The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 27, 2013

Local food could be next wave of Ashtabula County tourism

Meeting of growers and restaurants will take place Monday

Star Beacon

— Two diverse groups will meet Monday to discuss what could prove to be the next wave of tourism in Ashtabula County.

Several area restaurants will begin working with more than 20 local growers to create ways to bring locally grown foods to county restaurants. The concept will create a locavore trail and could introduce a whole new group of tourists to the county, said Mark Winchell, executive director of the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“What we are trying to do is identify opportunities to bring in food locally,” he said.

Locavore is defined as a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market, according to Wikipedia. The locavore trail will feature several restaurants in the county that serve locally grown foods, Winchell said.

Most area restaurants purchase their produce and meat from wholesale distributors, he said, but the idea is to open the lines of communication and create a way for the restaurants to purchase their produce and meats locally.

For example, a local farmer may have no market to plant 600 pounds of potatoes, but if a restaurant says it is willing to purchase the potatoes, the farmer now has a market for them, Winchell said.

“We wanted to make the meeting early in the season so growers will know what the chefs are looking for,” he said.

Winchell said Ashtabula County has a good tourism base with its wineries and covered bridges, but there is not enough culinary tourism. The creation of the locavore trail will create a whole new group of tourists for the county: those traveling with their stomachs.

“When people come here, I want them to eat local,” he said. “People are looking for authenticity.”

Winchell said a cow that is raised eating grass in northeast Ohio, for example, will taste differently than one raised eating grain in Iowa.

“The more authentic we get, we start to create a palate of tourists who are coming here specifically for the food,” he said. “We are looking at this as a way to bring a whole different group of tourists to the county.”

Winchell said six local restaurants have already committed to bringing in locally grown food.

“Right now we are focusing on six chefs and 22 growers,” he said.

The six restaurants involved include Cross-winds Grille in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Briquettes Smokehouse in Ashtabula, Bascule Bridge Grille in Ashtabula, Louisa’s Mexican Grill in Geneva, Biscotti’s Italian Restaurant in Conneaut and River’s Edge Diner in Ashtabula, Winchell said.

Once the locavore trail is established, Winchell said his office will be responsible for the marketing and promotion end of it. Each of the participating restaurants will have some sort of signage to identify them as being part of the trail, he said.

Winchell said they are also looking for partnerships in distribution and transportation.

“If we can find local ways to move the product to other areas of the county, it will drive the local economy,” he said. “We are really looking to expand this idea.”

The meeting of growers and restaurants will take place Monday at Grand River Academy’s Morrison Hall from 3 to 5 p.m. Winchell said any local grower or restaurant is welcome to attend.

“The more we get involved the better,” he said. “There is an open invitation.”

Winchell said a lot of people are talking about local food and he sees this as a great opportunity for the county. Ideally, the restaurants will be serving food that is grown, distributed and transported locally which will attract more people to the county. Keeping everything local will be highly profitable to the county, he said.

 “Local food will be the next growth sector for tourism in Ashtabula County,” Winchell said. “I am adamant about that.”