Eater DC: Garrison Owners on One Year of Local Produce, Speedy Restaurant Reviews

From Eater DC by Lani Furbank:

“Since opening, Garrison has been lauded for its well-executed, seasonally-focused menu and its star treatment of vegetables. Looking back, first-time restaurant owners chef Rob Weland and his wife Amy Garrett are pleasantly surprised by the veg-centric reputation. It turns out it wasn’t all that intentional.

What was intentional is the strong relationships with farmers, the welcoming neighborhood feel, and the couple’s personal devotion to the restaurant. Eater spoke to chef and owner Rob Weland, co-owner Amy Garrett, and general manager Sam Vause about how these hallmarks remained front and center during their first restaurant’s first year of business. The Poste and Cork veteran also divulges his plans for the future as he enters his second year as a restaurateur.

As a chef who has worked in many respected kitchens, how was this solo venture different for you?

Rob Weland: It’s ours. Simple as that. Everything we’re doing, we’re putting our name on it. Every single day we open the doors, it’s our reputation. So it’s a little different.

What’s been challenging about it? What have you learned?

RW: Challenging? I think everything’s challenging about owning a restaurant. Day to day, there’s a new set of challenges. You have to be up for it. And I think you have to find the solution and not be panicked by it, and certainly just roll with the punches. And I think that’s the biggest lesson to be learned.

Amy Garrett: I would say from where I sit, because of my role in this project, is that you’re not just running a restaurant, you’re running a business. So you’re running a restaurant day to day… but you’re also, you know, you have to make sure that all the other corporate-type stuff is done. In a bigger restaurant group, somebody else would be doing all of that.

Local and seasonal sourcing has always been a part of your philosophy and is the philosophy here.How do you feel that Garrison expresses this differently than other restaurants?

RW: I think most chefs these days are concerned about sourcing just as much as I am…We have a couple of community garden plots down the road, we’re growing some heirloom tomatoes. We’ve had these relationships over the years with farmers and goat cheese producers and such, that we’ve just nurtured that, and we’ve become really close friends. I think that’s kind of what it’s all about, is keeping those relationships alive.

AG: Not only does that allow us to source a little bit from our own immediate area, but it also ties us to our neighborhood, because not only are we a restaurant for Washington, D.C., but we very much feel tied to this neighborhood. So it’s kind of fun to go down to the community garden. We all take turns watering, and we get to meet people who live here and see our stuff growing…And we also support Mike Protas, who supports us. That’s the guy from One Acre Farm. He has a CSA and only delivers to the Hill, so again, we’re sort of looped in with his CSA members. They came here for a private CSA dinner a few weeks ago, and we cooked all of his stuff.

RW: Mike’s been a great addition to the philosophy of Garrison…It’s fun when he comes to the back door on Thursday evenings with his truck full of whatever, and that’s the fun part of it, trying to figure out what to do the next day with the stuff.

Your relationship with One Acre Farm was at the forefront from the beginning. How has that relationship evolved since opening?

RW: Basically right after Christmas, we start talking about what we want to bring in, what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. We have a lot of failures; we have a lot of successes…We’re hopefully getting his CSA members more excited about what we’re doing, and his CSA members can also see what we’re doing in the restaurant, so hopefully it’s working hand in hand. It’s a good relationship, so hopefully that will grow and the product list will grow and we’ll minimize the failures and plant some crops that are more successful and more attractive to CSA members and the restaurant guests.

AG: One big difference now is that he’s built this hoop house up, so we’re able to source from him all year, which is awesome.

The focus on produce comes across really clearly on your menu. Why did you choose to put such an emphasis on produce and how has it been received by diners?

AG: Was that a conscious choice?

RW: Probably not. I mean, I love vegetables. I think most chefs love vegetables.

AG: People think it was a conscious choice we made as like a business decision or something, but I don’t think it was…

Sam Vause: Every dish is strong. I think you roll into a lot of restaurants, maybe not so much in these past couple years, but where vegetables are just sort of a dish or an afterthought. [Rob] puts a lot of care and thought into the way that he’s delicately handling vegetables, and so they tend to shine a little bit, and I think people who don’t eat meat… can come into this restaurant and have a nice experience.”

Read the rest of the interview on Eater DC’s website HERE!

Featured photo by Rey Lopez.