June 2021
Local Food
Chef Molly Beverly

Big Dreams on Heidi Lane: A Tale of Two Red Barns

A waitress and a bartender (Emily Hughes and Joe Swifka) meet in Seattle. She likes to grow vegetables, he likes to cook.

They move to New York. She plants a garden on the fire escape. He moves into management. They move to LA. She plants a backyard garden. He trains in restaurants. After two decades in this story they get tired of the hospitality industry, of the pressure and responsibility, of never seeing time off and of working long hours.

So they put together a plan, explaining it this way: “We decided that we were done with the big-city thing. We decided to move where we would have some space and start a garden farm that’s more serious.”

“Where,” I ask, “do a waitress and a bartender get the taste for farm-fresh?”

“In the finest restaurants where we worked,” they replied. “Once you’ve tasted food that is grown in season by people who care, you can’t go back to the convenient, commercial stuff. Once you’ve tasted a tomato in season, grown in the sun, there’s no going back.”

So they started to search. They looked far and wide for their ideal small farm. California was too expensive. Emily’s parents had retired in Prescott, so they searched around Northern Arizona. In 2018 they found the perfect property on Heidi Lane in Chino Valley, with a big red barn, good old buildings, fruit trees, a well, and 2-1/2 acres adjacent to protected farmland (Chino Valley High School’s Cooper-Morgan Ag Center).

They planned on selling vegetables at the Farmer’s Market, and serving special farm dinners. Then they saw the restaurant space available on the highway, another red barn. “We liked the idea of having a smaller farm, and shifted our focus to the farm as an extension of the restaurant,” Emily explained. Working backward from Emily’s gardening to the restaurant, using Joe’s experience and excitement — that’s the definition of Farm to Restaurant. Emily sparkles with enthusiasm: “I have so many ideas, I can’t process fast enough. It’s a stretch on attention and ambitions.”

The Heidi Lane restaurant opened in December 2019 with six tables and counter service. Emily and Joe feel lucky to have opened before the pandemic took hold, establishing a small clientele. Then business got very slow. They pivoted to bring in what they could get through the restaurant purveyors and became a mini-general store. It was a tough time for restaurants, especially startups. They almost closed. They stuck it out with a very limited menu and no employees. This fall, business started rebuilding and is better than ever.

Now the restaurant is moving toward what they would like to see — more vegetable-based specials, more creative main dishes, and a special menu of small dishes. Joe bakes bread daily. All soups, sauces, pickles and desserts are made on site. Produce and eggs (“when the girls are laying”) come from the Heidi Lane Farm. Other ingredients come from local farmers, in season whenever possible.

When you go, don’t miss the buttery, feather-light biscuits and Bread Pudding with Chard, Feta, and Green Garlic. When you go, try the Carrot Torte. Here’s the description from their Facebook page: “Carrots are sexy. Yeah, I said it. Dig our Carrot Torta — A spread of black beans, a layer of coriander, pickled carrots, a grip of roasted carrots topped with a delicious carrot molé sauce. Finished with crema, cilantro, and lettuce.” Or try the Mushroom and Herb Toasted Cheese Sandwich, described here: “The mushrooms come from our pals at Sun Valley Harvest and are a mix of shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake. The sandwich is spread with an herb cream sauce, and then toasted in the oven with a blend of provolone, Swiss, and Oaxaqueño cheeses.” These are specials, so you might miss them, but whatever Joe has on the menu will taste unforgettably great.

You can also find Emily and Heidi Lane Cafe at the Prescott Farmer’s Market with hot soup (like Carrot Posole or Spinach Green Garlic and Potato), freshly baked bread, and local honey and vegetables.

Back at the farm, it’s all potential. They just cleared a quarter-acre of the nasty weed tree, Chinese elm, installed an irrigation system, and planted heritage apple trees. Another quarter-acre is laid out and planted in sweet and grinding corn. Emily is planting perennials and fruit. I tour the initial plantings of asparagus and artichokes, rhubarb, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, currants, gooseberries and grapes. “The grapes are from the old vines on this property and at the cafe make delicious eating and wine.”

Emily took cuttings and is now ready to plant the vineyard. I tour the greenhouse and see all the flowers, herbs and vegetables waiting to go out into the summer warmth to the other quarter-acre of vegetables. This and everything else is grown with strictly organic practices.

Emily is ecstatic, Joe is excited. She grows, Joe cooks. We win.

You can find Emily and Joe at Heidi Lane Cafe, 838 W. Highway 89 in Chino Valley, open Tues-Sat 8am to 3pm. Also at the Prescott Farmer’s Market, Saturdays 7:30am–noon, Instagram and Facebook @heidilanecafe, and watch for farm dinners coming in the future.

Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.