“Founding Farmers” Thrives Even During The Pandemic
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just a few blocks from the White House, Founding Farmers brings customers fresh food and a farm experience.
“We sort of try to make all what we call touch points, to remind the guests that we’re owned by farmers, and that we represent the American family farmer, even in a big restaurant in the in the city,” said Dawn Vileno, Managing Partner.
The North Dakota Farmers Union owns seven restaurants, including founding farmers.
The business aims to bridge the gap between urban and rural America with ingredients sourced directly from their farmers.
Kim Coghill of Alabama said, “I think it feels more authentic.”
“It exceeded my expectations. I came here for breakfast and I ended up getting a lunch salad and it’s amazing,” said Jared Gess of Pennsylvania.
“Best thing I’ve gotten in awhile.”
Every detail of the D.C. restaurant aims to point people back to their North Dakota roots even down to the silverware.
Each piece of silverware has a number and a symbol. So for example this fork represents the number of American family farmers in the North Dakota Farmers Union in the year 2017,” said Vileno.
The idea began in 2004. Struggling to stay competitive in a system squeezing out family farmers, they started to search for solutions.
Mark Watne, President of North Dakota Farmers Union, said, “So a group of farmers along with the Farmers Union came together and said, well, why don’t we try to own the whole system.”
The business is now owned by more than 45,000 family farmers, hoping to earn more for their product.
Watne said, “We decided, well, the best place to get right into the retail sector is right in the consumer space, which is a restaurant.”
But turning the idea into a reality required knowing where the restaurant would most likely succeed. Their research led them to Washington, D.C.
“The final tipping point was DC is recession proof. When the times turn down, people go to DC for help, and they still eat out,” said Watne.
The pandemic has put this concept to the test. Despite hardships, the restaurant is still serving customers by finding different ways to bring the farm to the table and the home.
“Our to go business sort of exploded, which I think was a testament to loyalty, right? Our guests still wanted our food and we were still doing our very best to serve it to them,” said Vileno.