In 2004, a few years before the word locavore ever appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary, The New York Times Magazine ran a profile on Tod Murphy, a Vermont farmer and roadside-diner owner who had established a counterintuitive business model: Instead of a giant food-service truck rolling up to the back door and unloading pallets of processed food, Murphy was busy sourcing 70 percent of his provisions — including eggs, vegetables, ice cream, and beef — from area farms. And he wasn't making a big deal about it, either. Instead of slapping the customer with hefty doses of food philosophy and upsell, a Farmers Diner server might just set your grilled-cheese plate down in front of you, smile, and refill your coffee. Could that work in New York City?
In October, Farmers Diner owners Tod Murphy and Denise Parras started scouting locations in the boroughs for a new outpost; they've also been checking out White Plains and Long Island. Last week, Murphy and Parras took a look around Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. A neighborhood posse has since suggested the recently shuttered Jim Mamary restaurant Fly Fish (formerly Whiskey Sunday). Supporters have created an online petition to bring the locavore all-stars to Brooklyn.
While he considers a Brooklyn move and is anxious to check out Queens, the community-minded Murphy intends for the new diner to be open "by the beginning of the next school year." Following the model the Farmers Diner uses in Vermont, meat, dairy, and vegetables will be delivered to a separate commissary kitchen located closer to the farms; semi-prepped provisions will then be brought to the restaurant. On the Farmers Diner menu, breakfast and lunch are served all day, and the food isn't fancy, by design. Check averages hover around $12, which Murphy says translates to a manageable 15 percent premium for the customer. Cheese fries topped with Cheddar that traveled 20 miles and bacon from 50 miles away, for example, might cost $8.
In addition to a long list of classic sandwiches that all come with pickles, there's an equally long kids' menu, which makes Farmers Diner seem like Blue Hill with place mats, crayons, and Formica countertops. Of course, Murphy and Dan Barber are pals: "Whenever we see each other, I always tell him, 'Dan I have white-tablecloth envy," says Murphy. "Then he says, 'Tod, that's okay, because I have paper-napkin envy.'"