When it comes down to restaurants and the food they serve, Jay Porter (no relation) nailed it four years ago with a blog entitled “Why 95% of U.S. Restaurants Suck and How We Learn Not To Notice It.”
Porter, owner of North Park’s Linkery, wrote the missive as the result of frustrations he was experiencing in trying to provision the restaurant outside the normal channels of corporate foodservice distribution. In that article he observed, “… the leading obstacle to flavorful, affordable restaurant food is the success of a cooperative effort between big factory food producers (like, say, Tyson) and big distributors…”
Porter thought that there had to be a better way. With the Linkery’s fifth anniversary at hand, and plans afoot to open a second location, I recently paid him a visit to learn more about what it’s like to run a restaurant “off the grid.” As we talked, a group of business leaders from around the region was touring the restaurant, led by representatives of the North Park Main Street organization and accompanied by City Councilman Todd Gloria.
Over the past years the eatery has evolved from an experiment in neighborhood development started by someone with no hospitality background (a surefire formula for failure, so the wags said), to an enterprise that’s being held up as a role model for successful sustainability.
Business is decent and growing, according to Porter, who proudly points out the props the restaurant has received from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, among others. And based on my own observations from dining there, the food’s pretty good, too.
The restaurant makes over a hundred varieties of sausages that rotate through the menu, cures its own sauerkraut to go with them, and even cures its own bacon and hams. With a menu that changes daily, a locally focused beverage program (Mexican Coca Cola, sweetened with cane sugar, is the only corporate potion available) and an unconventional approach to service (a flat service charge shared by the entire staff), it’s encouraging to see the crowds that pack the place most evenings.