“Hey Eric, do you think anyone in your entire company is doing anything as cool as this right now?” Peter Karpinski asks me from the back row of Farmer Lee Jones’ white Ford Excursion. I’m in the middle row, along for the ride, literally, with five members of Sage Restaurant Group. They’re in Ohio sourcing and sampling products for their Urban Farmer restaurant scheduled to open next April in Cleveland.

It’s a warm day in late August and Jones is taking us on a tour of his Chef’s Garden farm-to-kitchen business, which has worked with some of the industry’s biggest names (Keller, Trotter, Boulud, to name just a few). We’ve already gotten a look at the indoor facilities, tasting micro greens and herbs, heirloom vegetables, specialty lettuces and more. Now Jones has the six of us crammed into his truck and is driving through his 300-acre farm, pointing out different crops and growing methods.

The bow-tied farmer, now a regular on the Food Network, is pitching his company to Karpinski, who should be running on fumes. The cofounder and head of Sage Restaurant Group missed his direct flight out of Denver the night before, where Sage is based, and instead flew into Detroit. He landed after midnight and drove a rental car through the early hours of the morning to catch up with his team, which is in town for research and development.  

They’re getting a feel for the area, from competitors to potential customers to the kinds of products they might use for inspiration, decoration or the food that ultimately ends up on the table. I’m tagging along because Sage is one of The Coolest Multiconcept Companies in the Land, and the company just happens to be opening a restaurant in the building connected to our offices. (So it’s a pretty easy commute.) I plan to follow the project from now until Urban Farmer opens, providing an inside look at how a restaurant is created, from design and construction to hiring and training to marketing and promotion to sourcing and menu development.