Adam Thatcher was working as director of operations at the newly opened Grace Farms five years ago when he noticed something unexpected coming out of its popular food service.
Visitors from across the nation who’d had a cup of coffee in “the Commons” section of Grace Farms’s River building began phoning the organization to say they loved the brew and wanted to buy some. The coffee itself—grown on fair trade, women-owned farms, as per Grace Farms CEO and founder Sharon Prince, and donated by town resident and Grace supporter Joe Apuzzo, who owns coffee roasting and importing companies—was called “Heavenly Roast” at the time. Its beans were available for sale, though in a limited way.
In the spring of 2019, Thatcher—who prior to Grace Farms had opened restaurants at Lake Tahoe, Calif. ski resorts and is working now toward an MBA from the New York University Stern School of Business—began researching Westport-based Newman’s Own Foundation, where profits from food products are returned to the organization for charitable purposes.
He collaborated with Prince on how they might doing something similar for Grace Farms Foundation, and together they presented their idea to the organization’s Board of Directors.
On Friday, Thatcher and Prince are unveiling to the public Grace Farms Foods, a new company they co-founded that’s wholly owned by Grace Farms Foundation.
“Heavenly Roast,” renamed “River Roast” after the winding building that forms the backbone of the Grace Farms, is one of three new coffees sourced from women-led co-ops in Ethiopia, Indonesia and Colombia that forms the new company’s “drips”-brand coffee offerings.
Grace Farms Foods also is bringing out “chips” salted chocolate chip cookies (including a gluten-free version), whose recipe was created by the Grace team together with New Canaan resident Silvia Baldini, the celebrated Italian-born chef who won The Food Network’s show “Chopped.” And they’re introducing a series of “sips”-brand herbal teas, developed in party by Frank Kwei, Grace Farms’s director of visitor engagement who also is a “master of tea,” Thatcher said, and has owned multiple tea companies in his career.
“Grace Farms has always had the intention of fostering community and Grace Farms Foods now becomes an opportunity that allows everyone to participate in contributing toward the gift that is Grace Farms,” Thatcher said.
The company is offering a free “trial bundle” through Feb. 15 for those who sign up through the Grace Farms Foods website, and Thatcher said he expects the first month of deliveries to start at the end of March. The food products are available exclusively through the company’s site right now, though Grace Farms Foods plans to set up at this summer’s New Canaan Farmers Market and one of its goals is to sell through brick-and-mortar stores. Pricing hasn’t been finalized, though “our whole goal is to maintain being a premium brand while being accessible as well,” Thatcher said.
All proceeds from Grace Farms Food will go back into supporting the foundation, which “supports initiatives in the areas of nature, arts, justice, community, and faith, and encourages participation locally and globally,” according to its mission.
Prince noted that the coffee, tea and cookies rank among the most popular items that Grace Farms has always offered on-site, and said she was excited as the organization’s founder of that the idea for the new company came from within it.
“The work of Grace Farms can be demonstrated through the products of Grace Farms Food,” she told NewCanaanite.com.
The new company “provides an opportunity to demonstrate what we are advocating for,” Prince added. “Ethically manufactured products, ethical and sustainable supply chain and advancing social equity.”
She also noted that its launch is timely, in that it “has depth and it will be a joy around the table” to people who remain largely locked down in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grace Farms itself, though it closed to the public of its own volition March 9, never stopped functioning. In addition to securing life-saving PPE masks in the early weeks of the public health emergency, partnering with then-Emergency Management Director Mike Handler and New Canaan Fire Company No. 1 to distribute the masks to area hospitals that needed them, Grace Farms has used its food service facility to create more than 75,000 meals benefitting one dozen organizations including Staying Put in New Canaan, Person-To-Person and the Domestic Violence Crisis Center.
Asked how he was feeling on the eve of launching Grace Farms Food to the public, Thatcher said, “I’m excited and fulfilled to see an idea come to fruition. It really has been five years in the making.”
“We had three priorities that we focused on when we decided the categories that we would get into,” he added. “The first is that it should be inspired by the place. It should also have an opportunity for us to demonstrate an ethical supply chain. And it should also be an opportunity to reach as many people as possible.”