Walking into Farm Station Cafe in the up and coming Vint Hill area for the first time felt a little bit like coming home. With the warm lighting and staff’s cheery faces, it would be difficult to not feel comfortable there. Owner Karen Baker and renowned Chef Matt Mize are the dynamic duo responsible for the delicious flavors and family atmosphere you can expect to experience when coming through their doors.
Farm Station Cafe is an addition and supplement to Baker’s existing catering business which she opened in 1999, A la Carte Catering + Event Design. À la Carte prides itself on offering full catering and event support for events for 50 to 5,000 people, all while keeping things local and choosing the best and freshest ingredients from the region. In late 2016, they outgrew their kitchen in Haymarket and needed to find a larger space. Enter an old Vint Hill warehouse. Once they saw the space and the location, they were quick to move in and reopen the catering kitchen.
The possibilities for the space were endless and thus, the idea to open the cafe in addition to the catering kitchen was born. Baker and Mize both recognized the potential for a cafe that was not only fast and fresh but also friendly and community-oriented. “We felt like Fauquier was ready for this cafe,” Baker said. “We wanted to cater to the community. We want you to come and relax and make friends here.” The cafe opened in mid-August last summer and offers a little bit of everything, from farm fresh breakfasts to salads to burgers and sandwiches to ready-to-eat dinners. For those dining in, they also offer beer and wine.
The cafe’s logo is a bee, signifying their commitment to local, sustainable food. Baker said, “I knew I wanted our logo to involve some animal or insect that had to do with our food supply. We wanted to bring a little awareness of the importance of bees. Did you know that every fourth bite of food you eat is made possible by a bee? We source from local sustainably-operated farms, and use their local produce and protein as much as possible.” Several of their menu items are named with the bee theme in mind, such as the BeeLT (chili honey-cured bacon, fresh tomato & lettuce with basil aioli on sourdough bread), the Worker Bee (a burger with jack cheese, avocado smash, smoked jalapeno and red onion), and the Queen Bee (a burger with swiss, sautéed mushrooms and roasted red chili pepper relish).
In addition to the exquisite food and atmosphere, Baker and Mize were very quick to reiterate that they are extremely passionate about being involved in the community. “We want to the cater to the community,” Baker said. “We’re open to suggestions and feedback, good and bad.” They recently started offering monthly and seasonal events, such as Chef Matt’s Wine Land and Sea Dinner and an Oktoberfest Sidewalk Celebration. This month they are hosting their first annual Brunch with Santa event Sunday, December 9th with 3 seatings at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1p.m. A percentage of proceeds will benefit the Phillips Program, a non-profit that serves youth with behavior needs.
Baker, whose family is full of cooks and bakers, is no stranger to a home-cooked meal, or a restaurant produced one either, for that matter. After paying her way through college working in restaurants, she traveled Europe and spent time in Paris where she fell in love with the energy and art of food. Returning to the States, she spent time working in fine dining establishments and learning from all types of chefs. “Basic food doesn’t change, but you have to learn basic techniques before you can make the food fancy,” Baker said. In her late 20s, she went to work for Ridgewells, one of the most well-established catering companies in the country which would average 30 events per day on the weekends. With Ridgewells, she had the privilege of working on high-profile events such as a luncheon for Princess Diana at the State Department as well as Inaugural and special events for the Clintons and both Bushes. It’s safe to say that she learned from the best, and has replicated that success in her A La Carte Catering and Events, where, as a rule, everything runs like clockwork and events go off without a hitch. Even so, she does have some hair-raising tales about events for very large groups on very short notice, which A la Carte handled with grace and panache. “There can be some pretty unique challenges in catering,” she says.
Mize has a bit of a whirlwind resume that landed him in Fauquier County, as well. After serving eight years and two tours in the Marine Corps, Mize laughed as he shared that he “kind of got into food by accident.” After returning home from his second tour in Somalia in 1996, he was stationed at the Pentagon working under General Krulak. “When they told me I was going to be his aide, I assumed I was going to be his bodyguard or driver,” Mize said. “Instead, they sent me to culinary school in New York, where I discovered the passion for food I never knew I had.” What followed was a career as a chef at the Kennedy Center and the catering division at the Smithsonian, followed by the creation of several restaurants in Philadelphia, New York City, and Cleveland. After the sale of his successful restaurant ‘Mizestro’, Baker discovered Mize and recruited him to be her right-hand man for both A la Carte and the Farm Station Cafe. “I love the creativity and being able to think outside of the box that I have here,” Mize said. “I also love making people happy.”
Overall, these two are definitely a force to be reckoned with. In only a few months, they’ve already almost outgrown the cafe and kitchen space they currently have available. In the next eight months, they hope to open a retail shop with local wares, where the bee will also figure prominently with local honey and other bee-related products.
When I asked them what they wanted people to know about the cafe and their catering, their answer was simple. They want to hear from local people and offer whatever it is that the community needs. They’re passionate about local, clean food, and being a comfortable place where anyone can come to relax and enjoy a delicious meal.
Farm Station Cafe offers delivery to all residents of the Vint Hill area. They’re open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They have a pet-friendly patio when the weather permits and plan to be open for brunch every Sunday in the near future.