Englishman Bill Griffiths is passionate for locally grown foods.
It’s apparent from the name of his restaurant, Farmers Gastropub – a reference to the Springfield-area farmers he buys from directly and the British gastropub concept – and it becomes clearer as he speaks about the growing trend.
“Our philosophy is to spend as much of our dollars as close to Springfield as we can,” the 61-year-old Griffiths says. “Local food is our take on the gastropub concept.”
On this hot sunny day, Griffiths arrives at the pub around 7:15 a.m. to begin prepping for lunch at 11. He mixes the batter for the restaurant’s sticky toffee pudding, while greeting employees and his head chef, James Stegall.
Griffiths is more at home at his new 2620 S. Glenstone Ave. space on the north end of the Brentwood Center, where he relocated the restaurant on New Year’s Eve after four years operating downtown in the Wilhoit Plaza.
The new location, he says, has a kitchen three times the size and more authentically recreates his goal of the British-style pub, with lower ceilings and a cozy atmosphere.
“When we first thought of doing a restaurant, this is the location I really wanted,” Griffiths says. “My moments of peace and tranquility are when I get into the kitchen.”
While mixing pudding, Griffiths points to a crate of tomatoes purchased from Ozark Mountain Farms LLC in Reeds Spring, just the beginning of a day full of local food nods. Griffiths’ walk-in cooler is stocked with asparagus and hydroponic lettuce, along with beef purchased from Black Gate Farms in Vanzant, near Cabool.
A chef by passion and engineer by training, Griffiths dreamt for 30 years of opening a restaurant, including during his time as an executive for Hylomar Ltd. in the United Kingdom. After selling his interest in the automotive adhesive manufacturer and a short stint serving the British Consulate in Chicago, his dream came to fruition in October 2009 after moving to the area with his wife, Farmers Gastropub co-owner and Springfield native Christina Fugitt-Griffiths.
After a quick update to Farmers Gastropub’s Facebook page – “Taco Tuesday is here again” – Griffiths hops in his Eurovan, a Ford Transit Connect, and heads to the nearby Greater Springfield Farmers Market in the Battlefield Mall parking lot a little after 9 a.m.
“You have any cabbage?” he asks one vendor, but it’s a no-go on that and cherry tomatoes. He’ll later buy the two before lunch at Harter House, enough to tide the restaurant over until he can attend the Farmers Market of the Ozarks in southeast Springfield on Saturday.
“There’s a synergy between the farmer, the farmers market and the customer,” Griffiths says of the outdoor markets, noting a growing resistance toward eating food from unknown origins. “There’s an invisible wall between customers and the animal they’re actually eating.”
He returns to the restaurant to finish lunch preparation, hits the bank and grocery store before heading out to Mountain Springs Trout Park in Highlandville. He arrives about 1 p.m. at the trout farm that exudes Ozarks living with its cabin-style office and man-made pond, which manager Johnny Edgmon says holds 10,000 pounds of rainbow trout for customers to catch.
Edgmon already has Griffiths’ order ready, more than the restaurant owner is expecting. “How big a bloody fish did you catch?” Griffiths asks.
The answer: about 18 pounds worth.
After 15 minutes at the park, Griffiths is on the road again and headed for KSMU on the Missouri State University campus. A donor for public radio and TV, Griffiths records a radio spot for the station’s 40th anniversary.
Back in the restaurant an hour later, Griffiths greets customers and cures the fish, prepping for Mother’s Day that coming weekend, but he’s soon back on the road and headed for Terrell Creek Farm in Fordland.
About 40 minutes and a winding, rough and downhill gravel road later, he arrives at the farm. Goats vastly outnumber humans on the property – owned by Leslie and Barry Milton – where Griffiths buys a large bag of goat cheese.
“The best place to do business is on their kitchen table,” Griffiths says of working with farmers.
He says convincing growers and producers to sell wholesale to Farmers Gastropub wasn’t a process crafted in a day.
“If you’re a squeaky wheel for long enough, people want to put some oil on it,” Griffiths says.
Back at the restaurant, Griffiths prepares the staff for dinner, going over the day’s specials and readies for the happy hour crowd. He leaves around 8 p.m., checks the status of his restaurant before bed and prepares for another long day with local foods. The restaurant typically closes around 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight or later on weekends.
“It depends on how late the drinking crowd wants to stay,” Griffiths says.