brunch is on the horizon.
"I could have said with this big space we could be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I felt like we needed to get dinner down first and do more if we can handle it," he said. "We're still getting our rhythm."