Gilbert resident Oren Molovinsky has opened more than 70 restaurants during a long career in food service management, in both fast-food chains and fine dining.
Farmboy Market, Meats & Sandwiches in Chandler is his latest creation.
With Farmboy, Molovinsky has merged his love of farming and knowledge of running restaurants to present a healthy, farm-to-table strategy. The Washington, D.C. transplant also has a long-term goal of spurring farming in the Valley by sourcing produce from small growers.
The fast-casual restaurant is in a building that used to house Paradise Bakery, on the southwest corner of Alma School and Queen Creek roads.
Farmboy offers wood-smoked meats in traditional sandwiches, subs and wraps, as well as soups, sweets, Arizona craft beers and wines. It doesn’t sound — or even look — extraordinary, but a lot of thinking has gone into establishing the concept.
For starters, the fresh produce used in the kitchen comes from Molovinsky’s own 3.5-acre farm in Chandler, run by his wife, Diana, with the help of their five children.
The Molovin Farm steers clear of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Its 400-tree orchard yields apples, peaches, berries, squash, grapes and citrus among many other fruits and vegetables. About 150 chickens being raised for eggs roam free.
Other fresh produce used in the kitchen is sourced mostly from Crooked Sky Farms of Phoenix. Also, Top Knot Farms in Tucson provides chicken, Danzeisen Dairy in Laveen provides milk, Wilson Farms in Phoenix provides pork, Crow’s Dairy in Buckeye provides goat cheese and feta and Matador Coffee Roasters of Flagstaff provides coffee and tea.
For meat, Molovinsky looked to local ranches that have organically raised, grass-fed livestock that are butchered locally, such as Arizona Grass Raised Beef in Camp Verde. In Chandler, the meat is wood-smoked or grilled in large smokers visible to restaurant patrons.
Before selecting them, the Molovinskys visit the farms and ranches, sample the produce and note their individual processes firsthand.
“There’s a very high demand for produce that tastes great. People tell us about our tomatoes and everything that we serve here, especially the vegetables, that they taste like when they were growing up,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is find farmers and ranchers that are producing with great soil.”
The bread program is also wholesome.
The sourdough bread, which bases most of the restaurant’s sandwiches, uses Arizona-grown heritage grains from Tucson-based Barrio Bread and is baked on-site. The long fermentation process makes it palatable and healthy to those who are gluten-sensitive.
“We have folks who haven’t eaten bread in years who eat our bread daily and there’s no problem,” Molovinsky said, adding that corn tortillas are on the menu if someone avoids gluten altogether.
The restaurant’s soda vendor, Tractor Beverages, offers organically sourced natural drinks without corn syrup. Produce is available for sale inside the restaurant in a mini farmer’s market.
It’s hard to communicate the farm-to-table message to a first-time, walk-in customer who may spot the uniforms worn by the staff, the fast-casual-style counter service and the menu displayed in overhead monitors and assume it’s yet another franchise.
“Our kitchen operates like it’s a fine-dining restaurant. Everything we make has great attention to detail. I think the greatest challenge is helping the consumer understand the value,” Molovinsky said.
Farmboy’s Signature Sandwiches are priced from $10-$13. An 8-ounce soup of the day is priced at $3.29. Sweets include a bread pudding for $2.99 and chocolate chip cookies, which are 99 cents each.
“They are eating at a place that takes their ingredients very seriously. Will people appreciate that and be willing to (patronize it)?” he added. “I don’t think we are expensive compared to other restaurants in the area, but I want to make sure that they feel they are getting their value.”
Molovinsky said the response has so far been “phenomenal.” The word has already got around and the restaurant is busy during lunch, although breakfast and dinner times are sparser. He also offers a good beer and wine list to appeal to dinner patrons.
Molovinsky seeks to give a favorable dining experience to his patrons. But the restaurateur has a larger mission: boosting family farming in Arizona.
“Our real mission is to improve the soil in Arizona. We feel that a restaurant like ours will create a market for agriculture,” he said, adding that he recently met with a teacher who’s planning to grow lettuce on his acre of land to sell to local restaurants.
“If we have more people who start farming in the community, it improves the soil, it improves our environment,” he said. “That’s really our mission. I know it sounds somewhat broad. I think we can accomplish a lot by building a market for folks to get into local farming and agriculture and make a living off of it.”
Molovinsky feels that the soil in Arizona is better than in a lot of states, where repeated single-crop farming has failed to enrich the soil.
“Even with our beef, the cows are roaming through Verde Valley and Chino Valley, improving the microbial activity in the soil,” he said.
It almost goes without saying that Molovinsky has put thought into environmentally sound practices. Hence, the takeout containers are biodegradable and the plates are compostable or made of the number 1 recyclable plastic.
Molovinsky’s career has involved setting up chain operations: notably Chompie’s, which he operated in the Valley for two years, and Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, of which he operated 50 locations around the country. He still owns a fine-dining restaurant in Virginia.
Molovinsky’s work in Washington led him to form a buyers’ group to purchase meats, fruits, vegetables and poultry in the area. He developed what are called “nose to tail” menus, which uses the entire animal for cooking.
This, in turn, led to the farming community expanding their capacity to keep up with the demand.
Hence, when Molovinsky moved to Arizona, which is Diana’s home state, and purchased Molovin Farm in 2011, he was familiar with good farming practices.
If, in a year or two, there are new agricultural acres being grown in Chandler by small farmers because of his operation, Molovinsky would be overjoyed.
“That’s a real big part of why we’re doing this,” he said.
Farmboy Market, Meats & Sandwiches is at 1075 W. Queen Creek Road, Chandler. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and seasonal hours on Sunday. Details: 480-359-6270 or farmboyaz.com.