Jamie Harson leans over a plastic bucket of fist-sized beets, peeling skins off a haul of the root vegetable from a truck farmer in Eunice, the best in the business, she says. Harson would know; she’s spent the last 10 years with her hands in the soil at her permaculture farm in Duson. She never pictured herself running a restaurant. But she and partner Kelsey Leger are stumbling into one. In the next few months, they’ll open a brick and mortar version of their farm-to-table food truck and pop-up eatery, Scratch Kitchen, in Downtown Lafayette.
“I don’t feel like we’re working in a restaurant,” Leger says, looking around the prep kitchen. Harson and Leger had run themselves ragged between family and farm life; Harson has four kids back at the farm. They happened upon the Downtown storefront, on site at the Esprit de Coeur event venue, looking for a commissary for the truck and a place to compartmentalize their work lives. What they found was the right spot for a restaurant.
The building, tucked away from Jefferson Street, is low slung and homey. Hunks of old bread toast in an oven out front where the dining room will be. Leger, the chef of the pair, calls that area her stage. A horseshoe bar will frame the front-of-house range for an open kitchen concept with counter service where Scratch will sling breakfast and lunch from the bounty of regional farms.
Leger, a veteran of the local progressive food scene, fell in love with ingredients during her restaurant work in New York and in Lafayette at Saint Street Inn. Her quest for purer and earthier materials led her to Harson’s farm in 2014. The pair have been inseparable ever since, launching Scratch three years ago as a holistic effort in sustainable eating. They raised their own pigs for slaughter, using the homegrown pork in hangover-blasting breakfast burritos electrified with homemade sriracha or heaped on a bed of veggies with a farm-fresh egg for a hat.
The menu concept for their accidental restaurant is a grid. Food vehicles like burgers, burritos and bowls are graphed on the x-axis against dietary needs, while vegan, vegetarian and carnivore are on the y. It’s a logical extension of the custom dishes Scratch has served out the window of its food truck for the past year or so.
Contrary to popular belief, Scratch doesn’t serve up what Harson and Leger farm anymore. The cycle got to be too much. The pair were lugging 50-gallon trash cans packed with rubbished veggies from Whole Foods back to the Scratch farm to feed their pigs. The whole trip would take hours out of their day, leaving little sunlight for family or for prep work. They pared down the commitment to single-source cooking once it became clear they couldn’t keep up the pace and keep their sanity. The new “bustling diner” concept, like the food truck and stand before it, will use produce and meats from other local farmers.
“It’s nice to not have to do it all ourselves,” Harson says. “We want farmers to know if they grow it, then their product has a place to go.”
Despite the intentionality in their approach to food, the pair have an easy nonchalance. They’re not picky or pretentious about their choices. It’s about providing options to their customers, not preaching or cooking with an agenda. They’ve built a dedicated following of vegans and meat-lovers alike with an approachable but whimsical flair in their cooking. Leger and Harson are just as comfortable serving edible flowers as they are chorizo bacon burgers.
Downtown, Scratch will stay playful and seasonal with its offerings, running the menu grid with a chalkboard editability. Cooking at Scratch is about ingredients, what’s abundant and what’s beautiful.
Harson and Leger hover over the beet haul, kicking around what to do with them. Maybe a fermented kvass — a slavic health beverage — or a batch of beet ketchup. Either way, they want to cook up something healing for their customers, whenever they’re ready to open the doors sometime this summer.
“Food is medicine at its core,” Harson smiles, looking up from her cutting board. “Our goal is to feed people really good medicine.”