In 2008, Trevor Clatterbuck concocted a no-fail model for connecting chefs and farmers. The enthusiastic Case Western Reserve University business student devised an Amazon-type marketplace where chefs could order fresh, seasonal ingredients from multiple farms 24 hours a day and have them delivered right to their kitchen door.
What could go wrong?
"I learned that the most logical thing doesn't always work; it didn't work for the customer and it didn't work for the farmer," Clatterbuck explains. "That was not the norm in the industry, where chefs still pick up the phone and call their produce guy. It's about relationships."
Undeterred, Clatterbuck shifted gears – and shifted customers. Rather than focus on wholesale restaurant accounts, he zeroed in on the retail segment: home cooks and their families. Fresh Fork became a farm-buying club, where the consumer gets a bundled package of farm-fresh ingredients at an exceptional value. For their part, farmers can plan their crops a year in advance and know that everything will be sold through Fresh Fork.
Sure, Fresh Fork's reach has ballooned to 3,500 subscribers. But, as Clatterbuck would say, "It's not just groceries: It's a farm-to-consumer package that includes education, community and food."
Fresh Fork's frequent pop-up dinners, farm tours and cooking classes not only add value to those weekly grab bags; they help advance Clatterbuck's original mission of supporting small family farms throughout the region. As the saying goes: "Teach a man to cook venison and he'll never send back his weekly allotment along with an angry letter."
"The events help the farmers sell food, and they help the consumer better understand the seasonality of food."
The next big chapter for Clatterbuck and Fresh Fork will begin this fall when Ohio City Provisions opens up in Ohio City. The dual-purpose storefront will feature a full-service butcher shop run by chef and partner Adam Lambert and a retail market selling local produce, grains, meats and dairy.
Consider the grocery an extension of Fresh Fork that is geared to those customers for whom the subscription model doesn't fit.
"I have to be careful not to cannibalize the business that has done well," Clatterbuck stresses. "But our grocery program, where I select all the food and you pick it up in a parking lot, doesn't fit everyone's lifestyle, which naturally leads to a grocery storefront model. The flipside of that is that it puts me in the same ballpark as other retails in that you hold inventory, have more overhead and risk spoilage."
By having Lambert as a partner, Clatterbuck greatly reduces his exposure. Not only will the meat, grain and dairy inventory carry the business through the lean months, but Lambert's prepared foods menu will utilize those perishable products long before they, well, perish.