Harris Ranch offers farm-to-fork food concept

By Olivia Munoz, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Harris Ranch markets farm-to-fork

COALINGA, Calif. — Right there on a desolate strip of Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Harris Ranch Restaurant offers a stop in Central California that feeds hungry travelers from its own surrounding farmland.

On the menu: dishes made with Harris beef, Harris garlic, treats from the in-house bakery, even a Harris wine or pale ale.

“We’re true to the farm-to-fork concept,” said Stephanie Papagni-LaPlante, director of sales and marketing for the Harris Inn and Restaurant where the company’s under-one-umbrella concept extends to a Harris Ranch-owned gas station and a private airstrip set up for amateur pilots to touch down for a steak dinner. There’s nothing much else around for miles and a giant slab of prime rib cooks just outside the restaurant’s doorway.

The restaurant and 153-room hacienda-style hotel — with its big pool and balconies on most rooms — are straddled by Interstate 5 and California 198, and by fields growing Harris Ranch produce. An 800-acre feedlot a few miles away can produce up to 250,000 head of cattle per year.

Harris Ranch gets cattle from several ranchers, has its own trucks for transport, and the cattle finish off their days in the Coalinga lot before going to company processing plants to become fresh cuts, ready-made meals and meat for restaurants from Alaska to Minnesota.

Harris Ranch is the largest beef producer in California, putting out more than 150 million pounds of beef a year, though there are much bigger beef producers in the U.S.

In an era of ever-savvy consumers, meat-eaters can pick beef by the brand-name, and Harris has aimed to promote customer loyalty.

The branding of meat prompted other companies to follow suit and find niche markets. Niman Ranch, based in Alameda, Calif., touts not ever using antibiotics or hormones on its cows. The Dakota Beef Company promotes its USDA organic certification.

Although a large producer in the West, Harris Ranch is a small player in the U.S.’s $73 billion dollar beef industry. Americans consumed 26.9 billion pounds of beef in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. California cattle makes up only about 4 percent of beef produced in the U.S., according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Harris Ranch didn’t always mean beef. At the beginning, in 1937, it was all about cotton and grain. Today, Harris Ranch produces more than 30 crops including lettuce, tomatoes, onions, melons, oranges, lemons, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and wine grapes.

“It’s a chef’s dream,” Papagni-LaPlante said. “They change the menu seasonally according to what we’re growing.”

“It’s a jewel out here,” said Katie Delano, executive director of the Coalinga Chamber of Commerce. The hotel and restaurant sit in the dry western part of Fresno County and employ locals from tiny towns — making it one of the area’s largest employers after a state prison.

The company also raises and trains thoroughbreds, a passion of owner John Harris that is evident in the decor of the Jockey Club, a bar and lounge next to the main restaurant. Large-screen TVs are set on sports channels and carved wooden horses hang in mid-gallop from the ceiling.

The diners are mostly motorists in casual clothes, sunglasses propped on their heads, maps and out-of-town newspapers sprawled on the table. Some eat solo, some are out as a family. The menu offers typical American fare, but also a variety of coffees, salads and creme brulee for dessert. And, of course, beef for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If You Go…

HARRIS RANCH INN & RESTAURANT: 24505 W. Dorris Ave., Coalinga, Calif.; www.harrisranchbeef.com or 800-942-2333. Located on Interstate 5, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, and 200 miles south of San Francisco. Weeknight fall rates start at $149 at the inn. Meal with sides and 8-ounce filet mignon, $31, or prime rib, $26.

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