The menu at the Elements on Level One restaurant in Herndon, Va., reads like a guidebook to the surrounding area. The Meyer natural strip steak comes from Duck Farms in Madison, Va., the handmade goat cheese from Firefly Farms in Accident, Md., and the country ham from Edwards of Surry, Va. This is no mistake, since local ingredients are an integral component of food and beverage operations at the Hyatt Dulles that houses the restaurant. But it wasn’t always this way. When Executive Chef Matthew Warschaw came to the property four years ago, he occasionally used local ingredients for restaurant specials or VIP events. That’s because price points tend to be higher for specialty items like artisanal sheep and goat’s milk cheeses, which have a smaller yield than a dairy cow.
But local sourcing has become much more efficient and economical in the past few years. When done right, purchasing food from local farmers and artisans can help support area communities without blowing up the restaurant’s budget. And the payoff is huge. Since the Hyatt Dulles started sourcing many of its ingredients locally the hotel has seen a significant bump in guest satisfaction scores and revenue increases. According to Warschaw, Elements on Level One has experienced a 3.3 percent rise in covers, a 3.8 percent increase in average check, and an overall boost in total food revenue of 3.9 percent, year-over-year. This kind of local, sustainable sourcing has become such a big trend that Hyatt launched a global initiative around it in 2012.
To find local ingredients, Warschaw attends community events and farmers markets. Take for instance the local white corn grits he uses in his special shrimp appetizer or as a side to his lamb chop entrée. Warschaw began sourcing the grits from Colvin Run Mill, a restored water-powered mill in Great Falls, Va., after meeting the operator at a local 4-H fair.
Warschaw also sources items through Avendra, which partners with approved distributors to identify local growers, set quality expectations, and bring the products to market. Keany Produce, a Landover, Md.–based foodservice distributor, is among the companies Warschaw works with. Keany procures items from Local Food Hub, a nonprofit group in Charlottesville, Va., which purchases locally grown fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and specialty items from more than 70 small family farms. It’s all part of a sustainable local food distribution model. “Some vendors now are focused more on that niche market of being able to stock and supply the small guy,” Warschaw says. “The production scale is much different than what you find in everyday commercial suppliers.”
Hotels are increasingly embracing the locally sourced trend not only to stand out from competitors and to meet sustainability goals but also to feed growing customer demand. Years ago, travelers wanted the convenience and comfort of familiar foods, says Bart Hosmer, a chef for 20 years and senior director of culinary in the Americas for Marriott. Now, guests crave regional and local flair, and they are willing to pay more for fresh, high-quality ingredients. “There is such a food savvy guest in the hotel and food and beverage world,” he says. “They’re more educated than ever and they want to know the story.”