In March, I was in mid-town Manhattan on a warm sunny day and I arrived at Chef Smorgas restaurant about 20 minutes early for my appointment with co-owner and CEO, Morten Solberg. I decided to order lunch and get a taste of the farm. My salad included all types of greens and lettuces that were hydroponically grown, and it was simply delicious. I sat at the counter and watched the chefs prepare meals for the busy lunch crowd using all fresh ingredients, and I knew that the taste was going to be outstanding. This was “farm to table” in action.
Morten Solburg and his wife, Min Ye are the founders and owners of the Smorgas Chef restaurants in New York City. Their four restaurants have a Scandinavian theme because of Morten’s Norwegian heritage, and their locations are in various parts of Manhattan. The emphasis on the food is fresh, quality and locally grown.
In 2003, Morten sold his on-line University business that was one of the largest of its kind in the world. It was at that time that he had to make a decision about a new career due to a non-compete clause upon selling his business. Ironically, Morten was apprehensive about going into the restaurant business, but his wife Min Ye talked him into it. Morten opened his first restaurant near Wall Street, and three other locations sprang up in the next several years. Along with the restaurants, Morten also developed a catering business.
About a year ago, Morten began developing a farm in upstate New York, named the Blenheim Farm, on 150 acres of land that he purchased. He also leases about 10 acres of land strictly for the production of black currents. At Blenheim Farm, they have a hydroponic greenhouse that produces a variety of vegetables including nine types of lettuces, edible flowers, rainbow chard, arugula, cucumbers and tomatoes. Three full time and several part time staff members manage the farm. In addition to hydroponic growing, Blenheim raises livestock for their restaurants that includes two types of lamb, several types of pigs, cattle and chickens. In the winter, there is one truck a week going to New York City, and in the summer, there are two trucks per week.
The Smorgas vision is to open additional restaurants in New York City, and to also open several hundred kiosk style restaurants in shopping malls around the country. As Morten and Min Ye grow their business, they are very committed to the farming community with social responsibility. Morten has been invited to speak to entrepreneurs, food service professionals and other groups. The Smorgas restaurants are an excellent example of “farm to table” food production, and demonstrate how fast the demand is growing for fresh, locally grown, non-processed, high quality food.