When we opened the Levitate Backyard & Rexicana Surf Cantina, we had lofty dreams of serving our community the kind of food we found on surf trips across the Caribbean and Central America - local, fresh, and simple. For years we were grappling with the state of the food industry and the processed and pre-packaged food that we all eat, and had dreams of building a local/regional food supply chain to find the food we wanted to eat.
Bringing Food Closer to Home
We wanted the Rexicana to serve tacos options for multiple reasons: the ingredients and final product are generally healthy, the quantity of ingredients is low and therefore could be controlled, and many of the ingredients can be sourced locally and regionally. And of course, as surfers we spend our off season surfing across Central America, the Carribean, and other warm locales with preserved regional supply chains, and we craved bringing this to our hometown.
With this premise, we dove headfirst into the weird and wild world of food sourcing and regional food politics.
- The commoditization/homogenization of products to extend shelf life. Have you ever heard your Grandma say that tomatoes used to taste better? Over many years of mass-production, many commercial products have genuinely changed in genetic makeup, as well as being picked/harvested early to promote longer shelf life, which has resulted in bland flavors and appearance of products available in the mass market. Depletion of soil quality and use of fertilizers has contributed to the issue as well.
- De-regionalization of local flavors in the mass market. Produce, meats, etc. all have unique flavor profiles from region to region based on a variety of environmental factors. When food is sourced from mass-market sources, these local flavors are lost in the shuffle. Chefs in many restaurants, and increasingly customers, mourn the loss of regional flavors.
- Loss of the regional culture of cultivating and sharing food. Cultivating and enjoying regional and local foods together as a community brings people together based on a shared love for the labor and love that goes into creating something that people can be proud to grow, cook, and eat. As more and more farms and fisherman in New England go out of business or the owners tick towards retirement without a successor, this culture runs the risk of disappearing entirely. If you want to read more about the problems that farms in New England are facing check out this article here.
- Price. Our tacos, burritos, and salads cost a bit more than Taco Bell or Chipotle. (A 2 taco plate with sides is 12.00, a 3 taco plate with sides is 16.00). For the most part we’ve been fortunate to have a fan base that appreciates the efforts and added costs and is willing and happy to pay the difference. Nonetheless, a giant benefit of mass produced and homogenized food industry that dominates grocery shelves is the proliferation of affordable, shelf stable food which has greatly reduced world hunger and allowed for a massive population boom globally for the past 50 years. Now we seek to find a way to enhance the benefits of the nation's large scale food distribution and supply chain by augmenting and replacing portions of it by reinvesting locally and regionally to re-build and support regional flavors and cultures and land in a happy medium from a price perspective.
the fruits of our labor
Over the past 2 seasons, we have hunted high and low for ways to bring our concept to life, and have come to realize that cultivating a regional supply chain is pretty damn hard. We have developed partnerships that we are extremely proud of on both a regular and seasonal basis for staple items, and are slowly preparing to start growing/raising ingredients we are unable to find a local or regional partner for.
Fish - Mullaney's fish market (scituate)
Both images credit Greg Derr.
Mullaney's has been pulling lobster and fish for over 30 years right out of Scituate Harbor, and still buys direct from the boat every day. They operate the only processing facility in the South Shore, and provide us with regular deliveries of haddock every day. Mullaney's has helped us to reduce the time that the fish spends on ice by the time it reaches your plate and were able to offer us fresh, in season fish at a competitive price based on our volume requests. Unfortunately, and due to no fault of their own, 95% of restaurants on the South Shore do not serve locally caught seafood, and we’re hugely grateful to Mulaney’s for making this possible for Levitate.
Tortillas - Brahmall's country store (plymouth)
Bramhall's is a legit family-run business stretching back to the 1820s. The Bramhall family has cultivated an amazing culture in Chiltonville surrounding farming, fresh food, and good people. Bramhall's produces thousands of hand-pressed corn tortillas for us, using their own masa, sourced from corn grown in Hadley MA, that they produce, grind, and press in house. Milling and producing corn products is steeped in tradition in Plymouth, and Bramhalls produces their masa just a few miles down the street from some of the oldest grist mills in the nation built by the pilgrims.
We landed on partnering with Bramhall's after searching around New England for locally produced tortillas. They have made their own corn tortillas for their own tacos for a few years, and were more than happy to scale up their own operation to budget for our needs.
Microgreens - The garden of Easton (Easton)
Microgreens are a staple on all of our tacos - we use a blend of arugula, red cabbage, kohlrabi, amarath, and borroli micros, which provides an extremely diverse range of flavors. Micros are also an extremely plentiful source of vitamins and minerals, and we really end up putting them on everything, Micros are seriously sustainable because you can so closely monitor and measure their water usage to reduce waste, and their ability to be grown indoors is a serious key for New Englanders, like our microgreen grower Tyler who runs his microgreen business out of a small urban facility in Easton. Tyler grows all of his microgreens in a fully sustainable coconut coir, which is a renewable, pH neutral, and non-hydrophobic soil alternative to soil. If you are looking to grow some of your own ingredients at home, we'd seriously recommend starting with micros, they are easy to get going at small scale, cost effective, and yield some tasty rewards.
As crops come into season in New England, the clock begins ticking on the time to strike on some of the best veggies in the world (in our opinion). Though the growing season may be short up here, the harvest is rich, and we have developed relationships with local farms to take advantage of the local flavors that make New England summers so sweet, like corn, tomatoes, red onion, radishes, and greens.
4 Town Farms - Seakonk MA
Langwater Farms - Easton MA
Purple Bravo Radish
Langwater Farms - Easton MA
Chicken is the top-selling protein at the Rexicana by a long shot...but man has it been hard to find a local source for chicken. Turns out that based on strict MA regulations regarding chicken processing, there is a total of 1 permanent slaughterhouses in MA. Local farmers can choose to rent a "MPPU", essentially a slaughterhouse on wheels, or dump a serious amount of money into developing their own USDA approved facility. Beyond the headaches of the actual operation, farmers then have to navigate the permitting/licensing required by the state to even have the chance to operate. This has resulted in a severe lack of local options for consistent, local chicken. We are working on partnering with friends/farms (like our buddy Timmy below) to hopefully lock down a sustainable partnership - and hope to offer local chicken on the menu soon! In fact - we’ll be running a few nights within the next few weeks where we will be serving Timmy’s Chickens (Middleboro MA) as a test run for next season, during concert nights for Citizen Cope. If you want to learn more about the chicken industry in MA, check out this article here.
Beef has been another beefy headache that we have tried to work through over the past two years. Beef is widely known to be one of the most environmentally impactful types of meats, due to the land requirements and methane produced by the cows themselves. Our goal with beef is to simply reduce the length of the supply chain by moving towards choosing cows/farms where cows can be raised in the same pastures for the duration of their lives. This would hopefully reduce the impact on tracts of land and allow the cows to develop more naturally (slowly), which would reduce the impact of methane. Beef is a less integral part of our menu, but we are still excited to try and make a change in a small-scale, local way.
We are extremely excited to continue to work closely with farms, fisherman, friends, and family to grow and harvest as much of our food supply within our regional boundaries. We have some new lofty goals and rowdy ideas involving rooftop gardens, Marshfield-based cultivation, and so much more that we are excited to dig into in the coming seasons. Come by and sample some of these ingredients at the Rexicana, we can't wait to see you!
Check out everything we've got going on at the Rexicana and Levitate Backyard below!