Community-Focused: Kelly Whitaker Continues to Strengthen Our Local Food Industry

Article by Amelia Broughton

Photography by Jimena Peck

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

When Colorado Governor Jared Polis ordered that all dine-in services at restaurants and bars be suspended on March 16th, 2020, the ripple effect would drastically change restaurant life as we knew it. Some restaurants would permanently close, while thousands of industry employees would lose their jobs across the state. And while we will likely be witnessing the repercussions of the novel coronavirus for some time to come, little could have prepared this industry for what has occurred so far. In the face of crippling uncertainty, what can a restaurant do? What is the best course of action to take? Are the values and intentions of a restaurant enough to support this change? There are many unanswered questions the face of great speculation, and yet for Kelly Whitaker, owner of Id Est Hospitality Group, innovative solutions and community-focused choices have been of great contribution to the community surrounding their well-loved restaurants, including Basta, Dry Storage, The Wolf’s Tailor and BRUTØ at the Dairy Block.

April 29th, 2020, was a historic day for Whitaker’s restaurant group. In their second season of growing grain with Jones Farms Organics in the San Luis Valley, they finished cleaning almost 40,000 lbs of four varieties of heirloom grain and finished planting 160 acres for their spring wheat. If that wasn’t enough, they also reopened The Wolf’s Tailor in Denver for take-out services.

Over the last year, Dry Storage, an organic-focused, fresh mill bakery in Boulder, has acted as both a cafe and milling operation for these grains. With everything that has happened in these last few months, Dry Storage has shifted identities slightly, selling and distributing hundreds of pounds of flour every week. The greater mission, as with Whitaker’s Noble Grain Alliance, is to support the restoration and return of local heritage grain through farming, milling, and distribution — in this case, supplying the community with fresh bread, organic grain, and locally sourced ingredients. As many return to home baking muffins or sourdough starters during this time, the system Whitaker is reinforcing is one of awareness, restoration to our lands, and community-driven support. In essence, he’s providing the resources to empower our community through food. Right before everything changed, they’d also found the perfect location for their mill on Sterling Circle in Boulder, furthering the purpose of their mission and giving greater access to Boulder County.

And while the focus has always been about local, organic, delicious food, Whitaker is doing everything he can to honor the farming community by putting them front and center. Each dish will now be named after the farm the food comes from. After all, without farms, there wouldn’t be any restaurants. Whitaker will also be generously providing a pick up zone at Dry Storage for local farm Toohey & Sons to dish out their 20-week CSA shares to the community. These choices are just a few of the ways Whitaker and the team are doing their part. Creating popups with local industry friends such as Rino Yacht Club, Jungle, Westbound & Down Brewing, and Run for the Roses, there has been no shortage of collaborative support occurring amongst the turbulent waters of these times.

As for experiencing the deliciousness that they are cooking up, you can find their offerings on Tock, an app that allows guests to book a reservation for pick up. For the first time in the history of their restaurants, they’re getting to decide how to manage and operate their systems. Chefs know what to anticipate each hour, mitigating stress and fostering ease and time efficiency.

In trying times, we must celebrate what we have right now, prioritize our connections to community, and uplift those around us to work together and accomplish much more than we would alone. From taking incredible care of his forty-five employees to reaching out to those in need, Whitaker and his team are running full steam ahead with what they can do, doing their best to take each day as it comes and to pivot, innovate, and execute every step of the way.

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