The Ripple Effect: Increased cash flow to restaurants, farms and agencies is the aim of ReGrow SC

A date-night destination has become a new hub for meal distribution, creating unexpected cash flow for strapped restaurants and area farmers.

The Anchorage was approached by an anonymous donor with a gift of $50,000 to aid Greenville restaurants while COVID-19 was shuttering dining rooms last spring. Beth and Greg McPhee prepped their commercial kitchen to churn out ready-to-eat lunches for agencies that serve the food insecure and quickly realized it was a task for more than a single restaurant. A second matching amount soon came their way.

“It happened really fast,” says Beth McPhee. “They were looking for someone to prep hundreds of meals per week with an emphasis on using local produce, and we thought, ‘We can do that and so much more.’”

Food prep at Woodside Bistro. Photo provided

Twenty-two weeks later, ReGrow South Carolina is completing the final steps of becoming a registered 501(c)(3), launching a website and a fundraising arm. But of more import, 13 restaurants and 20 farms have enrolled to provide meals to a half-dozen agencies at $15 per meal. Each restaurant has made a commitment to deliver 100-300 meals per week to specified agencies and agrees to purchase ingredients from area farms or bakers.

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The $15 per meal price is something that Greg McPhee calculated to the dime. Running an independent restaurant like The Anchorage means more than being a skilled chef; it also equates to an acuity for inventory management and real labor cost. He knew that adding up to $4,500 weekly in guaranteed cash flow to an independent restaurant’s balance sheet could be the difference between keeping an employee on payroll or making rent. It also adds a hefty recurring order for a local farmer.

“With $15, you can buy local ingredients, get the containers and still make a profit. It was a way to guarantee that the restaurants could pay their staff, too,” says Beth McPhee. “We want to make sure it is a full-circle program. Restaurants support the farming community to create something delicious and healthy that’s representative of what they do. These are not a typical free meal.”

The project grew exponentially when Beth McPhee applied to Greenville County for a grant from the CARES Act. ReGrow received the green light for $500,000 in funding to spend and invoice by Dec. 31. It has been no small task. And, as a one-woman show, she worries that ReGrow won’t be able to exhaust the amount of funds available in the short term.

The program quickly ramped up from four restaurants — The Anchorage, Ji-Roz, GB&D and Automatic Taco — to 13, and the restaurants came with their own relationships with area farmers and co-ops. Naked Pasta says the program gave them the opportunity to tap into Swamp Rabbit Food Hub in a bigger way.

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Photo by John Olson

“Swamp Rabbit Food Hub is a key source of goods for us, but our orders with them have tripled since we started working with ReGrow,” says Brett Barest of Naked Pasta. “It’s fun to place that order, and we’re happy to call ‘all hands on deck’ and stay to 9 or 10 p.m. to make these meals happen.”

Naked Pasta was paired up with Greenville County Schools, specifically Grove Elementary, whose students are heavily free- and reduced-lunch families. A total of 390 of their students are receiving meals from ReGrow to take home over the weekend, and Naked Pasta is supplying about half of them.

Thirty-two ounces of broccoli and cheddar soup in large single containers went home last week, followed by stuffed peppers and beef and rice casserole this past week. The bell peppers came from JBo Ranch in Honea Path, rice was sourced from Carolina Planation Rice, and all-natural Angus beef came from Trail Place Farms in Roebuck.

Chris Barest, principal of Naked Pasta, says that joining the efforts of ReGrow SC was a simple decision. “It’s always about making enough money, but also it’s about sending food to people who need it,” she says. “It’s impacting me in a way that we are able to give to the community in a broader spectrum than we normally could; people who wouldn’t typically buy our products will get to have something really good to eat.”

What ReGrow needs right now is greater restaurant participation and more agencies to distribute meals to their communities. To learn more about becoming a participating partner, email [email protected]

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Photo provided

The Muscle Behind ReGrowSC

It takes committed restaurant teams to churn out hundreds of lunches each week, but it’s a task this supply chain has embraced.

The restaurants:

The Anchorage

Naked Pasta

Automatic Taco

GB&D

Ji-Roz

Woodside Bistro

Asada

Fork and Plough

Oak Hill Café

Upcountry Provisions

Topsoil

Kuka Juice

LaRue Fine Chocolate

The farmers and suppliers:

Swamp Rabbit Food Hub

Greenbrier Farms

Horseshoe Farm

Bio-Way Farm

High Valley Farm

Trail Place Farms

Blue Ridge Creamery

Bake Room

Reedy River Farms

Sandy Flat Berry Patch

Bethel Trails

Southern Berkshire Farm

Upcountry Provisions

Stage 22

Growing Green Family Farms

Oak Hill Farm

DarkSpore Mushroom Company

Providence Farms

Johnson Family Farm

Anson Mills

Abundant Seafood

Split Creek Farm

The Bradford Watermelon Company

The agencies:

Loaves and Fishes

Project Host

Poe Mill Achievement Center

Select Schools of Greenville County Schools

Upstate Food Not Bombs