A farm-to-fork cafe

You may think a restaurant that caters to college kids would not be focused on farm fresh ingredients but Cafe Ma’kai in Nashville does.

Cafe Ma’kai in Nashville, Tennessee caters to college students. It is close to Belmont, Lipscomb, and Vanderbilt universities. Where there is a college crowd, there’s got to be coffee. However, this place does not just focus on frappuccinos and lattes. They focus on farm fresh.

Sam McGee states, “We use local farms, local ingredients. If I can’t get it within 45 minutes or an hour away, I don’t use it for the most part. Avocados and lemons being the exception.”

He is the executive chef and manager; he got his culinary degree in Washington DC years ago when the farm-to-table movement was just taking off.

“The chefs I worked with previously, that was kind of their focus. Whether it was going to into Kentucky, or Georgia, or Tennessee, or Mississippi, or Alabama, there’s a lot of restaurants doing the same thing,” he states. “It works out. It makes your costs a little higher, but at the end of the day you feel better about what you’re giving people. That’s what we’re kind of looking for.”

McGee is a master when it comes to creating unique dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Like using mushrooms from Cheekee Greens in Nashville. Literally harvested in morning and on a lunch plate later in the day.

He values the relationship with the local farmer, even though it takes a bit of a bite out of his bottom line, it’s a two way street: “We save our coffee grounds and take it out to the mushroom farm we have going. We have a hydroponic farm that we use out there as well.”

There is also a relationship with the bean growers in Central America, through Counter Culture Coffee Company.

“What they do with coffee is extraordinary. They go out and teach the farmers a better coffee, a better grade, pay them a higher price. Help them with their water systems, just help build these villages up where they had been pillaging for years. They cut out the middle man,” he adds. “So, we kind of have the same philosophy. We leave minimal impact, give you good food, good coffee, and I have a great staff.”