Chef of Tender Greens and The Farmer of Scarborough Farms
3.18.14

We acknowledge it: some of the healthy foods we eat here in our offices are a little weird. Not all of our friends can hang with our clay and bee pollen smoothie-chugging ways. But when it comes to heading out to healthy spots like Tender Greens, with their simple, slow-food, fresh-from-the-farm offerings, we don’t know a soul who’d object.

Tender Greens is serving up slow-food fast. Their founding team of successful chefs are deeply committed to making the kind of food they want to eat: easy, fresh and delicious. With items like grilled steak salads, killer lemon bars and an octopus salad (for under $11!) on the menu, it’s no wonder that lines at this growing chain usually snake out the door.

We get a food nerd-sized thrill out of seeing this remarkable farm-to-fork chain grow and we wanted to hear from two of the men responsible for Tender Greens’ formation and growth. Earlier this month, CEO and co-founder, Erik Oberholtzer and Scarborough Farms’ Jeff Stein met us at the farmers market just beyond Tender Greens’ front steps to talk a little shop and tell us how they met. Jeff’s family-owned Scarborough Farms provides almost every veggie you munch on as you eat at one of Tender Greens’ soon-to-be eighteen locations. We asked Jeff and Erik to tell us how all this deliciousness began and where they believe these farm-to-table trends are taking us. Here they are, the farmer and the chef…

The Chalkboard Mag: How did you two meet? 

Erik Oberholtzer: We met when I was the Executive Chef at Shutters on the Beach, a luxury hotel in Santa Monica, where we were buying produce directly from Scarborough Farms.

TCM: How did you know you wanted to join forces and work together? 

ERIk: Scarborough Farms delivered consistently high-quality greens without seasonal disruption and they were easy to work with. When we were creating Tender Greens, no one else in the restaurant industry had partnered with a local farm like this before.

JEFF: Erik’s curiosity about different crops, how we grow and interest in our process is infectious and engaging. We share common goals.

TCM: Erik, what are your thoughts on Tender Greens and what it means for the market?

JEFF: I’ve often said that as chefs, Erik and his partners Matt and David have presented the products that Scarborough Farms grows in ways that as farmers, we never imagined. Tender Greens has changed the market by offering opportunities to their growers, and more importantly, to the customers they serve. Their success is a byproduct of the passion they bring to the marketplace.

TCM: Jeff, why did Tender Greens choose to partner with Scarborough Farms specifically?  

Erik: We chose Scarborough because we like that it’s family owned. They’re also great people who grow a great product. Jeff and Ann have built a great reputation in the organic farming world and are big enough to supply our growth ambitions, true partners in Tender Greens. We have never regretted our decision.

TCM: What would you say your shared values are? 

Erik: We believe in quality, product innovation, food education, health and wellness, flavor and texture, transparency, partnership. Shared risk along with shared success.

Jeff: We both believe in the highest quality in all forms: product, service, flavor and health. Innovation is our next shared endeavor – the ability to recognize the potential and the willingness to be a partner and make it all possible.

TCM: Do you both love to cook?  

Erik: I love to cook. I’m a chef! Jeff and I have not cooked together. Jeff’s mom, Ann, is a great cook though.

Jeff: I do enjoy being in the kitchen. I make a better guinea pig than artist.

TCM: Favorite ingredient from the farm?

Erik: At the moment, I eat the baby kale. Although Scarborough Farms is famous for their frisée.

Jeff: French iceplant and little gem baby lettuce heads.

TCM: Favorite thing on the menu at Tender Greens?

Erik: I love the flavor and texture of the Chipotle Barbecue Chicken Salad.

Jeff: I have two favorites: the Backyard Steak Salad also served as a sandwich, and the Chinese Chicken Salad.

TCM: What have been your favorite experiences from being on the farm together? 

Erik: My business partner, Matt, and I got to ride the harvester on its maiden journey one day. We felt like little kids.

Jeff: Erik brings out his students from the Tender Greens Sustainable Life Project. Sharing what we do with them, teaching them about sustainable, organic farming and seeing their wonderment and smiles has re-energized me at times when I’ve needed it.

TCM: What are your thoughts on the farm-to-table trend generally? 

Erik: For us, farm-to-table is nothing new. We are glad more people are participating and eating better quality food. It will continue to gain popularity.

Jeff: Seeing someone enjoy a tomato without salt, or a strawberry without sugar for the first time is truly rewarding.

TCM: Who else do you appreciate who is doing great stuff in this space?

Erik: I respect Whole Foods and Chipotle on the national level. I love that other chefs are bringing farm-to-fork to quick casual now.

Jeff: There are many amazing chefs that have similar values. Erik and Tender Greens have done a great job of making it a priority.

TCM: Where do you see the farm-to-table trend going in the next 5 years?

Erik: It will become more mainstream much like certified organic did last decade.

Jeff: It will continue to grow. People are just beginning to realize what they’ve been missing.

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