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Cottonwood Grille

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Cottonwood Grille Turns Local, Fresh Ingredients Into Competitive Advantage

While industry struggles, restaurant attracts guests by keeping its own purchasing dollars in Idaho.

Boise, ID, November 14, 2008 --( It’s no secret that the slumping economy is taking a toll on the restaurant industry. As sales sag, many restaurateurs are reducing expenses any way they can, including adding more pre-made foods to the menu, reducing portion size, cutting staff, and eliminating employee benefits.

But after nine years serving the Treasure Valley, the Cottonwood Grille is finding success in the down market by taking precisely the opposite tack. The popular, casual fine dining restaurant is furthering its commitment to featuring local delicacies while taking other steps to retain its role as a good corporate citizen.

“As an industry we can either surrender to the poor economy or we can take action to make certain our menu, prices and services are good enough to keep customers coming through the door,” said Peter Blatz, Cottonwood Grille co-owner and chef. “We’ve chosen to do the latter and it is paying off.”

From heirloom tomatoes grown in Meridian and beer brewed in Victor to farm-raised bison from Emmett, pheasant from McCall and trout from Buhl, the Cottonwood Grille does whatever it can to source products locally. Lamb, catfish, herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and many wines also are procured from local producers.

“This approach not only makes for a better meal, but has actually allowed our food costs to remain lower than restaurants who rely heavily on mass-produced, pre-prepared foodservice ingredients,” Blatz said. “Our long-term relationships with local vendors mean we locked in prices well before fuel and other costs jumped.”

Cottonwood Grille also benefits from its “from scratch” approach that has the company baking its own sourdough bread, making fresh pastries, and butchering and aging its own prime beef.

Where local ingredients are not available, Cottonwood Grille still aims to use the absolute freshest ingredients. For example, the restaurant’s all-natural antibiotic-free chicken is flown in fresh from California and it regularly overnights seafood in from oceans around North America — the fish is packed in ice on the boat, then shipped to the restaurant immediately from the dock.

It all comes together to create a restaurant that has proven staying power. Blatz gives much of the credit for Cottonwood Grille’s continued success to his staff of 65, who are also feeling the pinch of the troubled economy as tips have shrunk.

“They’ve hung in there and continue to serve our guests with courtesy and passion,” Blatz said. “We’ve done everything we can for them by not laying anyone off and maintaining health insurance despite skyrocketing costs.”

The restaurant has also seen the recent return of Joe Crespi as sous chef. Crespi is a well-regarded chef who has worked at many of the Treasure Valley’s notable restaurants, including as owner of Guiseppe’s Café in Meridian.

Through all the industry changes, the Cottonwood Grille has also remained true to its goal to be a contributing member of the community. The restaurant donates at least weekly to the Idaho Food Bank and maintains an aggressive recycling program, which diverts 85% of its waste from the landfill.

“We’re proud to serve this wonderful community,” Blatz said. “And we’ll continue to do whatever we can to support it.”

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Tom Dempsey

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