What is Cultivate?

Cultivate is a fast-casual restaurant located in the near north campus district just a few blocks from YSU and steps south of historic Wick Park. The coolest thing about Cultivate is right there in its name – Cultivate: a co-op cafe! Cultivate is owned and managed cooperatively – that means the farmers and food makers who supply the products are the actual owners of the Cafe and share jointly in its management, risks and rewards. Employees have ownership share in it as well. So we’re cultivating growth for our members-the farmers and food makers (cheese, hot sauce, etc.), we’re cultivating a revitalization of our neighborhood, and we’re cultivating (we hope!) the desire and opportunity for students, local people, downtown folks to support and choose healthier, locally sourced food.

How did the idea for creating this space come about?

The idea of buying food on the north side of Youngstown has been around since the inception of the Northside Farmer’s Market in 2003. That inspired the whole “food hub” idea–opening the shared-use commercial kitchen at the Common Wealth Kitchen Incubator, gathering the farmers together to talk about and then start their efforts to market their products together. Cultivate was kind of the next step–we’ve been trying to get local restaurants on board with local sourcing from these farmers with no real success so the farmer group said–“let’s open our own place!”

Tell us about the menu!

We’re walking the walk when it comes to local, sustainable, authentic food! Farmers are delivering their product right from the field to the Cafe and working with Sue, the Cafe Manager, to grow things specifically for the Cafe. Other products are made right next door in the Common Wealth Kitchen and brought over freshly prepared which, by the way, increases sales for those “makers” and helps them grow their business–keeping our food dollars in our own community. Of course our menu is seasonal–we’re just finishing up with butternut squash soup from local farmers and apples in salads as those stored well this past winter. But our taste buds seek lighter, brighter fare as the season changes and we’ll soon have strawberries and asparagus from right here in Mahoning County to make scones, soups, and sides!

The menu varies with product availability but we’re fortunate to be able to preserve products to use for later in the season too so we’ll be freezing those berries and other produce as it comes along. However–some things are such favorites they can’t go away so you’ll always find the comforts of tomato soup and a grilled cheese on the menu and the scones–which are to die for–may change flavor combos but are menu staples.

You’ve partnered with local farmers in the Youngstown area, which is so awesome! Tell us about those relationships and what it’s like to keep it all local.

Farmers are the owners of the Cafe–it’s member-owned and managed. So farmers and food makers are integral to the operation. They work with Cafe management so that the veggies, fruits, meat, cheese and eggs they work so hard to grow and produce are the stars of the menu! And that’s how food really should be–fresh, simply prepared, and seasonal so we can all taste and savor the deliciousness in ever bite. Cultivate not only has a cafe, but a market!

Share a little about that and what people can find there!

Those farmers just keep pushing! They had an “e-commerce” site as a way to purchase products and wanted to grow their presence in the community. Opening a “bricks and mortar” location, using the knowledge gained from the online market over the past few years, seemed like the next natural step. We have such abundance here in teh Valley–people sometimes forget about that, but we’re rich in so many ways. There are lots of local and regional products for sale at the Market–meat, eggs, cheese, milk, ice cream available year round from local farms. Apples stored all winter, just coming to the end of potatoes, squash, garlic and other root veggies but our farmers are already bringing in greens and microgreens–radishes and other crunchy things won’t be far behind. And we’re excited to have products from regional makers–Wake Robin fermented foods like kimchee and carrots, locally brewed kombucha from Bearded Buch in Cleveland, a great vegan spread that’s so creamy you’ll never miss the dairy from Red Lotus Foods–exciting stuff!

Many people may not know about the Commonwealth Kitchen Incubator. What are they, and how is Cultivate connected?

The mother ship of local food! The Common Wealth Kitchen Incubator is what makes it all possible–for us and for lots of other local producers! At the Kitchen, people can make a food or personal care product (pet food too!) and, because the Kitchen is a licensed facility, makers can sell their product at grocery stores, farmer’s markets, ship products across state lines or be a licensed caterer, something that many locations require to sell food on premises. Food trucks can use the Kitchen as their commissary, making food there and selling right from the truck. So many products are made there–sauces, popcorn, granola and trail mix, kale chips, frozen pops–it’s really inspiring to be around all the creative folks and we’re all drawing inspiration and generating excitement just from being in the same space. We really hope more people will be inspired to bring what they make to market–with the Cafe and Co-op Market right next door, there are built in sales opportunities.