By Susan Marquez
It is not uncommon for companies to take their employees on a retreat. Team building exercises help create a stronger and more cooperative work environment, and who doesn’t want to get away from the office for a couple of days? What is unusual is for a restaurant to shut down for three days to take employees to a farm in another part of the state. Yet that is exactly what Hunter Evans, chef and owner of Elvie’s restaurant in Jackson, arranged for his staff this summer. And it’s probably one of the reasons Elvie’s has been named one of America’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2022 by the New York Times.
Hunter shut down the restaurant for the weekend in mid-August so his staff could attend a retreat at Home Place Pastures, a farm in Como, Mississippi that raises grass-fed beef, pastured pork and lamb. “I wanted to educate them on what it’s like to be on a farm. Home Place is an amazing spot. They have their own USDA inspection facility on site, which is very unique.”
The staff actually stayed in a house at the farm. “My father came to join us. He has many roles, but at the retreat, he assisted with personality tests and breakout sessions.” Hunter says it is important to him to spend time as a team. “We have people who work together in the restaurant who really don’t have an opportunity to talk to each other. Attending a retreat like this, learning hands-on about one of our vendors, helps drive creativity. It certainly directs our menu.”
Learning more about the vendors the restaurant uses makes it easy for the wait staff to inform customers about different items on the menu.
“It was a time for them to get away from the restaurant, and to put their eyes on where our food comes from. Learning how the food we eat is raised helps them to understand the importance of sourcing from local farmers.”
In addition, the retreat helped the staff to bond together as a team. “We did a quick, spontaneous trip to New Orleans a while back for a short hangout, and that let me know that getting away for a retreat would be a good idea,” Hunter says. “It was fun to see how they hung out together in a different setting. The retreat provided a place for people to interact in a different way from when they are at work.”
Elvie’s is an all-day café in Jackson that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant’s ever-changing menu reflects seasonal fare highlighting Southern farmers. The retreat helps to make the connection to the restaurant’s commitment to using the highest quality, most ethically-sourced and besttasting ingredients available.
Home Place Pastures is a working farm that offers tours to the public, as well as camping, glamping and overnights in Cypress Place Cottage on the farm. Special events are hosted at the farm throughout the year, such as the “Boucherie and Blues Picnic” and the “Whole Hog Regenerative Ag Experience.”