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Entrepreneurs fire up grill with local products

Entrepreneurs fire up grill with local products

Jeff Haag

Jeff Haag, co-owner of ACRESinn in Pontiac, Ill., grills up some sizzling steak featuring locally raised beef and his Carne Asada Marinade.

PONTIAC, Ill. — On this particular Tuesday, you will find Jake Haag grilling up steak from locally raised beef with his signature Carne Asada Marinade.

Meanwhile at the ACRESinn café and market here, shoppers check out locally produced cheeses, pickles and other products for sale.

This is a typical day at ACRESinn, a business created by Nate Furtenau and Haag, who met in Chicago years ago while catering farm to table food there.

Haag left Chicago to start his own farm growing vegetables in Pontiac, about 150 miles southwest of the Windy City. A graduate of a culinary and hospitality program at Kendall College in Chicago, he worked at several restaurants, including the popular Epiphany Farms restaurant in Bloomington.

In 2019, he and Furtenau opened ACRESinn, getting it rolling just before the new world of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the challenge, in sunny weather, customers have enjoyed their food on the outdoor patio and enjoy the historic Pontiac scenery and activity.

“We see love and support for locally owned businesses,” Furtenau said. “It has been challenging yet rewarding.”

They buy locally grown and produced products when it makes sense — “which is often,” Furtenau said — and make many things in-house, from ice cream to pickles. They also partner with other producers to get the things they don’t have, including coffee.

They also benefit from being part of Down at the Farms, a farmer-to-farmer marketing and delivery service based in nearby Fairbury, Ill., which sells veggies, meat and other farm items produced in central Illinois mostly to Chicago restaurants and businesses. Haag says the demand for his products through the organization also helped them prosper through the pandemic.

Now the business partners are ready to expand into the space next door and continue to grow the restaurant. They hope to have a big glass garage door that will open so dining guests can spill outside onto the patio. They also hope to either have an Airbnb upstairs or a rented loft.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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