By MARINA WATERS
Jamie Dove spends a lot of time working on his crops, dreaming of which vegetables he will implement in his next farm plan and finding ways to make his pizza eatery, County Line Pies, run more efficiently. But it’s all with one goal in mind — to get local food to local people.
“Anything, in my opinion, that gets local food onto people’s plates in this area is a good thing, “ Dove said. “We take it for granted, living here. Not everywhere in the world is fertile. Not everywhere can have agriculture the way we do. We have great water, good soil, good weather. Any time that I can promote that, I consider that a victory.”
Dove has been working to implement locally grown food into his menu at County Line Pies since he opened the restaurant in Southwest Washington County in 2018. Since then, everything from side items to pizza toppings often come straight from Dove’s farm.
“Right now I’ve got a bunch of collard greens that are just fantastic,” Dove said. “We’ve got a lot of greens in. Summer wise, we’re skipping tomatoes this year. We’ve got another local farmer who is going to do tomatoes. We’re going to do a huge pepper grow. We’ve got a lot of squash this year as well. But the peppers are kind of the focus this year. We’re going to have fun with some peppers.”
Dove is no stranger to incorporating locally grown food into a restaurant.
Shortly after his first restaurant, Main Street Pizza, got off the ground in Downtown Johnson City in 2014, Dove’s love for sprouting fruits and vegetables that could be used as ingredients in his restaurant took hold and only grew from there.
“I grew a little garden back there,” Dove said, thinking back to his garden when he lived in the Tree Streets neighborhood in Johnson City. “I started growing some specialty things for the restaurant. I’d say, ‘This is something I can’t buy, so I’m going to grow some of these in small amounts.’ One thing led to another. At one point I said, ‘I can probably find some land if we really wanted to push this thing.’”
From there, he purchased a small farm in Southern Washington County and later purchased a larger farm where he now lives and grows all the peppers and collard greens he could ever need for his restaurants.
But that passion for growing is something he cultivated long before his restaurant ventures, as a young boy growing up in Kingsport with a great-grandfather with that same affinity for growing his own food.
“I was very lucky to grow up with some great-grandparents who were very healthy until they were very old,” Dove said. “So I had a great-grandfather who put out a huge amount of food well into his 90s. I used to go up and down the roads with him a little bit and pull rocks out of the garden or pick Japanese beetles off of the rhubarb or whatever. I just always enjoyed that and I know he did tremendously too. So I think it’s in my blood to some degree.”
In the past year, farming and keeping the business afloat hasn’t been easy, though.
For Dove, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been at the top of the list of difficult periods of his life he has lived through.
“As you can imagine, it’s been 70 percent loss of revenue across the board, 85 percent for awhile. We’re creeping up into half now, a little more maybe,” Dove said. “We’re going to make it, but a year ago we didn’t know that for sure. We didn’t know what was going to happen. The financial hardship has been one thing, but the stress has been the other, trying to keep everybody safe, trying to keep employees, being diligent about safety protocols.
“I have done a lot of things in my life. I’ve done some hard things in my life. This past year was the most stressful without a question. It was far and away the most stressful.”
Dove said his focus is just to get back to some normalcy within the restaurant. But he also said he continues to try to create jobs within his restaurants that “people don’t hate.”
“It seems to me that everybody ought to be concerned about that,” Dove said. “To some degree, we’re all working for somebody … What I try to do is create jobs that people don’t hate. If I can make it to where it’s a good situation, the energy’s positive and you don’t hate going there every day, then I find that to be a victory.
“In the restaurant business, it’s hard. It’s hard work. It’s physical, blue collar work … We just want to make it to where if you’re going to give us part of your life, we’re going to try to make it something that you don’t hate to do. I feel like, as an employer, I can’t help but have that obligation. It’s part of the bargain. I give, you give.”
In turn, Dove said he feels he’s found something he loves as well — and that also comes with a worthy cause.
“You just like to do something you can feel okay about,” Dove said. “We want to run a good, reputable, responsible business that hopefully raises people’s awareness about how important it is to eat local food and support local agriculture. I guess I’ve created my own job that I don’t hate. (laughs)”
The past year has posed a lot of obstacles and tribulations for Dove and County Line Pies, but Dove continues to grow his crops and his business in hopes that the public keeps local businesses and the local economy in mind as the country gets closer to the end of the pandemic.
“We always appreciate the fact that people that patronize us, their money stays in the local economy at least for a little while longer because we are buying and growing local stuff,” Dove said.
“They say something like 150,000 independently owned restaurants have gone out of business and aren’t coming back. Some will still go out of business. The owners may have taken on some debt to keep the doors open and it might take them a few years to go out of business and some will.
“If people will just think about that as reopening becomes more of a thing and we all get to get back together this summer — try to spend your money in local, independently owned places when you can.”
To view the menu, hours of operation and more information on County Line Pies, go to https://countylinepie.com/.