Who We Are
Restaurants | Community | People | Planet | Farmer Owners | Our Story
At Farmers Restaurant Group, Everything Matters. Nothing is too small. If something can be made better, smarter, healthier, that’s how we want to do it. We are a mission-driven company majority owned by American family farmers, including the more than 50,000 farmers of the North Dakota Farmers Union and their President and farmer, Mark Watne, and co-owned by two dynamic and passionate restaurateurs, Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons.
Our restaurants operate, and are guided by, a very simple principle: we see and share everything … Through The Eyes Of The Farmer.™ When we make decisions, we see things the way American family farmers see things. We actively care about our people, our neighbors, the land, the next generation, the quality of the product, and the overlap between our personal reputation and the meaning of our “brand.” This all comes together in everyday neighborhood restaurants, Founding Farmers. Our restaurants also have additional guest favorites: our First Bake Cafes, our online Founding Farmers Market & Grocery, and our DC-based distillery, Founding Spirits.
In our restaurants…
… we make everything from scratch from our bread and pasta to our ice cream and chocolate. We thoughtfully source all of our ingredients from farmers and suppliers we know and trust. We seek out family farmers and support purveyors who employ responsible farming methods. This includes farms that value and support conservation, biodiversity, animal stewardship, economic viability, and fair treatment of workers. We work to buy directly from farmers, including running our own 18-wheeler directly from American family farms and suppliers in North Dakota, picking up food and supplies along the way to Washington, D.C.
As a 2023 winner of a District Sustainability Award and named one of the ten most sustainable restaurants in America, we design and operate sustainable restaurants, earning LEED and Green Restaurant Association certifications. We have active recycling and composting programs that divert about 90% of our waste from landfills, paint with non-volatile compounds, choose efficient HVAC and lighting systems, and use wood from fallen trees and old barns.
Throughout our collection of restaurants, we strive to create interesting, unique interiors. The best way we know how to do this is to step away from current, mass-produced culture and seek out the individual creative spirit as found in original pieces of art. Aligned with our principles to stay close to our sources (as we do with our food & drink), we collaborate with individual artists from our neighborhoods, across America, and beyond. We take great pride in showcasing their skill and talent.
In our communities…
… we grow our philanthropic projects with an appreciation for long-term relationships and making an impact. We believe in Conscious Capitalism and never prioritize profit over mission. For over a decade, we have stayed true to our mission, consistently working to build community and make an impact in how we hire our employees, source our ingredients, and participate and influence others in our regions and across the hospitality industry. In 2019, we were awarded the prestigious Moxie Award for our bold, innovative growth strategies and helping to not only “make the DC metro area a great place to do business, but also an incredible place to live, thrive, and play.”
We are building a community, not just a company.
We currently partner with DC schools and their Career Technical Education programs to educate and provide internship opportunities for high school students in hospitality and culinary arts programs. We previously partnered with DC Central Kitchen, where Dan taught quarterly classes in personal development and time management. Many of our former DC Central Kitchen interns have successfully become full-time employees in our kitchens. We also provided funding to The George Washington University for the largest restaurant-owned apiary in the country to expand honey bee research.
When COVID-19 landed in our region, we doubled down on our philanthropic efforts, expanding existing partnerships and developed new ones, including work with pastors in Wards 7&8, World Central Kitchen, Last Call for Food, Feed the Fight, and many more. Our primary focus was to provide ongoing support for communities in need and our frontline workers with food, Founding Spirits Hand Sanitizer, and PPE.
As members of the Founding Circle for DC’s Conscious Capitalism chapter, we participate in educational efforts and outreach and supporting groups across our regions and beyond, including Food Tank, Best Buddies, and the Ferguson Foundation to name a few.
Our community includes friends and colleagues who collaborate with us to raise the bar for our industry and encourage more sustainable operations and conscious business practices. In 2018, we launched a business coalition turned non-profit – Our Last Straw. Restaurants are major distributors of plastic straws, and it is imperative that the hospitality industry lead the way to eliminate our reliance on plastic straws and other single-use plastics. We hosted a panel on Women In Hospitality: Pathways & Ladders at our Founding Farmers & Distillers DC location, to not only celebrate women in the industry, but to create an environment where their stories and experience can inspire future leaders.
In 2020, we established our Council on Culture, a paid advisory group with quarterly meetings to provide insights and education on human resources, employee relations, communication – internally and externally – career development, and our communities. We recognize that to ensure diversity, inclusion, and equality of people of color or any potentially marginalized person or peoples, we need systemic equality – which can only be accomplished through giving a stage and a microphone to those who can alert us to our blind spots.
Our Council on Culture provides a safe environment for us to learn, grow, and be better as a company and to encourage the conversations that often need to happen but don’t. Members include people from within our company, as well as people outside of our company to ensure we have a wide variety of perspectives and independent voices.
For our team…
… Everything is Personal. We are a learning organization of hard working, caring people, individually and collectively committed to creating delicious and sustainable food and drink, an atmosphere of genuine hospitality, understanding and developing our people, and doing the right things for the right reasons. Food and drink are the fuel on which all humans run. Through learning and teaching, we strive to provide this fuel in ways that align with our principles. We grow our people, providing hands-on training, mentorship, and opportunities for continued growth.
We know that our “secret sauce” is our people. Named one of the Best Places to Work in the DC metro area by the Washington Business Journal, we have a passion for fostering connectivity, relationships, career and life enrichment, excellence, and success. Our purpose is to grow and sustain our team with safe and supportive work environments, hands-on training and mentorship, ongoing skills building and cross-training, and opportunities for continued growth and learning. Seventy percent of our management team has been promoted and grown from within our company. We operate a “deserve your talent” model, working to create a culture of never-ending learning and reinvention. We teach classes in personal productivity and time management, provide continual skill development, offer excellent benefits, establish written career paths, and believe that job satisfaction and mental wellness are essential to success for the individual employee and the entire company. We are committed to diversity, inclusion, and equality not only in words but in actions. We collaborate daily with our teams and quarterly with our Council on Culture, striving to build a more insightful workplace and a company culture of systemic equality by truly seeing through the eyes of our people and others.
We work each day to create a stable workforce of well-trained individuals that care about each other, the company, and our mission.
For our planet…
… we strive to do more good and less harm every day. And every day we are trying to do better, continually working to preserve our planet. Sustainability is interwoven into our facilities, operations, and the hundreds of decisions we make each day that affect the world around us. We LEED and Green Restaurant Association certify all of our restaurants. Our flagship location opened as Washington, D.C.’s first LEED Gold Certified restaurant and the first upscale-casual, full-service LEED Gold restaurant in the country and was named one of the ten most sustainable restaurants in America.
We thoughtfully source our ingredients, work with suppliers to reduce packaging, paint with non-volatile compounds, choose efficient HVAC and lighting systems, use wood from fallen trees and old barns, divert 90 percent of our trash from landfills with robust compost and recycling programs, including the use of a BioHiTech eco-safe digester we affectionately call “The Orca” in two of our restaurants. We say no to plastic water bottles and provide free filtered water, sparkling or flat, to all of our guests. We serve scratch-made sodas and mostly draft beer. When we do receive single-use beverages or packaged goods, we work with suppliers to reduce packaging. For example, we worked with Coca-Cola who shipped us corrugated cases without the plastic six-pack collar. We avoid products wrapped with a tertiary layer and influence our vendors to consider reusable plastic totes.
In 2018, we started a business coalition turned non-profit – Our Last Straw – to expand our sustainability efforts beyond the walls of our restaurants and make a difference across the hospitality industry and our planet. Our goal is to eliminate the distribution and use of plastic straws across our regions and work together to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics. Restaurants are major distributors of plastic straws, and it is imperative that the hospitality industry leads the charge for change. Business demand for non-plastic straws has already led to more effective, affordable alternatives. Our Last Straw has been credited with helping establish the new DC straw regulations and taking the DC plastic straw ban over the finish line to enforcement, in addition to helping several local towns and the state of Maryland draft similar plastic straw legislation.
For our farmer owners…
The purpose of our company is two-fold. We are working both directly and indirectly – to increase demand for family-farmed products through a business model that gives farmers a greater share of the food dollar – while simultaneously sharing the message of the American family farmer: farming matters, how it is done matters, and it is central to not only our nation’s history, but also to our great American future.
Quality drives us, not price.
Our food-sourcing decisions are intended to “unbundle the supply chain” to bring higher quality ingredients to our guests and to influence the buying decisions of our suppliers and others in the hospitality industry. We give a great deal of thought to the farmers who grow and harvest our ingredients. Whenever possible, we get our supplies from a cadre of primarily independent and locally owned distributors, who source from nearby family farms and fishermen, that are able to carry the products we need, keep up with our volume, and align with our mission. Above all, we focus on quality, whether we’re bringing in peaches from down the road or broccoli from across the country.
We opened our ﬁrst restaurant – Founding Farmers — in 2008 on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks from the White House, with a mission to take people back to the source, to enjoy food that is grown, raised, and harvested on family farms across our region and our nation. Farmers Restaurant Group’s story began in 2005 when the members of North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) began looking for ways to bring their products directly to consumers. They were interested in developing a restaurant where guests could have access to, and benefit from, food grown, raised, and harvested on American family farms. Where the foundation of the restaurant is rooted in the notion that family farming was, and remains, essential to our nation’s wellbeing. NDFU soon partnered with two of Washington, D.C.’s most dynamic and passionate restaurateurs, Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons of VSAG, and with that… Farmers Restaurant Group opened the first of our successful restaurants, Founding Farmers DC in 2008.
For over a decade we have stayed true to our mission. We never prioritize profit above mission. If our sales are down one quarter, we don’t pull back on portions or product quality. We maintain our principles and our values. Just like our farmer owners, we are in it for the long haul, bringing a multi-generational approach to each unique project and growing sustainably.
At Farmers Restaurant Group, we take great pride in serving our guests the highest quality food & drink made from scratch in our kitchens and sourced thoughtfully while maintaining our commitment to our people, our communities, American family farmers, and our planet.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the food. Really delicious food, with bites that keep you coming back for more.”
—Michael Vucurevich, Co-Owner