In the ever-evolving landscape of the food industry, Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG) stands out as a true innovator and advocate for change. With its farmer-owned model, unwavering commitment to conscious capitalism, and relentless advocacy for independent family farmers, Farmers Restaurant Group has emerged as a trailblazer, redefining the way a restaurant can think about food sourcing, sustainability, and the critical role of farmers.

Farmers Restaurant Group
Farmers Restaurant Group Farmers Restaurant Group

At the core of FRG is the belief that "everything matters; everything is personal" says Co-Owner, Dan Simons. "From the smallest details to the grandest visions, we are driven by the desire to understand our impact, make things better, smarter, and healthier. This ethos stems from our belief that every decision and action has far-reaching implications." FRG operates under the guiding principle of seeing and sharing everything "through the eyes of the farmer," a phrase they have trademarked. This means that when they make decisions, they view the world from the perspective of farmers who care deeply about their people, neighbors, land, future generations, and product quality.

The unique history of FRG dates back to the opening of their first restaurant in the fall of 2008, Founding Farmers DC. What sets this company apart is its farmer-owned structure. Unlike conventional farm-to-table or farm-to-fork concepts which focus on the distance an ingredient travels, FRG offers a groundbreaking way to empower farmers and ensure they receive a greater share of the food dollar. The restaurants are majority owned by American family farmers. Most of those farmer-owners belong to the North Dakota Farmers Union. Additionally, they run two farmer-owned 18-wheelers to pick up ingredients like flour, oats, grits, bacon, honey, and sugar directly from family farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kentucky. This innovative approach paves the way for a more equitable and sustainable agricultural system. Not only are they paying farmers directly for their ingredients, but profits generated by the restaurant are shared with the farmer-investors, further strengthening their partnership and enabling them to thrive. They hope this business model will raise awareness about the importance of independent farmers, especially when contrasted with the negative effects of Big Agriculture on the economy, supply chain fragility, the environment, small businesses, consumers, and diners.

Advocacy lies at the heart of FRG's mission. Their goal is to educate consumers and raise awareness about the importance of knowing where food comes from, how it is produced, and who produces it. They aim to inspire diners to inquire about the origins of their meals when dining out or food shopping, moving beyond the notion of buying local for the sake of locality, and going deeper to who owns the land, who owns the farm, and who makes the decisions. The focus is on understanding who the farmer is and supporting independent farmers because they inherently prioritize generational sustainability and community well-being. By driving this consumer education, the company seeks to encourage a broader movement towards responsible sourcing and conscious consumption.

Conscious capitalism serves as a guiding principle for both Simons and FRG. It transcends mere financial success and incorporates social impact, employee well-being, and environmental sustainability. The company recognizes that true success encompasses the entire ecosystem in which it operates. From a robust composting program and the LEED-certified designs of their restaurants to the free access to online mental health services for all employees, every aspect is carefully considered to ensure alignment with their values. The company goes beyond profitability to embrace a holistic approach that prioritizes the well-being of its employees, the communities they serve, and the environment. By sourcing from farmers and suppliers who share their commitment to the land, they ensure that the vast majority of food they buy and sell represents their vision for family farming and its positive effects on the community and the country.

Farmers Restaurant Group aims to inspire and encourage their industry peers, and the large corporate chains, to reevaluate their sourcing practices and consider the impact on farmers, communities, and the environment. The group believes in fostering a rising tide that lifts the entire restaurant industry, encouraging replication of their successful model and nurturing independent family farmers. While expansion is a natural inclination, FRG approaches growth with caution, mindful of maintaining its core values and impact. Rather than striving to be a large restaurant chain, they aspire to be a non-chain and a catalyst for change, inspiring other restaurants to adopt their farmer-owned model, or elements of it, and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable food system.

The company's impact extends beyond its restaurants. It encompasses a catering company and a distillery, Founding Spirits, which reflect their multifaceted approach to promoting their values. With seven restaurants – including multiple Founding Farmers locations in DC, MD, VA, and PA and DC's Farmers Fishers Bakers – and an eighth on the horizon, the group continues to expand its reach. However, they are cognizant of the need to maintain their essence and preserve the unique qualities that sets them apart. "Just like our farmer-owners, we are not only working for today but looking toward the future," says Simons. "We aren't simply building a company. We're building a community of like-minded people committed to sourcing and crafting delicious, sustainable food and drink; true hospitality; and caring for our planet and the people on it. We hope others join us."