Millennials are more than spoiled, technology-obsessed 20-somethings who live at home. They’re also major drivers of business at local restaurants and the food industry in general.
Russ Vernon, president and founder of Healthy Earth Inc., says he’s amazed at how food-aware the millennials who work in his office are.
“I have kids that come back with $15 salads,” Vernon said. “They’re very conscientious and their disposable income goes to food. It’s stunning to me. When I grew up, food innovation was McDonald's.” Vernon’s company is known for its aquaculture projects and advocates for the use of mullet fish parts that are typically discarded.
The term “millennial” was used more than 25 times in a one-hour panel discussion Thursday morning. Organized by the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., the presentation was a jump-off point for one of the EDC’s strategic plan initiatives, making Bradenton a destination for culinary travelers.
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Responding to feedback from Manatee County millennials, focusing on sustainable food sourcing and encouraging collaboration between restaurants, chefs and culinary education programs were goals expressed by all five panelists. The EDC provided seven action items to the audience of about 40 people, including Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.
Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, gathered information from both baby boomers and millennials at a hair salon she frequents. Millennials expressed the desire for a “cool coffee-bistro” in downtown Bradenton, food trucks parked at regularly scheduled locations and an increased availability of ethically sourced organic foods.
Two born-and-raised Bradenton area millennials, Stephen Boyes and Amy Phillips, plan on fulfilling the need for a coffeehouse.
“They share a passion for making the community that they live, work, and play a better place,” Isham said. “With the ambition to do great things comes their first project: A coffee/wine/beer cafe in the Village of the Arts.” Millennials also want to know where their food is coming from, Isham said.
But before downtown Bradenton, for example, can count on the presence of more food trucks, a city ordinance would have to be altered or reversed. Under the current ordinance, food trucks are prohibited on city property, according to Bradenton Public Information Officer Tim McCann.
“There are exceptions, though,” McCann told the Herald in an email. “If there’s an approved special event, a food truck can participate just like any other vendor. And food trucks can operate from private property, but the owner/operator would need to get a permit at City Hall and show permission from the property owner.” McCann said he is unaware of any plans to change the ordinance.
When you talk about making a culinary destination...Manatee County and Bradenton are missing collaboration.
Greg Campbell, head chef and general manager at Pier 22
Panelist Marsha Forrest, president of Central Market, said restaurant customers now are more savvy about food sourcing than they used to be.
“I think right now restaurants are trending not so much toward local in this immediate area, but instead knowing where it's grown and being more responsible in those practices,” Forrest said. “And not importing things that don't need to be imported, looking more toward seasonal, knowing more of farms that are growing and getting to know people who are delivering produce.”
Greg Campbell, head chef and general manager at Pier 22 in downtown Bradenton, has personal experience as evidence of a desire for authentic and local food. Eight years ago, Campbell joined the DeSoto Seafood Festival in downtown Bradenton and was surprised by the number of “carnival food” vendors he saw. To stand out from the crowd, Campbell had a sushi bar and dishes featuring fresh grouper.
“It was eye-opening to me,” Campbell said. “That's what people want. We had a line down the street.”
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation provided seven next steps to achieve the goal of making the Bradenton area a culinary destination:
- Developing a partnership with the James Beard Foundation
- Creating a culinary market or district in downtown Bradenton
- Inventory all culinary arts education programs in the Bradenton Area and region
- Explore creation of another culinary education lab in downtown Bradenton
- Establish a Farm-to-School program in Manatee County schools
- Establish gardens at all Manatee County schools
- Create a food truck rodeo in Palmetto
Source: Bradenton Area EDC’s Implementing the Build Bradenton Area Plan handout