“I opened the Silver Seed food truck about four years ago,” explained Taylor Smith, owner and founder of The Gold Leaf Collective. “The goal was to have a restaurant eventually, but I didn’t really think it was going to happen this soon.”
At the beginning of 2017, we here at Northern Colorado Speaks published our round-up of Fort Collins’ best vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants with The Silver Seed Food Truck ranked number one. We mentioned then that the team behind the famed Fort Collins eatery was working on opening their first brick-and-mortar operation — The Gold Leaf Restaurant.
The Silver Seed | Photo courtesy of The Gold Leaf Collective
Now, after just a few months, a lot of elbow grease and unmatched community support, The Gold Leaf Collective’s restaurant has become a reality. Housed inside one building on Laurel, you’ll find a restaurant, a bakery and a catering company all offering the plant-based, hyper-local food we’ve come to love through The Silver Seed.
Though it did happen sooner than expected, it didn’t happen easily. Taylor said, “When I first got the call back in September that the space was available, I had zero dollars for a restaurant. Most people would go to a bank or try to get some sort of loan, but we put out a call to all the supporters of The Silver Seed which we had built up over three years. We said, ‘Look, we have the opportunity to have a restaurant’ and within three months we had raised over $200,000 for the place.”
If you’ve lived in Fort Collins for any time at all, this mindset and overwhelming support won’t surprise you — especially when it comes to local, artisan foods. But The Gold Leaf takes local to a whole new level; they’re serving what they call hyper-local New Colorado cuisine with no ingredients purchased from corporate food distribution companies.
The Pave Plate | Photo courtesy of The Gold Leaf Collective
“Local is an abused phrase at this point,” said Taylor. “A lot of restaurants use the word local, but they still source from places that aren’t. We are hyper-local in that it is essentially 100% local; that means our menu changes with the seasons and we’re using ingredients Colorado can grow. For example, we don’t have avocados on our menu. It would take a semi-truck 100 gallons of gas and 1000 miles driving just to get those avocados here. Hyper-local is truly local and New Colorado is really just showcasing indigenous ingredients.”
According to Taylor, this way of operating is one small way to fix a big problem in the food system. And his solution started four years ago with the tiny, silver food truck. “We decided to make The Silver Seed fully plant-based in an effort to reduce what we call our food print. I’ve been in the industry for about 15 years now and one underlying problem seemed to permeate every job I had: the sourcing of the food. It’s funny because you would think a vegan food truck and a vegan restaurant automatically have a better food print, but the reality is the customers have become so accustomed to getting what they want, when they want, no matter what the season and that has contributed to a very big problem.”
To reduce their own food print, the collective has always sourced within 300 or 400 miles max. “In four years, we’ve never used an ingredient from [a corporate food distribution company],” Taylor said.
The Bagel Plate | Photo courtesy of The Gold Leaf Collective
However, transitioning to a brick-and-mortar restaurant operating for breakfast, lunch and dinner, six days a week during every season is a big step for any hyper-local business, especially when the menu depends on what your community’s farmers are producing. “With the food truck, we’re closed for the winter so this coming season will be our first time actually knowing what that feels like,” said Taylor.
And the plan is one we can totally get on board with. “Our head chef is also a fermentologist so we’re working on ways of preserving the foods when they’re fresh so they can carry us into the winter time,” Taylor explained. “We also have a couple farms that have five or six giant greenhouses that are completely sustainable and they’re able to grow a vast amount of ingredients for us throughout the winter season.”
But even within one season, hyper-local sourcing requires a different kind of menu. At The Gold Leaf Restaurant, specific ingredients may change day to day and the dinner menu changes once every four weeks. “The way we designed our menu, specifically the breakfast and the lunch, they’re very vague. Some of the sandwiches have things that won’t change that we can get pretty regularly, but the greens or the pickled vegetables that come with it change all the time,” Taylor said.
One of the most interesting items on the restaurant’s first dinner menu, and Taylor’s personal favorite, is a pasta dish, the Pinebark Pierogis. Referring to chefs Daniel Gray and Cameron Trezoglou, he said, “They use locally foraged pine bark that they grind into a fine dust and they incorporate that into the dough of pierogis and it’s phenomenal. It’s so freaking good. It comes with a housemade sauerkraut and it has a reishi mushroom filling; it features local greens that change pretty much every week based on what the gardens have and it’s just stellar.” Lucky for all of us here in FoCo, you can find the Pinebark Pierogis on the restaurant’s second dinner menu as well.
Candied Rose Petal Glazed Croissant and Dinner Menu | Photos courtesy of The Gold Leaf Collective
But if you’re looking for something even more special, we suggest ordering The Chef’s Plate. “On the breakfast menu, it’s called The Chef’s Plate and on the lunch menu it’s called The Preferential,” explained Taylor. “It enables the chefs to have unlimited amounts of creativity. When it’s ordered, we specifically tell the tables, ‘We don’t know what’s going to come out.’ It’s whatever the chefs want to make and it’s whatever’s in season.”
“The best part is we take $2 from every plate we sell and we give it back to a charity or a nonprofit. For the first month, we went with The Growing Project which is an awesome organization here in FoCo. They do a lot of our greens and a lot of our unique ingredients. We got over 25 submissions for our next one. It’s a really good way for us to stay creative, keep something special on the menu and give back to our community.”
Since our interview, Taylor and the team at The Gold Leaf Collective chose The Animal House Rescue as the second Chef’s Plate charity and will choose a new one every month.
With local philanthropy, a changing food system and sustainable sourcing as their backbone, Taylor explained their mission in one, short sentence. “A restaurant is typically thought of as a place to eat, but we think it’s a place to feed — everybody.”
Whether that “everybody” is a nonprofit organization, a vegan individual or a family looking for something new and exciting, everyone is welcome at The Gold Leaf. “Some people have gluten sensitivities or they’re completely allergic to it; some people are allergic to soy or they don’t eat meat or they don’t eat cheese. Usually, every family has one or two or more of those people,” said Taylor. “This is a place where you can come and everybody can eat. Healthy and plant-based eating is much more delicious than its reputation has been perceived. We’d like to put a better face on responsible and ethical food.”
And, according to Taylor, “Fort Collins is the perfect city to have done something like this.”
“The first thing I noticed about this place when I moved here four years ago was its focus on local food,” he went on to say. “The first CSA in Colorado opened here about 35 years ago — that was Happy Heart Farm, one of the first farms we started working with. But as we delved into that scene we realized there are over 30 farms here that are growing locally, organically and keeping the money within the community. That mentality isn’t just in food; this place is hypersensitive to its own well-being and I think that’s my favorite part. If you’re motivated enough in Fort Collins and you have a good idea, the community will back you and you can do whatever you dream of here.”
To learn more and to support local farms in other ways, check out our guide to Northern Colorado farmers’ markets, our favorite Fort Collins CSAs and community gardens and our exclusive interview with Fort Collins’ Sunray Natural.