You know the old saying: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In a way, that’s what Eddie Vetter and Ivor Chodkowski are doing with Grasshoppers, a new line of locally sourced food products.
Previously, Chodkowski was part of a boxed-produce service known as Grasshoppers Distribution, which deployed locally grown produce to consumers. However, citing “lack of financial stability,” that venture was shut down in late 2013.
A little less than three years later, Chodkowski has teamed up with Vetter to create a Grasshoppers product line that still focuses on locally grown products, but instead of selling it by the boxful, local produce is turned into ready-to-serve products that can be purchased in smaller quantities and used immediately.
“We’re trying to do some minimal processing and bring a product that’s a little more accessible,” Vetter says.
Part of the issue with the previous iteration of Grasshoppers, Vetter says, was consumers had to pick up their products at specified locations, and sometimes it wasn’t convenient due to busy schedules.
Also, a busy week of family and work obligations might mean less time to cook with fresh food. And at times, the fresh products might simply not have been easily integrated into a meal plan.
“If you ended up with a pound of garlic scapes, you didn’t always know what to do with it,” Vetter says of the green shoots that top garlic plants and often are discarded.
Enter Garlic Scape Pesto, one of three new products by Grasshoppers that launched in retail stores recently; it’s a pesto that can be used as a dip, spread on a sandwich or in a wrap, or even be mixed with pasta. Most importantly, it’s local, fresh and ready to use. And delicious.
Another of the new product line is a cilantro version of the pesto, as well as Black Bean Mash, which also makes for a delicious dip or can be used in any number of other ways, from omelets to tacos.
Nick King, a young chef who cut his teeth at Varanese, comes up with the recipes and handles making the food for Grasshoppers. The business is located at ChefSpace, where products also are packaged and stored. Grasshoppers employs five people part time, but friends and family often get involved.
“Everybody helps,” Vetter says, smiling.
The product line will expand in the next few weeks, with two different pickled products: classic dill cucumbers, and a colorful blend called Honey Jalapeno Pickled Medley that includes red jalapenos, summer squash, okra, green beans and local honey. Sometime during winter, another product line of frozen vegetable medleys — all local, of course — will launch.
And while the drive behind Grasshoppers is to incorporate more local products into the market and to help Louisvillians find healthful food, both Chodkowski and Vetter see it as part of a greater whole.
“This is about reinventing the local food system and building community every step of the way,” Chodkowski says, “from where the food is grown to where it’s prepared and sold.”
This venture, of course, involves not just more local products but labor and business as well, at the ground level, from the farmer to the local business owners to the people they employ, Vetter notes.
It is a service not only to the consumer, but to the farmers, as well, Chodkowski, a farmer himself, says. While many farmers process their own wares, or work with a small processor for direct sale, many don’t have that capacity.
The latter, he says, are “happy to have a local processor and brand to help them sell more raw product. Locally owned and controlled, small-scale processing is a great tool in the farmer’s toolbox.”
The reinvented Grasshoppers concept has been in the works for a while; when Vetter was laid off from a job in banking last year, he began thinking of ventures he might enjoy and that could involve healthful, local food. He and Chodkowski had known each other for a while, and they eventually decided to fill a perceived need based on some local studies and make Grasshoppers something new and, hopefully, sustainable. Growth will come slowly and locally, Vetter says.
Currently, the products are available at Rainbow Blossom in St. Matthews and on Gardiner Lane, along with Red Hog, Old Town Wine and Spirits, the Wine Market and the Wine Rack, with more to come. The hope is to eventually get into Kroger and Whole Foods, as well as in other less obvious places such as brewery taprooms where food isn’t generally part of the business model, such as 3rd Turn Brewing.
Growth is part of the business plan, but obviously future growth might come through additional product lines or Grasshoppers ventures in other markets, which would yield new products based on geographic availability. Obviously, what grows well in Louisville might differ from what grows well in Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, Grasshoppers will continue focusing on its tagline of “reinventing local.” And that doesn’t just mean the food.