AmericanFarm.com

Restaurant owners become buffalo farmers

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

RINER, Va. (Aug. 2, 2016) — People become farmers for many different reasons.
Two Montgomery County, Va., businesswomen became farmers because they needed buffalo meat for their restaurant, Buffalo and More. Connie Hale and Carla George bought the restaurant here in July 2009 from the original owners, Jim and Jan Polotis.
The meat for the store, known then as the Brush Creek Buffalo Store, had come from the farm owned by the Polotises.
Hale and George opened their store on Sept. 16, 2009, and it has become a popular destination eatery for many and a must-eat place for locals. Like all businesses, change came too.  The source of the meat went away.
“They decided they didn’t want to do the meat anymore,” Hale said of her suppliers. “They sold their buffalo herd.”
This meant the new restaurant owners had to find a source for their American bison meat. Their search ended in Greenville, Tenn. where they found a herd for sale and they bought it.
The original herd consisted of 35 animals. Today they have more than 60 animals on the farm they rent have from the Polotises and while the farm recently changed hands but the buffalo will remain on the farm, they said. There are 10 new calves in the herd and the possibility of a couple more being born this summer.
More change is on the horizon, Hale said. The restaurant is expected to move across the street to larger quarters in the near future. Hale said the menu will expand too. One of the changes is more steak on the menu. More fish is promised as well. She said these are some of the things customers have said they want.
Buffalo and More is currently listed as “#2 place to stop to make your taste buds explode” in Virginia according to www.in your state.com. In 2014 the Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia named it No. 9 on its “30 Places in Virginia to Eat before You Die.”
The popularity of the food with locals is evident in the way the owners greet regulars. 
“Sweet tea for you and you?”  Hale asked a couple who had not been in to eat in about a week. Hale later said she also knew what each would order and what each would want on the buffalo burger without asking.
Hale’s mother, Reba Hale of Galax, is the pastry chef preparing all the desserts.
A sign on the cake cabinet may well say it all: “Remember stressed spelled backwards is Desserts.”
Fish from Virginia’s Eastern Shore is another regular item on the menu.  That item is brought across the state weekly by Indigo Food Farms. 
Hale said she doesn’t always know what fish they will have on Friday but she can count on fresh Virginia seafood of some kind each week.
Local food sources are a key to the success of Buffalo and More. The side dishes served in the restaurant are provided by area producers. Hale said the variety of foods they have been getting this year include collard greens, tomatoes, mushrooms and more.
George is in charge of the bison in addition to her many duties in the restaurant. The herd grazes on native pastures, she said.  Hale added that they use a rotational grazing system that lets the bison do most of the work rather than them doing it. 
They do use some of their grass for hay but have it custom baled by a neighbor. From time to time they buy hay as well. George said she recently bought some square bales of horse hay, a better quality than their own, for the herd as the calves come.
The only time they get any grain is when she needs to bribe them a bit to get them to go where she wants or when they don’t eat their minerals like they should. No antibiotics or growth hormones are used with these meat producing animals, Hale said. 
George keeps plenty of water available, filling their troughs often with a water hose.  This gives her a chance to check the buffalo up close and personal without having to cross the fences and wander among the huge animals.
Hale and George recently purchased two new animals, a male and female from a herd being dispersed in George’s native Scott County. The new bull will become the herd bull, replacing the current one and will bring new genetics to the herd.  The cow has already done that, delivering a calf since her arrival at Brush Creek.
If all this work were not enough, the women also operate a catering service.  When they have a catering gig the restaurant is closed, Hale reported. She said the have three full-time employees and five part-time workers.