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Natoora Miami is here. This wouldn’t have happened without Chris Devlin, who heads up the team — bringing his rich experience in farming, operations, and hospitality to lead the Miami hub.

He started on his own, receiving goods and meeting customers, preparing orders early in the morning, and delivering them all over the city. Now, he has a team of five working with him, all committed to getting the best food to kitchens across Miami. Seeing the team grow and take on Florida sourcing have been the highlights of his time thus far.

We talked with Chris about his experience heading up the new region and what he is looking forward to.

Q: Can you tell me what you were up to before Natoora?

A: Right before I joined Natoora, I worked part-time as a farmhand at Tiny Farm and part-time as a bar operations manager at Over Under.

Q: How did you start your journey at Natoora?

A: I met with Franco (Founder and CEO) and Ric at a coffee shop in Coconut Grove for my first interview for this Field Service Representative position, which was my original job.

At the beginning, we didn't know what would happen. But we thought there was an opportunity here and wanted to explore it. We wanted to see what we could do. We already had these two accounts sourcing dry goods and wanted to figure out if we should do more here.

They didn't know exactly what was going to happen, and they asked me, “Does that interest you?” And I was like: “Yes, the risky, unknown. Let's go”

Q: What drew you to Natoora?

A: I deeply appreciated the mission to fix the food system and support the growers doing it right.

Natoora is also somewhere where my knowledge and experience in farming, restaurants, and operations are all synthesized, so it looked like a pretty good fit.

Q: When did food first become important to you?

A: As a child, I was a picky eater and only enjoyed tacos and hotdogs. Then, I think when I moved away from home, I started to explore actual interesting food. In my mid-twenties, I lived in a bunch of cool cities across the country: Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, and I got exposure to a lot of great food then.

When I started working in restaurants, seeing many different kinds of preparations, and understanding what you could do with fresh produce, I started to think about food differently. I have been working in restaurants since I was 16, so for the past 30 years, I have been working in food and have seen the evolution of restaurants in general.

Then, of course, farming and working on a farm really changed my entire relationship with food and my understanding of what it actually takes to get things on your plate.

Q: How have the past two years been, from starting as a field service representative with dry goods to now Miami sourcing and beyond?

A: I think it’s been really good. There was a sort of slow uptick, which involved covering a lot of ground and being just one person trying to get a very small range of dry goods into places was a challenge. Then we added Simon when we started bringing Radicchio; now, there are six of us. It's just been a very interesting ride.

We've learned a lot through trial and error. Everyone that has joined the team so far has been really amazing, and that is the only reason that we've been able to sustain in the way that we have — everybody that has joined us has taken Natoora Miami on as their own. At times when I think something's about to fall apart, all of a sudden, one of these other people is just picking it up and being like: "Oh, I already did all that." So, that's really one of the most remarkable things: having been fortunate to find dedicated people who care.

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Q: What are the highlights thus far?

A: We've also built some wonderful relationships with farmers here, which has been great. One of the things that drew me here was having Roberto come on board. Partnering with him in a very unique way and forging what looks to be a nice long-term relationship for Natoora Miami with Tiny Farm has been amazing.

So we've been able to add great people, we have great products, and we’ve been able to source, using all of our many decades of knowledge with Fede and the product team. You know, being able to lean on that and then do the same, start to use that same ethos to begin to grow the range here has been fantastic.

Q: For those of us not in Miami, what are the Chef-grower relationships like? Are chefs seeking out this type of direct sourcing?

A: Yes. We put things in a fast lane a little bit in terms of getting stuff in the door from Florida farms as soon as we could hold the product and open the warehouse because we were hearing from people born and raised in Miami, Restaurateurs who ended up opening restaurants here and staying here, that they also want to support Florida farms. They are interested in sourcing from other places but want to connect with locals.

We've seen some of those chefs really deliver on that—they were serious because they have since opened accounts and started bringing on a lot of Florida lines. This also allowed us to try to convey to them why we bring these things from afar.

Q:  Tell us about the Tiny Farm partnership.

A: Roberto is the head farmer. He started Tiny Farm, which was actually a very tiny farm — about an acre, doing a lot of market veg and selling directly to restaurants. Over the last couple of years, he has been figuring out how he wants to grow as a farmer, and he ended up taking on about seven acres, not too far from where he was growing in Homestead. That's a pretty big plot, and in order to grow your operation by seven times. It takes people power, it takes investment, infrastructure, and all these things.

As he contemplated that and looked at the crop plans, the idea of partnering with somebody on a wholesale side seemed like a really solid idea. He could focus on certain products and turn those seven acres into a bigger business, which would allow him to be on the farm more and less, delivering and chasing accounts.

This first year for us with Roberto is primarily for Miami chefs. We're doing some limited lines with him. But really, what we're doing is supporting him through both investment and distributing his vegetables. So, we are helping Roberto grow in this first year so that in the coming years, he's set up and poised to be able to get tiny farm produce to New York chefs as well.

So once we are there, it won’t only feed Miami and help him gain more accounts and access to more business here, where he doesn't have to manage individual restaurant accounts. He can just deal with Natoora. Beyond that, we get to feed these wintertime gaps in New York with beautiful produce grown by an amazing, dedicated regenerative farmer in South Florida.

Q: What's been your favorite moment since taking over the new space?

A: I mean, seeing the pallet come in from the farm we work with up in Clewiston was great. We had a lot of conversations over the last two years about what we could do, what we wanted to do, and when we could do it. This was one of those times where we got to act like an actual Natoora hub, go to a farm, look at a whole bunch of stuff, and say, yeah, we can get this delivered.

That was probably the most exciting because we got to do all the pieces that we've been doing over the last couple of years, but then we also received and then got it into it. And then it was a highlight making the first orders from Tiny Farm.

Q: What are you excited about?

Chris: So we've been talking a lot and bringing people on board by saying we're going to get here at this point, and we're there. And it's really exciting to be able to head out every day on deliveries. Next up, being able to have that app that everybody's been after and continue to deliver quality produce.

Plus, I am excited to be able to meet the needs that we think we can meet and continue to deliver our product and provide quality customer service. It's the most exciting for the entire team when we can have the really good stuff, and we can deliver it with confidence and product knowledge. And then, just kind of do that again and again, which has been limited thus far by our lack of space.

Now that we're launching into the world, we're launching an app. We're giving people most of what they've been asking for. We can get closer to delivering what Natoora is in its truest form, which is having that incredible produce and then that service delivery and customer service to back it up.

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