The chef, waiter, gorager, grower (etc), never started off as one: "He learned how to cook from his mother, an avid gardener, and also from years doing odd jobs in mountain-resort kitchens in the Northeast. "I learned bits and pieces along the way, but I never did the research, never looked in a cookbook. In my family, we just learned to do it ourselves, and the inspiration came from nature," he says. After an injury in 1985 derailed his nascent career as a professional motocross racer, Baehrel and his wife bought their land and opened a catering business specializing in foraged food. It eventually morphed into the bistro concept in 2006 and since then has relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth buzz."
This hyperlocal, hyperunderground strategy is paying off. Baehrel won’t provide exact numbers but says he serves a few thousand guests each year and generates annual revenue of at least $750,000. By contrast, a successful restaurant in Manhattan’s crowded West Village might break the $1 million mark, though the business model is much different. Baehrel’s expenses are less predictable each season; they can include one-off big-ticket items such as a $5,000 trailer or a $10,000 hauling cart. But with no payroll or mortgage, and no food vendors except for his wine, seafood, and meat, which is from a local farm stand, he can stay both small and successful. "The biggest risk," he says, "is that it’s just me there."