Top: Niman Ranch Pork Company Founder Paul Willis enjoys his pepper bacon on a TasteBuds biscuit.
Above: Niman Ranch corned beef with swiss, lettuce, tomato and mustard on a jalapeño biscuit.
When TasteBuds opened back in May, ILFA reported on the ways that owners Kevin Philip and Mike Fink were doing things their way, developing a unique place while doing their best to stay competitive in an increasingly crowded food scene in Crown Heights. One of those decisions was the use of Niman Ranch products in their sandwiches, from the bacon on your breakfast biscuit to the corned beef and pastrami in your New York deli classics. Niman, which provides meat to Whole Foods and Chipotle as well as NYC hotspots including Daniel and Saul, might not have been the most obvious choice for a local sandwich shop looking to sell a quick-and-easy lunch in Crown Heights, but in a way, Niman and Tastebuds are a lot alike.
Niman's Paul Willis launched the company's pork program to preserve a world and a lifestyle he loved - the old-school farms of Iowa, where pigs actually lived outdoors - and make that world competitive in a modern business environment. The network he's built, which includes nearly 500 farms and ships meat nationwide, offers a viable alternative to the factory-farm model, one that keeps farmers in business. It seems fitting that Tastebuds, whose owners have deep roots in Crown Heights, hire locally, and lead and fund community events (but aren't afraid to change their business models to keep up with the rapid changes in the area) would find a partner in Niman Ranch.
Willis paid a visit to Tastebuds this afternoon to see his friends in action (Fink's wife, local filmmaker Jan Weber, has worked with Willis before - see the video below), and DNA Info's Sonja Sharp stopped by to report on the event take some photos (I didn't make the slide show, but my sandwich did, and really, the sandwich looked better). Bacon biscuits and sliced corned beef made the rounds, and Fink and Philip weighed in on their favorite sandwiches (Fink loves the Croque Monseiur, made with Niman ham, while Philip goes for a classic pastrami). Asked why he'd made the trek to Crown Heights (he was in town speaking at TEDx Manhattan), Willis smiled. "This place, this neighborhood - it's unique for us."
Brooklyn Welcomes Niman Farmers from Mike Enright on Vimeo.