When Becky Herbert graduated from San Benito High School in 1995, she had dreams of being a writer, working at the local newspaper while in school, then eventually moving to San Francisco to work in publishing. Today, you might say her reality is more down to earth as the owner of the newest eating establishment in Hollister, Farm House Café.
Farm House Café fits into the niche known among foodies as “field-to-fork” dining that’s not so much “technic,” as it is “down home,” as she described the experience diners will have there. It’s a place where she says she would like nothing better than to pull a few tables together to put on the feed for local farmers because that’s where she grew up.
While the Farm House Café might be Herbert’s first time at owning and operating a restaurant, it’s not her first time to run a food-related business.
“I’ve had another business called Eating with the Seasons, for 14 years, where we deliver local produce and other items, mainly from San Benito County, all over the Bay Area,” she said. “I started cooking prepared foods for my customers and decided I wanted my own kitchen because I was always renting from someone else. The more my dream built up and the more I talked to people, the more I realized there was a need in Hollister for a place like this that serves local organic food.”
Herbert said she gets all of her produce from local farmers. She collects the fresh produce and depending on what’s available, determines what’s on the menu. Specials go hand-in-hand with the changing seasons.
She opened for business Sept. 19 and employs six at the café and another 10 at her other business. The café is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., though Herbert said that will most likely change, beginning with dinners on weekends. She said the first two days were busy and “full of energy.” She said people have been responding to the fresh environment. At this time, she is not advertising, depending instead on word-of-mouth to draw in business.
Herbert said she believes she will succeed in a way others have not on San Benito Street because she offers freshly-made food provided by local growers.
“There seems to be a desire for that around here,” she said. “Everything is freshly harvested, which makes the flavors fresh too. It’s classic comfort food that tastes good, like turkey and cranberry or meatloaf. The whole theme of Farm House is that I grew up in my parents’ farm house, so what I’m serving is a lot of what I grew up eating.”
After a stint in Boston, then San Francisco, she came back to the Herbert Family Organic Farm to help market her parents’ food delivery programs. She noted that it’s ironic that she has been marketing fresh food from San Benito County for years, but never in the county. She said since the town’s population has grown in recent years, there is a new appreciation for locally-grown organic produce.
Herbert is not a classically trained chef, but is self-taught and does a lot of the cooking. She said she was inspired by her mother’s cooking, but at one time, her cooking skills were family fodder for some good-natured joking, which she took as a challenge.
The café features bright and cheery lime green and white interior walls, with photos of rustic barns, and strategically placed organic foods from Bella Vista Olive Oils, Luke’s Organic Potato Chips, and Spring Hill Jersey Cheese.
Herbert said she had help financing the business from one of her suppliers, Sally Calhoun, of Paicines Ranch, whom Herbert said has backed her entire career. Herbert said she wouldn’t be where she is without Calhoun.
“We sell her beef and have events at the ranch,” she said. “My main produce supplier is Phil Foster (Pinnacle Organic label and Phil Foster Ranches). I grew up knowing him because he and my dad are friends. A lot of the farmers I work with I know because my dad introduced me to them. For eggs and chicken, we use Pasture Chick Ranch, in Santa Ana Valley, which is Lisa Knutson. We buy olive oil from her neighbor, Pat Stevens of Bella Vista, which we sell and I use to cook. Coke Farms in San Juan Bautista provides produce and flour for all of our baked goods.”
Being that the menu is determined by the seasons, some might wonder what fresh produce will find its way to the menu during the winter.
“There’s a lot more here in the winter than people expect,” she said. “Everything that’s on my menu we can get year-round from here. Phil grows a lot of things in hoop houses. He has tomatoes and greens all year long.”
Herbert said anyone coming in might expect to pay $9 to $15 for a meal. Sandwiches are $9, salads are $10, with optional steak, chicken, salmon or shrimp adding another $4 or $5.
“I think there’s a misconception that buying organic is more expensive, but because I source directly it’s more affordable,” she said.