Shortly after moving up to the Hudson Valley with his family, David opened Tomatillo, the "Mexchester Original," with its Farm-to-Taco philosophy. It was soon followed by Sweet Grass Grill and Red Zebra all sharing the same locavore integrity. A fourth, a "fresh-casual" concept, Grass Roots Kitchen, is now open in Tarrytown.
Chef Jimenez was born in Puebla, Mexico and grew up in nearby Morelos. After college he moved to San Diego and then eventually New York where he joined the restaurant group led by Louis Lanza. He learned every station and was quickly running Lanza's most popular restaurants, Citrus and Josephina, on the upper westside. In 2013, he joined Sweet Grass Grill as a sous chef and a year later took over as the chef de cuisine. He is now the executive chef at ERL Hospitality.
Chef Caspi began his career in Israel, following in his father’s footsteps, before moving to New York. He spent several years there at the highest-end restaurants such as Daniel, Adour Alain Ducasse and Per Se. He moved north and worked with Dan Barber's team at Blue Hill at Stone Barns before joining ERL (Sweet Grass Grill) in 2015.
Sarah Cornell Fischer
Business Operations & Development
Sarah comes to ERL with an M. A. in Health Promotion Management and is using her knowledge and experience to execute our approach across both business operations and development. Part of our goal is to take a wider, modern view of hospitality and Sarah helps us dig down to the details.
“I don’t really like to get preachy,” says David Starkey in the dining room of his latest opening, quick-service Grass Roots Kitchen in Tarrytown. On one wall, a menu lists options like celeriac pastrami and a vegan jackfruit melt alongside grass-fed beef burgers and a fried-chicken biscuit. Across the room, a mural shows beets, carrots, tomatoes, and other vegetables, their roots snaking toward the floor as the vines and leaves shoot toward the ceiling.
It’s a fitting image for Starkey’s clean-eating restaurant group, ERL Hospitality (an initialism of Eats Roots Leaves), which includes Grass Roots and eclectic American eatery Sweet Grass Grill in Tarrytown, as well as Tomatillo in Dobbs Ferry. “I’m not vegan, but I believe in eating more vegetables and in eating a lot less meat, for the planet’s sake. I think all the menus reflect that,” he says.
In 2019, that’s not a particularly novel idea. Toss a quinoa-carrot burger out the window, and you’re likely to hit a restaurant that serves local, sustainable, farm-sourced food. But in 2004, when Starkey opened Mexican-influenced, farm-to-taco Tomatillo, Westchester’s farm-to-table movement was only starting its trajectory toward full cultural saturation.
“I believe in eating more vegetables and a lot less meat, for the planet’s sake.”
“I might have found myself a little frustrated. People were looking for salt, lard, everything that’s traditionally in American Mexican food,” recalls Starkey. “We try to present food in healthy and affordable ways.”
Another core value for ERL — building relationships with farmers — was also a struggle in 2004. “There wasn’t the infrastructure that’s in place now,” he says. Today, ERL works with more than a dozen local farms and producers, including Blooming Hill, Hilltop Hanover, Let It Bee, and the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Orders can still be challenging (“Some of the farms [we work with] are single-farmer farms and don’t have an office or email,” says Starkey), but apps, including Farms2Tables, and companies like Baldor, facilitate mindful sourcing.
Another factor that’s galvanized ERL’s success has been the shift in customer mentality. “I think a lot of people feel the same way I do,” says Starkey, who sees a future for additional Grass Roots Kitchen locations. “They can eat everything, but they should eat it in moderation, and they should eat things that have been properly raised.”