Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

A Farmer And A Chef Walk Into A Bar…

Farmer Dave Fischer and Gregg Rago of Nick's English Hut joined forces almost a decade ago to get locally-raised meats onto customers' plates.

cows grazing in a field in the fall

Photo: Fischer Farms website

The 750-acre farm has been in Dave Fischer's family since 1868. It's home to 900 animals.

Make New Friends

When farmer Dave Fischer decided to sell his beef, pork and chicken directly to area restaurants, he knew he needed to cultivate consistent customers.

The first step was to meet the people in charge. He started in Bloomington.

“Usually I’d drag one of my kids along, and we would go knocking door-to-door at the different restaurants,” he remembers.

One of the doors he knocked on was Nick’s English Hut. Managing Partner/Owner and Chef Gregg “Rags” Rago answered. ”It’s kind of interesting how Dave and I met,” Rags remembers. “Dave came by as a cold call, just walking from restaurant to restaurant wanting to know if I wanted to buy his beef.”

At that point, Nick’s had been purchasing its meat from Faris Market for some 60 years, so they weren’t interested in forging a new business partnership. Then, “Literally overnight several months later, Faris Market went out of business.” Rags connected with Fischer and the rest is history.

“I’m proud to say we’re probably one of their first big customers and we’re very happy with it,” says Rags.

Collaboration

Now, they collaborate on the Nick’s burger, a special blend of meat developed by Fischer and Sander Processing.

Nick’s also offers Fischer steaks and pork loin on its menu. The chili features Fischer beef and pork. Ground turkey from Fischer is in the turkey burgers. All this can total up to 500 pounds of meat per week, depending on the time of year.

“It’s kind of what all of us really want to do when you have an independent, smaller restaurant — even though our restaurant seats 400 people — where you can trust the person who is raising your beef and processing your beef,” says Rags.

Having a close relationship with the farmer also has practical benefits. “For instance, the beef recall they had last week. We don’t have to worry about that,” he says.

Chef Gregg

Photo: Eoban Binder/WFIU

Chef Gregg "Rags" Rago of Nick's English Hut.

The Process Of Processing

The way it works from Fischer’s end is chefs call or text him on Mondays to place their orders. He then sends that information to Sander Processing, which receives the animals and prepares the various ribeyes and sausages. They deliver the orders to the restaurants on Wednesdays. That meat could then make it onto customers’ plates by Friday.

The challenge Fischer faces is selling all parts of the animal.

“I’ve got so much ribeye, so much filet, so much strip steak, so much sirloin each week, and I’ve got to figure out which restaurants those are going to,” which is what makes his relationship with Rags and Nick’s English Hut so special.

“I’ll call him up and say ‘I’m just swimming in sirloin, can you put a sirloin on your menu?’ They’ve been super to do that,” says Fischer.

Premium For Cheap

Week-in and week-out, Nick’s changes its specials based on what extra cuts they can purchase from Fischer. Since Nick’s tries to keep its food under $20-a-plate, the customers might be the ones who benefit the most from this arrangement. (Premium-cut steaks from Fischer usually sell for twice that high-end restaurants in the area.)

One Fischer product you’re absolutely guaranteed to see on Nick’s menu every single day is the burger. Rags speculates that the buttery-flavor is part of why it’s one of their top-selling dishes.

“There’s a great combination of fat and protein together, which gives it a very unique flavor,” he says.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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