Bob Newell worked at private clubs, city clubs, hospitals, retirement centers, colleges and restaurants before becoming executive chef at the Rathbun Lakeshore Grille in Honey Creek Resort State Park in southern Iowa. This allows him to fulfill a dream — working with local food.
“I’ve wanted to [work with local farmers] for 40 years,” he says, but explains that the companies he worked for in the past would not let him, because they required their suppliers to have insurance that most growers cannot carry. Honey Creek Resort is unique, because it is located in a state park. “Here the state encourages me to use as much local as possible. It keeps tax dollars inside state boundaries.”
When Newell moved back to southern Iowa in 2012 to run the restaurant, he met up with Melanie Seals and her husband Mike, who operated Country Road Produce “about two miles down the road.” They looked at what Country Road could grow and what Honey Creek could use and developed a plan for the year. In 2013 Honey Creek purchased a variety of vegetables from Country Road, including carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and sweet corn.
For the first few months Country Road couldn’t keep up with the restaurant’s demand, as the Grille served up to 500 meals a day when the resort was full. Additionally, the restaurant catered for meetings, weddings and other functions at the state park. But the Seals soon adjusted. “It works out great,” says Newell of the relationship. “They deliver two or three times a week and [the vegetables] go right out the door.”
Since the partnership, Newell and Honey Creek Resort have received a lot of publicity. Both Newell and the Seals are quick to say where their produce comes from and goes to, and that generated “a fair amount of business,” says Newell. “Other restaurants jumped on board, too.”