How One Restaurateur Is Transforming Dining

Indianapolis-based restaurateur Martha Hoover.

Indianapolis-based restaurateur Martha Hoover.

“It seems so dumb to talk about eating seasonally because that’s the way you are supposed to eat,” explained Indianapolis restaurateur Martha Hoover in a recent interview with vogue.com. “And not just because of convenience, but that’s when ingredients are at their peak and prime taste.”

As head of Patachou Inc., Hoover independently owns and operates 14 restaurants across her home state, and it was the distinct lack of local quality eateries serving super-fresh food that was one of the main motivations behind starting her business.

Crispy Bird, Hoover's latest culinary venture.

Crispy Bird, Hoover's latest culinary venture.

A semi-finalist of The James Beard Awards, dubbed “the Oscars of the food world” by Time magazine, Hoover opened her first restaurant, Café Patachou, in 1989. Having decided during a teenage trip to Paris that food was her calling, it wasn’t until after taking up a career as a prosecuting attorney in Indianapolis’s newly established sex crimes division, marriage and children, that she finally realized her culinary dream, and prioritizing local and seasonal menus has shaped Patachou Inc.’s mission from the very beginning.

Café Patachou / Photo: Patachou Inc.

Café Patachou / Photo: Patachou Inc.

While many chefs have been implementing similar sustainable practices for some time now, what sets Hoover’s approach apart, especially in Indianapolis, is serving direct-from-the-farm produce in a casual rather than high-end setting, which in turn has attracted a much wider audience of diners. But Hoover herself admits that farm-to-table is bit of a meaningless phrase now, and thinks that the focus should turn to the lack of transparency in the industry. “I don’t think it is good enough to say you source locally because you buy microgreens from a greenhouse, that’s not what sourcing locally means,” she said, explaining that, “It means you are working with farmers hand in hand and planning your menu and figuring out what you’re serving [with them].”

Bone Broth at Crispy Bird / Photo: Rachel Enneking / Courtesy of Patachou Inc.

Bone Broth at Crispy Bird / Photo: Rachel Enneking / Courtesy of Patachou Inc.

In addition to developing relationships with local farmers, the pioneering restaurateur also counts a director of sustainability among her staff, her daughter Rachael Lekic, who leads the environmental initiatives for the company. These range from composting to installing LED light bulbs, and choosing quality water filtration systems that have saved the company thousands compared to the cost of bottled water.

Hoover believes that the restaurant business is long overdue for an overhaul, and that it is the responsibility of owners to make smarter choices about their businesses, across all facets, including transparency of food sourcing. “When you run a business, you are advertising to the world who you are and what your values are,” she explained. And with philanthropic endeavors to her name as well as ethical credentials  - in 2013 Hoover set up the Patachou Foundation which directly feeds and educates 1,000 food-insecure children in Indianapolis – it’s clear where this businesswoman’s value lie.