August 15, 2017
By Josh Berman, SBN Membership Coordinator
For Irene Li and Mei Mei Restaurant & Street Kitchen, deliveries happen almost daily. There is not one truck that delivers all the restaurant’s ingredients for the week – there is a constant stream of fresh product and logistics.
Mei Mei is and always has been committed to sourcing local ingredients and products whenever and wherever possible. Their sourcing policies are “based on [the business’s] commitment to pasture-based farming and responsible environmental stewardship,” Irene explains, with a special focus towards building and supporting critical local food hubs and “critical regional food infrastructure that in turn, supports multiple small businesses.”
This critical infrastructure helps to simplify an intricate and tangled web of logistics for both producers and wholesale buyers attempting to mix and match seasonal produce in the right quantities and at the right price.
Local food sourced from smaller regional farms can be more expensive than food from industrial scale farms. Often times, this price difference can be attributed to seasonality and quality of product. That higher local price is passed onto the consumer in a way that can eliminate margins for local and independent fast casual restaurants and caterers like Mei Mei.
For a restaurant to maintain its margins, the cost of ingredients in every dish must equal roughly 20-30% of the total price of that dish. So, when you grab those Piggery Farm Rib Tips at $10 per bowl, the cost of all the ingredients in the dish cannot exceed $3. The remaining $7 covers labor, rent, and operating costs like washing your dirty dishes. Hike the price of ingredients by just $1, and the price of the dish rises from $10 to $13.34 to maintain the restaurant’s already thin margin.
Different businesses field different approaches to sourcing local food at a price that won’t deliver customers a nasty case of sticker shock. One local seafood aggregator and wholesale vendor has taken a particularly creative approach to the issue, helping local restaurants serve fresh, local, and nutritious seafood to their consumers at a reasonable price.
Red’s Best works with local restaurants such as Johnny’s Luncheonette to offer dishes that promise a type of fish – say a flaky white fish – with a certain preparation – maybe a fish and chips. This strategy allows restaurants to purchase the freshest available local fish when the supply of that species is high and the cost is low.
On the other side of the equation, when a local restaurant agrees to purchase a type of fish rather than a species, Red’s Best can find a home for lesser known species of flaky white fish that fetch a low market-price due to a mismatch of local supply and demand. Now Red’s Best can help realign supply and demand and deliver lost value back to our local fisherman.
Local fishermen might get haddock one month, but if the local haddock stock drops and our fishermen start bringing plenty of fresh hake to market, restaurants can continue to serve local fish & chips at a fast-casual price point and fisherman can continue to sell the product available to them at a fair market price. Red’s Best knows that “Every fish has value equaling real money for local fishermen.”
At the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusett’s ALLocal Dinner event hosted by Mei Mei Restaurant this past April, Chef Irene Li and her team served fresh local Scup sourced from Red’s Best.
Jared Auerbach, CEO & Founder of Red’s Best, spoke to the seasonality of the ocean, passionately advocating that if only we would choose to consume what mother nature provides at that moment we could continue to eat fresh, local, and nourishing food – all while supporting the hard-working men and women who go out every day to harvest.
Both Mei Mei and Red’s Best are proud members of the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts, aligned with our vision of building a local, green, and fair economy here in Massachusetts and a local, green, and fair regional food system. Mei Mei is also a certified Sustainable Business Leader.
Stay tuned this August for more #eatlocalmonth highlights, articles, events, and promotions!