Franchising Local Food

A diner in Vermont serves food originating within a 50-mile radius, and becomes the darling of "eat local" types. But, in a classic reinventing-the-wheel moment, the owner figures out the only way to make his enterprise sustainable is...to franchise!

Environmental doomsayer (and no friend of reason) Bill McKibben reports:

Still, says [founder Tod] Murphy, the diner remains too small to really make economic sense. What it needs are siblings: two or three more scattered around the state that he can serve from a central commissary kitchen in Quechee. The machine could be making French fries for all of the outlets, and the ad budget could be spread across three rooms full of munching patrons.

And, more to the point, the money that investors have put up to build these diners might come back with some profit attached. Plenty of communities across the state might welcome the idea: a Farmers Diner in Middlebury, in St. Johnsbury, in Bennington.

But of course this is the line of thinking that led to McDonald's. Once upon a time, it was a single restaurant, too, with a small machine to cut French fries. But the more restaurants the company opened, the higher the returns, so it just kept growing. Now the chain's manufacturing plants peel, slice, and freeze two million pounds of spuds a day. If you follow the logic of economies of scale, that's where you end up -- as far from local food as it's possible to be.

For more on local eating vs. McDonald's, go here.

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  • ||

    Not gonna happen in Middlebury. We already have Eat Good Food. And the Co-op. And a bunch of other hippie eateries.

  • wsdave||

    "What it needs are siblings: two or three more scattered around the state that he can serve from a central commissary kitchen in Quechee."

    Sure, so long as they are within 50 miles of the food source; otherwise you're just another fast food joint.

  • ||

    How is opening three of six stores in the same general area, each of which sells the same local food, supposed to be at odds with the idea of eating local?

    I don't see the "A-HA!" angle here.

  • fyodor||

    Guess it all depends on how far the franshises get from the original food source. And for the 50 mile claim to hold up, you should count the miles driven to the commissary kitchen AND THEN to the franchises. (Assuming the point is to conserve petrol?)

  • ||

    Eat local (or loco?). Eat at home !! This is too easy.

  • ||

    The machine could be making French fries for all of the outlets, and the ad budget could be spread across three rooms full of munching patrons.



    But that's not "local" food, unless ALL the outlets are within fifty miles of the sources for the ingredients. Locality to the central processing facility doesn't count.

  • dhex||

    i don't think it's an a ha so much as a lolz back to basics moment. not really all that lulz worthy for me but this whole organo-mechanical industrial food defense complex thing is not my bag.

    the last mckibben paragraph does have shades of OH NOES to it but so does 98% of everything and everyone in the aforementioned OMIFDC thing.

  • ||

    joe:

    It is a slippery slope argument, methinks.

  • wsdave||

    Bill McKibben says that we should stop our forward progress in bio and nano because (from the 2003 edition):

    "In widespread use, they will first rob parents of their liberty, and then strip freedom from every generation that follows. In the end, they will destroy forever the possibility of meaningful choice."

    He then goes on to say that tech will rob life of meaning.

    I don't buy the meaning bit, but I DO agree that they will destroy meaningful choice. Once we have the abilty to manipulate every aspect of our lives and bodies, what's to stop those with guns and money from controling those choices. They do it today, why not in the future?

    Isn't this what Hitler (everybody drink!) had in mind: A master race? Won't our own government decide that all children need to be X amount gentically healthy, then tall, then lean, then smart, then vice-free, then...

    And we'll all go along, just as we go along now.

    Someone PLEASE tell me that my children won't have to grow up in this America.

  • ||

    "What it needs are siblings: two or three more scattered around the state that he can serve from a central commissary kitchen in Quechee."

    Yeah, who ever heard of a diner being financially successful? Nobody. That's who. And all those diners that do turn a profit are all lies and liars who run them. Nobody turns a profit without multiple franchises, 3-in-1 oil, gauze pads and anti-freeze.

    Oh, BTW, trying to franchise the eat local movement is just silly on its face.

  • ||

    They should like totally put one of these places in Los Angeles so the poor people will have someplace nice to eat.

  • ||

    I think that the "a-ha" angle is supposed to be the revelation that a "local-food" activist is as liable as Ray Kroc to be tempted by potential economic benefits.

    Naturally, the activist thinks he can succumb to these temptations without surrendering his counter-cultural cred. So, hooray to Reason for calling him on it. Why Reason thinks his concupiscence invalidates the advocacy of the preferential consumption of local food is unclear, but it is consistent with its normal sneering tone toward any concern not directed at the bottom line of a spreadsheet.

  • ||

    dhex,

    OT: To answer your question from the Urkobold thread, "furniture disease" is where your chest is in your drawers.

    And that chick had a bad case of it.

  • ||

    Citizens of Earth:

    Murphy needs a central fruit-irradiating location, from which his irradiated fruit can be shipped all over the state of Vermont.

    Soon, I will not have to defend Vermont from the vile Hooded Binturong, because legions of home-grown superheroes (with flawless colons!) will rise up from Murphy's diners to combat his evil, and I can devote my efforts to protecting the other 49 states!

  • ||

    Brandybuck, fyodor,

    He's talking about both the central production facility and the new restaurants all being within 50 miles of each other.

    This is an interesting point you make, fy:

    And for the 50 mile claim to hold up, you should count the miles driven to the commissary kitchen AND THEN to the franchises. (Assuming the point is to conserve petrol?)

    Economies of scale aren't just applicable to economic efficiency, but to environmental efficiency as well. Three diners getting their local products processed all at once could well end up being less carbon-intensive than repeating the process three different times. The two extra trips, especially if they are short, could end using less engery than is saved through efficiency.

  • Jennifer||

    Jeff and I ate at that diner when we vacationed in Vermont last year. If they can't make a profit with the prices they're charging, they're doing something wrong.

    And organic bread is too damned chewy. I think they bake it with native Vermont sponges.

  • ||

    Brian White,

    What makes you think that this guy who started a business, or any other local foodie, is supposed to be disinterested in economic benefits?

  • fyodor||

    Three diners getting their local products processed all at once could well end up being less carbon-intensive than repeating the process three different times.

    True enough, joe, but the thing is you can say that about a whole LOT of things that aren't taken into account by this one-size-fits-all "eat local" trend. Thus the scorn aimed at it by Reason types.

    Correctly applied carbon emmissions taxes (balanced by reductions in other taxes!) would, in theory, solve the problem of having to guess at what is or isn't environmentally efficient. Getting politicians and bureaucrats to correctly apply these taxes is the scary part.

  • M||

    Are take-outs restricted?

  • ||

    Joe, I don't think that resturant managers aren't interested in economic benefits - especially to themselves. I'd have been surprised if he wasn't thinking about franchising - after all, who owns Ben and Jerry's nowadays?

    Those who advocate the support of local farmers and the development of local economies don't subscribe as slavisly to a bottom-line cheaper-is-better mentality as Reason does. That Reason would see this chance to expose the owner of a Vermont resturant as a closet franchiser as giving them an opportunity to sneer at Wendell Berry and other local food advocates is only typical.

  • ||

    Anyone who keeps a garden knows that garden-fresh produce is much better than store-bought AND that keeping a garden is expensive, in both money and effort. Most folks also realize that their well-being is closely tied to the well-being of their neighbors.

    I prefer a better standard of living for area farmers and more local agricultural activity in my neighborhood than the lowest possible price on some sad-tasting, flown from Chile, lettuce.

    Local Food Advocates and Reason are competing for public support as to which Good is more important. No surprise which one Reason picks, or that they take such a dismissive tone with those "free minds" who disagree with them.

  • ||

    Just wait until he patents this the business process of "serve only local at diner". Nothing like IP laws and slick lawyers to prevent a good thing from getting around.

  • ||

    fyodor,

    What "one size fits all local eating trend?"

    How can there be a one-size-fits all trend built around the idea that there should be many different ways to do things, based on local conditions, instead of one generic, nationwide system?

    Brian White,

    I agree. Gleefully pointing out examples of "dirty hippies" not living by the standards that libertarians tell themselves dirty hippies are supposed to live by seems to be a favorite pass-time around here.

    Did you know that Al Gore, who says that we can reduce carbon emissions while still living a prosperous lifestyle, lives a prosperous lifestyle? Why, he doesn't even live in an unlit hut, as he is supposed to, if he were to live by a set of standards that he's never actually advocated. What a hypocrite!

  • robc||

    Adding on to what Brian White said about gardens, I am a homebrewer. My beer is MUCH cheaper (and better, in many cases) than what I can buy in the store, as long as I only count ingredient/equipment costs. As soon as I add in my time, it is way more expensive. Fortunately, I enjoy doing it, so I dont care.

  • robc||

    Shouldnt they refuse to serve customers who come from more than 50 miles away too?

  • ||

    "How can there be a one-size-fits all trend built around the idea that there should be many different ways to do things, based on local conditions, instead of one generic, nationwide system?"

    If the trend implies that scale should be limited, it has a one size fits allness in the dimension of scale.

  • ||

    Hmm. I guess I can see that, JasonL.

    What we seem to have learned today is that the eat local movement does not imply such a trend.

  • ||

    There's an English Muffin in the picture! England is more than fifty miles from Vermont!

    That guy is a liar and a cheat. Boycott!

  • edna||

    what's to stop those with guns and money from controling those choices.

    if the libertarians have their way, everyone will have guns and money.

    sounds good to me.

  • ||

    "What we seem to have learned today is that the eat local movement does not imply such a trend."

    Eh, I thought we learned that some members of the eat local trend are comfortable with some level of scaling while others feel like that franchising in any form leads to yet more scaling which is an anathema to eating locally.

  • ||

    Sorry, Joe, I have seen absolutely no evidence that Al Gore has actually reduced carbon emissions while still living a prosperous lifestyle.

    This is not to say that it is not possible, but nothing Big Al has done demonstrates such a thing.

  • fyodor||

    What "one size fits all local eating trend?"

    I'm referring to the "eat locally" trend, as I made perfectly clear the first time.

    How can there be a one-size-fits all trend built around the idea that there should be many different ways to do things, based on local conditions, instead of one generic, nationwide system?

    The "eat locally" notion is at odds with what you just wrote above. It says that there is one way to do things -- eat locally -- whatever the local conditions. Right?

  • ||

    Let's make this very simpl, fyodor.

    "You should wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather where you are" is not a one-size-fits-all prescription. It is the opposite.

    Ditto with eating locally.

  • fyodor||

    Apologies, I see that JasonL already made the point I made in my last post, in defense of what I said previously. Thanks, JasonL.

    As for joe's response, oh jeez. Look, either this restaurant chain is sticking to its owner's stated principle of not transporting its food purchases more than 50 miles or not. If they are, I agree that their franchising (thus far, anyway) is irrelevant (which I thought I made clear, if implicitly, in my very first post of this thread), but it's still essentially "one way" of doing it. If, OTOH, they're going over that 50 miles but justifying it on the grounds similar to what you, joe, brought up, that there may be other environmental efficiences gained in the process, well that just proves the larger point that "eat locally" is not in all cases the most environmentally efficient way to do things, thus debunking the very idea that an "eat locally" restaurant is necessarily or inherently more environmentally friendly than one that is not.

  • fyodor||

    "You should wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather where you are" is not a one-size-fits-all prescription. It is the opposite.

    Ditto with eating locally.


    Now, joe, you're just being silly. The equivalent to your analogy is that they could serve locally grown peas or locally grown green beans. Well DUH. I obviously didn't mean that they could only serve one specific menu if they only bought locally.

  • ||

    Re your homebrewing, robc - obviously production is cheaper if you don't have to pay the help, or support yourself from doing it.

    This, of course, argues for producing things (like tomatoes) using poor people in poor countries (like Chile) and selling them to richer people (like us) in richer countries (like the US). Figuring that out doesn't take an advanced economics degree!

    But eat local folks argue for non-economic benefits, one of which is better, fresher, and tastier food, another is more integrated communities.

    One can agree with them or not, but this article is just another sneer meant to elicit ridicule.

  • ||

    As a libertarian, I say more power to this guy, just as long as he's not trying to impose regulations or taxes on me.

  • ||

    The Eat Locally people are like the Free Software people. Some are sensible, some are fanatics. Both groups have a central dogma that I don't buy into, and I roll my eyes at a lot of what folks in either group say, but I don't see any reason for hostility as long as they're not lobbying for laws.

    I'm happy to buy a (very!) good meal at a place like Farm 255 in Athens, GA, and I'm happy to use some GPL software. However, I'm not going to start a frenzied effort to eat only local food, just as I'm not going to swear off every bit of proprietary/commercial software - Hell, I'm not even going to spend any effort to vaguely move in either direction. In the end, I (and most folks) will use what they like and what they can afford.

    Contra Brian White, there's no Great Struggle to decide what "good" people support - everyone decides their own wants. Despite the more smug rants of some local-eaters, the world isn't filled with dumb sheeple who like the taste of cardboard. Everyone likes food that tastes good - the issue is how much time and trouble any given person is willing to spend for how much taste. (And in the case of local-eating, whether someone feels the need to forego the good taste of some food that's locally out of season because-it-would-be-Wrong.)

    The ultimate question is whether a business run by some set of principles, like this diner or Farm 255, can satisfy the wants of enough people at a price they'll be willing to pay while still maintaining those principles. I'm sure some will figure out how, while others will fail, and others will compromise those principles to succeed.

  • fyodor||

    Eric the .5b, will you cut this reasonable shit out!! Where the hell do you think you are?? Oh...well, um, nevermind.....

  • ||

    There are three local places within five miles of me. There are also four chain fast food restraunt. Who the hell says the two can't exist? I know I give both types patronage depending on what I feel like.

  • ||

    Whaddya mean, nobody likes food that tastes like cardboard? How do you explain Pringles potato chips?

    As for "dumb sheeple", Reason is full of articles criticizing them - animal control officers taking away pet deer, for example, or presidential candidates advocating the removal of contrary advocates from the country, or people supporting these and other actions in the name of supporting some underlying 'good' or other. What are you reading here?

  • ||

    What are you reading here?


    A lot of vacuity and posturing from you and some others.

  • Brian White||

    Wow, I've been put in my place - I'll just sit down with the rest of the Sheeple - that you claim don't exist - now.

    Enjoy your Pringles - maybe you can wash 'em down with some Tang!

  • ||

    Wow, I've been put in my place - I'll just sit down with the rest of the Sheeple - that you claim don't exist - now.

    Enjoy your Pringles - maybe you can wash 'em down with some Tang!


    Manic, much?

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