Sep. 30—The Astoria Food Hub reached a milestone this summer after finishing the first phase of construction and opening to the public.
The partners behind the project purchased the former Sears Hometown Store on Marine Drive last year with a plan to renovate the building into a retail, processing, storage and distribution hub for local food producers.
Since then, the direction has shifted to focus on driving sales for local producers by leasing to restaurants with a commitment to buying local and through partnerships with the North Coast Food Web and Oregon Coast Visitors Association.
Buoy Beer Co., which relocated to the Astoria Food Hub after its building along the riverfront partially collapsed in June, is the first to participate in a residency program that helps restaurants expand local sourcing.
JamBot Donuts, a new Astoria bakery, and the North Coast Food Web, which was an early partner on the project, moved into the building in late September.
Ryan Anderson, the manager of the Astoria Food Hub, said the first half of the building is now fully leased. As the partners look to start construction on the second half facing the waterfront, he said, they will be searching for other restaurants committed to purchasing local food.
Anderson, the senior vice president of services for Steward, a Portland-based private lender that provided the financing to purchase the building, took over as manager of the Astoria Food Hub earlier this year.
"Our focus is really on how can we bring in creative, interesting businesses into the food hub, and then partner with them, the food hub, Steward, North Coast Food Web, (Oregon Coast Visitors Association) to provide them the support they need to really localize their supply chain as much as possible," he said.
Since moving in, Buoy Beer has worked with the Oregon Coast Visitors Association to find more local food producers and incorporate their products to the menu and messaging.
Kristen Penner, a commercial fisher in Garibaldi and the regional food systems value chain coordinator for the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, said helping businesses buy more locally sourced food could have a major impact on the local economy.
Visitors spend about $800 million on food on the Oregon Coast every year, Penner said, and motivating businesses to purchase food from local producers could keep more of those dollars on the coast.
Penner said her work, which is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, focuses on building connections and finding ways to make it easier and more efficient for businesses to buy local.
Through Penner, Bob Voss, the restaurant manager for Buoy Beer, said he was connected to Sea Spray by Carola Wines, a Wheeler-based wine and cider maker, and Kingfisher Farms, an organic produce farm in Nehalem.
He said Buoy Beer was already purchasing seafood from Bornstein Seafoods and Ocean Beauty Seafoods in Astoria. Sea Spray's cider has become a popular addition, Voss said, and produce from Kingfisher has been added to plates.
Voss said there is no timeline yet for when Buoy Beer will return to the riverfront location, but they have been embracing the partnerships at the food hub.
Buoy Beer plans to sell donuts from JamBot, which will be making donuts at the food hub for pickup and delivery, but will not have a retail front.
Voss said Buoy Beer plans to partner with the North Coast Food Web on a Friday special that highlights a different farmer each week. They also have a local plate on the menu that features food from a variety of local food producers.
The North Coast Food Web will also begin using part of Buoy Beer's space for weekly markets, where people can pick up items they order online.
In addition to its local market, the food web has provided technical assistance to producers and education to consumers for over a decade.
Yana Ludwig, who has served as the food web's executive director since July, said the food web decided to move to the downtown building, in part, for community.
She pointed to the increased visibility and built-in partnerships.
"You know, we never would have had this relationship with Buoy had we not been next door neighbors inside this project," Ludwig said. "And we're learning a lot about the local restaurant scene and getting to be an influence for Buoy, but also learning from them. Because they were already a couple steps down the track of pursuing local food before they moved in here.
"And so I think there's a mutual learning relationship that is able to be cultivated in this space that is just a lot harder to do if you have to schedule meetings and get us to the same place."