Across the street from the bustling Capitol, a new establishment is making the most of the region’s history of agriculture and abundance — at the hands of three owners willing to supply the gusto and know-how.
The new Hock Farm Craft & Provisions restaurant has a three-fold investment.
With Shaun Freeman as general manager, Brad Peters as bar manager and David LaRoche as the chef partner, the trio teamed up to bring a new spin to a veteran company known for its quality food and service.
Hock Farm Craft & Provisions, a Paragary Restaurant Group (PRG) dining launch, has settled in downtown Sacramento and is named after John Sutter’s Hock Farm, an 1841 establishment that marks a beginning of agriculture in Sacramento. Though far from that first venture, three owners have been chosen to run a restaurant focused on the farm-to-fork concept of regionally grown food.
Deemed the ringleader, Freeman, who previously worked at Paragary’s Café Bernardo and KBar, was introduced to the Hock Farm possibility by Randy Paragary last summer. After leaving the company, Freeman said he decided to take the position once Hock Farm became official.
He says each owner brings a niche ability to the restaurant that helps it function as a whole.
“It’s funny. Brad’s got his corner, chef’s got his corner and then I’m kind of smack dab in the middle, and I kind of bring everything together with the guests,” Freeman says.
A diversion from other PRG management structures makes Hock Farm Craft & Provisions stand out from the others. PRG owners Randy and Stacy Paragary and Kurt Spataro have handed the decision-making off to the new owners, who not only have a background in the Paragary business model but a passion for food and service.
“Shaun brought great service, great management experience, brought a lot of passion,” says PRG’s marketing director Callista Wengler. “Brad had worked for us over at Centro — we knew how well he did at the bar. And he’s really out there in the community. He’s very involved in U.S. Bartenders’ Guild here in Sacramento as well. And then, Dave’s been a chef for us for a really long time, and he’s one of the hardest working chefs that we have in the company. It just made sense.”
Still, the restaurant does not function without a clientele receptive to the company’s forthcoming concept and service.
“My main priority is taking care of guests and making sure I’m creating emotional connections,” Freeman says. “And I kind of want to push that onto my staff, to create those emotional connections and have that guest interaction.”
The staff is even tested on where the menu ingredients come from, so they can communicate it to the guests if asked, instilling that farm-to-fork concept and a fervor for the company. Because, Freeman adds, customers feed off your passion, too.
With a wide variety of guests, from politicians and staffers to young midtown urbanites, Freeman says it’s a great mix. But it doesn’t exist without the new concept that is fresh and not too trendy, Wengler says.
From the season-driven menu to the cocktail program, Freeman insists Hock Farm has the ability to do just about everything.
But his forte of strong customer service skills does not stop short of customer connections.
“I like to look at the big picture, I like to see everything that’s going on. Whether it’s having to help out in the kitchen doing things to help chef, or having to get behind the bar. I mean there’s not one aspect of this restaurant that is not part of me,” Freeman says.
LaRoche also shares this hands-on model but insists his responsibility is mostly the kitchen. Being a chef at Spataro for four years certainly helped LaRoche fit the mold and is turning this farm-to-fork concept into a reality.
“I haven’t been doing this forever, but I’ve been doing this for a while and so I’m still focused and I’m still trying new things,” LaRoche says. “And that’s fun and I think this concept here allows us to change things daily.”
He does it by visiting farmers markets daily in such locations as Cesar Chavez Park, Oak Park, Fremont, or even right across from Hock Farm at the Capitol on Thursdays.
“Servers ask you where this comes from and it does change everyday. And it does present a new challenge,” LaRoche says.
While LaRoche’s kitchen expands the farm-to-fork inspiration, Peters does it farm-to-glass, creating fresh syrups and products that put a twist on the classics, Freeman says.
While working at PRG restaurant Centro Cocina Mexicana for six years, Peters says he developed the desire to have full control over a bar program.
“Working over at Centro, I had a lot of freedom. But it was already something that had been built. There was no reason to fight it,” Peters says.
Now, Peters is focused on farm-to-glass infusions at Hock Farm.
“My responsibility is promoting and keeping the bar current, exciting and putting together a bar program and a bar menu that reflects current trends as well as California produced goods,” Peters says.
He insists that dialogue between the managers helps reinforce the restaurant’s farm-to-fork notion.
“I’m trying to mimic the kitchen,” Peters says. “If (Chef is) going to use apricots, I want to use apricots. If he’s doing something and he’s going to use tarragon, I want to jump on tarragon.” Peters’ bar service and Freeman’s table service also complement one another.
“My menu’s built for efficiency and speed,” Peters says. “So if behind the bar, I can get my bartenders and train them to make sure that everything is coming out fast and efficient, then that’s going to help (Freeman’s) table service with his servers. And making sure that drinks are down, now we can work on everything else.”
And while each serves a specific purpose in the new establishment, all have the understanding that great ownership stems from working together as a unit to pursue Sacramento’s farm-to-fork brand name.
“We have a passion for what we’re doing,” Peters says. “And that makes your management style a lot easier too. When you do love what you’re doing, you like what your doing. It’s easier to help people along into your vision.”
Six months ago, Kevin O’Connor hit a wall. He had a good job in a good kitchen, but his body was exhausted and his passion was gone. So, at 24, he decided to step down as the chef of the now-shuttered Blackbird Kitchen & Bar and dig for a new plan.
Tucked in a quiet corner of western Yolo County, Winters embraces the soul of small-town living. Centered around a historic downtown complete with white gazebo and an oversized main street clock, this tiny farm town (population 6,624) is on the cusp of a burgeoning new food scene.