“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Corinne Whiting
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Two weekends ago, my friends and I perused the freezers of Eat Local, the brand new shop on Broadway catering to those who want prepared food that’s quick, healthy and locally-sourced. Our initial reaction? “Not on my budget!” While my French friend seemed to think the majority of the price tags seemed alright, an American friend and I wrinkled our brows in surprise.
So I returned to the store Tuesday to speak with the grateful and gracious owner Greg Conner, feeling a bit skeptical but determined to keep an open mind. Upon arriving, a friendly employee passed me a wee sample of cottage pie (yum), and I wandered the airy space alongside a handful of mid-afternoon shoppers. Mellow club-like beats pumped overhead creating a chill vibe, while fresh air wafted through the rolled-up garage door at the venue’s storefront. A young customer stood near the sidewalk, mesmerized by a life-size cow sculpture, a store mascot that somewhat resembles a large Chia Pet thanks to its fuzzy carpet of sprouting grass (Passersby can monitor the progress of the seeds, planted during the store’s opening, and are invited to stop in to enter a name-the-cow contest).
So, what’s so special about Eat Local? For starters, “Ninety years of Washington farming are behind [the company's] passion for real food.” Conner humbly says about his family’s long-running farm in central Washington and the familial ties that anchor the business even today (his mom’s the accountant, and a photo of her as the 1962 Apple Blossom Princess of Kashmere, Washington will soon grace a store wall).
Even the decor is rooted in history; behind the checkout counter, shoppers find wooden props from the family farm, onto which an artist has burned the company logo. Fixtures from the 1962 World’s Fair double as shelves that display lavender granola, Hotlips soda, plus spreads and dressings produced by Orcas Island’s Local Goods. Items like milk in glass bottles bring an old-school charm to the shopping experience.
Eat Local’s prepared meals, made in an open-air kitchen attached to the Burien store, use only locally-sourced and grass-fed meats, free range chicken, sustainably-grown produce and natural sweeteners like evaporated cane juice, honey and agave. The company prides itself on not using chemicals, preservatives or fillers, and the meals are frozen immediately after cooking to preserve nutrients and flavor.
“You shouldn’t have to have a chemistry degree to understand the ingredients in what you’re eating,” Conner says. He frequently visits the farmers with whom the company teams and will soon stop by Toboton Creek, a farm in Yelm, Washington, to see the Eat Local flock of turkeys.
Entrees come in single-servings up to four-serving sizes and include comfort options like quiches, stews, savory pies (shepherd’s, tamale), Indian dishes like tikka masala and hand-made pasta options like gnocchi, vegetable lasagna and smoked salmon tagliatelle (Shoppers who purchase three entrees receive a discount).
Other benefits come from buying frozen meals sold in Pyrex containers. For example, a double serving of steak and ale pie in recyclable packaging costs $16.36 or $15.86 when purchased in the Pyrex container, and shoppers who return the Pyrex dish receive a credit toward their next purchase. Meal labels are color-coded for gluten-free, vegetarian, etc. Though diners are encouraged to cook meals in the oven, all dishes can be microwaved too.
Side dishes include honey-glazed vegetables, cheesy greens and Washington pink beans with pork belly, and sweet treats range from carrot cake and berry cobblers to pints of Empire ice cream. The store sells a great selection of wines, crafted exclusively for Eat Local by Mount Baker Vineyards, as well as products by local merchandisers like Theo Chocolate, Fish Tale Organic Beer, Parker Pickles and Holmquist Hazelnuts.
As for the pricing of items, Conner is thrilled about a recent cost reduction – by 20 percent – at each of the three stores in Burien, Queen Anne and now Capitol Hill. He is always glad to directly pass on savings to customers as they trickle down from the farmers. The Queen Anne outpost opened in 2006 and has proven popular among shoppers from near and far. At the urging of those customers, Conner opened his newest store in Capitol Hill, a neighborhood that he loves.
“I think there’s great energy here,” he says, and he’s grateful to already feel embraced. As the owner of a small business, Conner emphasizes the importance of feedback from customers. Eat Local’s loyal shoppers, he says, range from students and young professionals to elderly folks like one 90-something woman who has admitted, “at this point, she’s just done cooking.”
In other good news, Eat Local is a CSA pick-up spot, offers free hour-long parking and hosts quarterly tasting parties. And perhaps the best deal in town? At Eat Local, enjoy an 8-ounce Stumptown latte for just $1.50.
So while regular shopping at this friendly spot might not be in my current budget, I now fully understand the allure. I’ll certainly be popping in for the occasional indulgence as often as possible, anxious to soak up the feel-good neighborhood vibe and to have the opportunity to “eat local,” something my fellow Seattleites seem to have already mastered really well.