Chefs all over Charlotte are gearing up for the 10-day run of Queen's Feast, which begins this Friday. As much as area restaurants look forward to the increased traffic through their dining rooms, they aren't the only businesses boosted by this biannual event. All that food has to come from somewhere, and for many local suppliers, that takes a little extra planning.
In Fort Mill, chef Luca Annunziata expects to see an overall bump in business of 10 to 15 percent at his Passion8 Bistro. Preparing for his eighth Restaurant Week onslaught, he'll see the average number of Saturday evening guests jump from a typical 50 diners to 150.
Getting ready to feed such crowds with locally sourced food takes a bit more groundwork than checking a few extra boxes on an order form. "We talk to the farmers and I plan this probably one month before," Annunziata says. He lists Rowland's Row Family Farm, Charlotte Fish Company and Tega Hills Farms as purveyors he's contacted to be sure they'll have sufficient product for the anticipated increase in sales.
"He was very proactive," says Dani Goldfischer of Rowland's Row Family Farm in Cabarrus County. "He came to us … and said 'What do you have to work with?'" She and husband Joe Rowland raise 1,500 chickens a year, processing them every week. The birds are brought to market fresh, but "we don't usually sell all of them, [so] we freeze some" for the less-productive winter months. When Annunziata increases his request, the farmers simply put fewer in the freezer. Luckily it's a minor change, since they place their order in January for a year's worth of hatchlings.
For other farmers, there's even less adjustment needed, especially in July. Brent Barbee of Barbee Farms in Concord sells to about 15 restaurants in the Charlotte area. "It's not really noticeable on my end because the summertime … is our peak season. We're turning a ton of product anyway." His 60 acres are in maximum production mode, cranking out peaches, tomatoes, sweet corn and a half-dozen varieties of melons. "My truck will be fuller the next two weeks" for his regular Tuesday and Thursday deliveries.
On the other hand, some suppliers have to plan just as much as the restaurants they serve. Nova's Bakery on Central Avenue has had its bread on tables since the first Queen's Feast in 2008, but it's really the past three years that the effects are noticeable. This year orders have doubled, and with at least 25 regular customers participating, owner Sladjana Novakovics has to be on top of any changes. "When the list [of participating restaurants] comes out, we get in touch with them." She's been preparing for at least two weeks. "My suppliers only deliver once a week," says Novakovics, so she had order early.
Both Novakovics and Goldfischer mentioned they also enjoy dining out during Restaurant Week. On both ends of the food supply chain, it's a great opportunity for these local businesses to support each other.
Charlotte Restaurant Week, in which diners can get a three-course meal for $30 at a number of restaurants across town, happens July 18-27. Reservations are recommended.