In the scope of Portland restaurant history, the Farm was an instant celebrity. From its first appearance in 2003, the Farm quickly became a Portland institution, a restaurant that locals flock to frequently, and show off when friends and family are in town (of course, my Midwestern family hates the Farm because they don't serve French fries). And all in all, I think most of us can agree this popularity is warranted. Sure, the Farm doesn't serve the most heaping portions in town, and there isn't always something for everyone (Midwesterners, for example), but within their little niche (we'll call it "pan-Oregon"), they've always made customers comfortable and, more importantly, consistently put out delicious food.
The Farm is still new to the trials and tribulations that come with the status of Legendary Restaurant, but owners Fearn Smith and Guy Weigold know what's in store for them. Having achieved instant popularity, the Farm now faces the real challenge—living up to its hype over the long haul. How does it preserve the spirit and innovation and love that brought it greatness in the first place? How do Smith and Weigold plan to keep their (stellar) Farm burgers from sucking five years down the road, or their halibut from arriving at the table chewy, cold, and over-cooked? According to Smith, "You have to try really hard."
This is a tenet a lot of Americans (and American restaurants) don't particularly believe in: long-term effort. People want the quick score so they can eventually slack off, but that kind of work ethic is potentially fatal to a business like the Farm, which, having burst out of the gate with great speed, will disappoint legions of fans if it ever flags even a little.
But in addition to doing good, hard work, the Farm has further attributes that will help ensure longevity. They support Oregon organic farmers, for one, and seek out impeccable local wines, and while it's a pseudo-hippie way to go, you can tell the quality in the produce, strong cheeses, and fish that show up in every item on their menu. Smith says the restaurant also "stresses the collective mind of the staff." Okay, that sounds hippie, too, but what this means is that management actually listens to the employees rather than yelling at them for forgetting their flair or not wearing white socks (damn you Olive Garden!). A refreshing idea, no? At the Farm, cooks create their own specials, servers suggest wines, and the staff bonds and brainstorms rather than obeying the commands of corporate headquarters.
Chain restaurants like TGI Friday's or Newport Bay stick around by maintaining a dining experience that stays consistent (from the food to the ambience to the behavior of the staff) across the board. A unique local restaurant like the Farm sticks around by doing exactly the opposite—providing a dining experience that is a quirky, fresh, never-bland break from the tedium of your daily existence. It's a much tougher row to hoe, but then, nobody ever said being great was easy.