A new establishment wants to help combat Frankfort’s food desert — while also serving pizza and beer.
Locals Food Hub and Pizza Pub is a planned restaurant and food market at 863 Wilkinson Blvd. next to Poppy’s Bakery.
Co-owner Birch Bragg — whose partners on the project include his wife, Michelle, developer and Realtor Taylor Marshall and Bourbon on Main co-owner Joseph Fiala — said his team hopes to open the business by mid-June.
As a multipurpose establishment, Locals' goals are varied, per Bragg. He pointed to three main objectives:
Increase local access to fresh food.
Increase local producer access to the market.
Provide a community gathering space.
Local access, or lack thereof, to groceries is a well-documented issue in Frankfort. After the closing of Bryant’s Pic-Pac in 2019, there have been no grocery stores in or near downtown Frankfort; the closest grocery, the West Frankfort Save a Lot, closed this winter.
In 2019, the city received a federal grant to create a “Local Foods, Local Places” report about potential solutions to the food desert.
“Our main goal is to make local food products more accessible to our community, which is actually classified as a food desert in that location by the USDA,” Bragg said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a “food desert” as a low-income census tract where a substantial share of residents have low access to groceries.
Bragg said that groceries will be available at the business seven days a week and that patrons can order both in-person and online.
Bragg also said that Locals will very likely accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).
The group also plans to add a program similar to the “Double Dollars” system used at the nearby Franklin County Farmers Market.
“We can help to increase the purchasing power of folks with SNAP who come in and purchase the local food," Bragg said. "As we know, the price point of local foods can be a challenge.”
Bragg, who before taking on this venture was a manager at West Sixth Farm in Franklin County, said that increasing local food access is his life’s passion.
Prior to moving to Frankfort in 2016, Bragg had started a farmers market in Bowling Green.
“We worked closely with the Housing Authority down there as well, trying to work with underserved families and communities,” he said. “So I'm just really excited that we have this opportunity here.”
On the menu will be wood-fired pizzas and salads made from locally sourced ingredients, along with a rotation of Kentucky craft beers. Bragg emphasized that they will populate their selection of craft beers on tap with only Kentucky products.
Food ordering as well as grocery selection and pickup will take place indoors, but dining and gathering will take place outside on a covered patio currently being built out into the existing parking lot, Bragg said. A wall on the Wilkinson Boulevard side will block noise from the nearby traffic.
As for prepared food, Bragg said he also hopes to “represent” Kentucky foods with the final products.
“We have a chef who we have hired as a consultant to develop that menu right now to include as many local and seasonal ingredients as we can on our prepared foods,” Bragg said. “The whole idea there is that we want to showcase the amazing food that's being grown in Franklin County and throughout our region on the pizzas and salads.”
That passion for Franklin County and Kentucky foods will show up on the menu and the rotating list of groceries available, Bragg said.
“We're going to be very laser focused on making sure that we are representing the amazing food that’s being produced by Kentuckians as in the best way we possibly can both on the prepared food side and on the grocery side.”
Bragg said that local food access is a nationwide problem, and one that became more apparent over the past year.
“During COVID, I think a lot of the major weaknesses and fragilities of our globalized food chain and food system were exposed,” he said. “I feel like now's the time to really double down on doing everything we can to increase the strength and viability of our local food system, especially given the number of amazing farmers and producers and artists in our county and state.”
Though the problem is a large-scale one, Bragg said that he hopes Locals can make a dent in Franklin County.
“We've done a lot of research and looked into a lot of things kind of nationwide and about 1% of the population consistently purchases local food,” Bragg said. “What we would like to help do is take that 1% to 5%, starting right here in the Franklin County and Frankfort community.”