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Restaurant grows into third expansion

BARBEQUE: Heather Cecil, kitchen manager, slices local pork to make a nacho dish at Jefferson Street BBQ. The popular Converse restaurant is undergoing its third expansion.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

CONVERSE — A local barbeque restaurant, which has helped spark the farm to table movement in Converse, is launching into its third expansion in seven years.

Jefferson Street BBQ, located at 101 N Jefferson St., which originally began with counter service only, is now doubling its seating capacity through a private dining area amd a full service sit-down bar. Lindsay Dingman Sheffield, owner of Jefferson Street BBQ, hopes the expansion is complete in the next six to eight weeks.

“We’re very lucky because the restaurant business is very tough,” Sheffield said. “Our staff is comprised of a lot of people who have stuck with us through the beginning. Our core group of team members have helped grow the restaurant.”

According to Sheffield, the inspiration for the restaurant blossomed from the farming community that surrounds it.

“Our inspiration was to try to incorporate the agricultural community into the restaurant to benefit the community, both by way of using local products and (to provide) another fresh option for food locally,” Sheffield said.

This farm to table movement is a big part of Jefferson Street BBQ’s DNA.

“On a day to day social level people are more interested now than ever where their food comes from,” she said. “Our menu is very transparent about where are (food) comes from. There’s a market demand for it.”

To provide fresh, local ingredients, Sheffield has partnered with local farmers, such as Nathan and Jack Hunt of Hunt Family Farms. The Hunt’s produce all of Sheffield’s pork.

According to Nathan Hunt, the farm to table movement is paramount for his family’s farm.

“The hog market fluctuates quite a bit and we are incredibly small compared to the majority of hog farms in this area,” Hunt said.

Last year, Hunt Family Farms sold about 300 hogs, compared to the average hog farm in the area which sells upwards of 10,000 hogs a year, Hunt said.

Outside of the small size of the farm, the Hunt’s also allow hogs to roam openly in a five-acre area, rather than keeping them in confinement.

“There’s no secret about it,” Hunt said. “When you eat (at Jefferson Street BBQ) you can drive a couple a miles down the road (to Amboy) and see what product you’re getting,” he added.

According to Hunt, Sheffield sparked the farm to table movement in Converse.

“Basically with the work they’re doing it’s revitalizing the town of Converse and the greater area,” Hunt said.

Sheffield also partnered with Mark Boyer, of Healthy Hoosier Oil, who makes all of the restaurant’s canola oil. The byproduct cycles back to feed the hogs.

“They grow the oil crops, cold press them on their farm, which spits out green pellets that we use for our hog feed,” Hunt said. “Everything in that equation is within three square miles,” he said.

The “circle of life” as Hunt calls it, is key for the three businesses.

“Were all about helping each other,” he said. “If one part of the equation doesn’t work it all falls apart.

“I really want to commend Lindsay,” he added. “She really took a big step in woking with us. It’s not simpler (to stay local), it’s more leg work (for her).”

The three businesses working together comes thanks to Indiana Grown, an organization which helps local entrepreneurs in the food business produce and market their products.

According to Sheffield, Indiana Grown has helped her connect with local, like minded people, who have been able to provide her with fresh ingredients.

“It’s opened the door for business people to work cooperatively,” she said.

Sheffield thought the barbeque restaurant would be the perfect fit for Converse.

“We raise a lot of pork in this area, so I felt it was a pretty common sense idea,” she said. “Everyone in the midwest likes barbeque.”

Plus, Sheffield and her husband raise chickens on her own farm, and produce vegetables and fruit, which also goes to benefit the restaurant.

On May 5, the business will reach its seventh birthday.

Each year Sheffield celebrates with a week-long celebration. This year the celebration lasts from April 29 to May 4.

The celebration includes food and beverage specials and giveaways through the week to show the restaurant’s appreciation for its customers.

Jefferson Street BBQ, however, is much more than just a sit-in restaurant. The business offers carry out, delivery, private parties at the restaurant and full service catering within a 50-mile radius.

According to Sheffield, one of the biggest sellers this time of year is Indiana Burgoo, a midwestern stew made with pork, chicken, brisket and local sweet corn.

During the summer the restaurant is also a big seller of tacos, especially on Tuesdays, when the restaurant features a $2 taco special.

“We’re definitely a destination restaurant,” Sheffield said.