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Raising the Standard

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Raising the Standard
Text by Jennifer V. Cole + Photography by Bryan Regan

Chef Scott Crawford and Business Partner John  Holmes return the corner grocery to Raleigh

Food nearly killed Scott Crawford. That is a hard thing for anyone to swallow, but it’s  especially disheartening for a chef. While working at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island in Florida, he collapsed. His body rebelled against itself, and all of his organs began shutting down, including his brain. He was in the ICU for days while doctors scrambled to determine what was wrong. At age thirty, it turned out that Crawford had type 1 diabetes.

Raleigh AM 081015 0134
Scott Crawford in the Kitchen.

Crawford, now forty-two, grew up in farm country Pennsylvania, in the town of Meadville, where his grandfather drove a milk truck. But he was far from wholesome. “I was a mischievous troublemaker,” he says. At age seventeen, he decided he needed to get away, and set off for Florida. “By the time I left, I think they were ready for me to go.”

In the Sunshine State, he enthusiastically took to the life of a surf bum, making money by waiting tables. When a cook didn’t show up one night at the restaurant, Crawford volunteered. “I was always tight with the kitchen,” he says. “I really related to those guys. They were the bad boys.” The chef set him up with a knife and a cutting board, and all night long he held his own with the motley crew he admired, pounding out vegetables with precision. That was the beginning.

Soon thereafter, he followed a chef to San Francisco to work as his sous, eating at every restaurant he could. “I was broke, but I considered this my education,” he says. “I maxed out all of my credit cards at restaurants.” To pay down that debt, he ended up back in Florida, cooking for the Ritz-Carlton.

Keeping insane hours, opening restaurants, living and working in a world that most others visit simply for recreation—chefs have a reputation for playing hard when they have the chance. You don’t want to end up in a battle of chicken over a bourbon bottle with a chef. Dirty secret of the industry: chefs might be plating beautiful, soulful dishes of pristine produce, but it’s not unusual for them to subsist on Red Bull and junk food. There are plenty of exceptions. But Scott Crawford was not one of them.

When he got sick, everything changed.

“I set out on this journey to understand how important food is,” he says. “It was funny that as a high-end chef I didn’t view food as a way to enhance your overall health. I viewed it as entertainment for guests and as basic fuel for myself.” His next series of gigs took him to The Woodlands in South Carolina, The Cloister at Sea Island in Georgia, and then Herons at The Umstead in Cary, North Carolina. Though he wasn’t born and raised in the South, Crawford adopted a Southern viewpoint in the kitchen. He pored over hundreds of old, rustic cookbooks—“these had possum and squirrel in them”—planning to apply his refined technique to historic recipes. Through his research, he discovered that most old-school Southern food wasn’t dependent on excesses of fat and sugar for flavor. It was clean. And clean eating had become very important to Crawford personally. “I have a life-threatening disease that hinges on what food I put in my body,” he says. “And I’ve learned I can eat most things I want if it’s clean and not processed. I don’t really go without anything.”

Through his research, he discovered that most old-school Southern food wasn’t dependent on excesses of fat and sugar for flavor. It was clean.

This nostalgic notion of clean Southern food and the community around it, from farmers to home cooks, has fueled the creation of Standard Foods (205 East Franklin Street, Raleigh, North Carolina), a 6,000-square-foot neighborhood grocery store, restaurant, and butcher shop that Crawford opened in downtown Raleigh with business partner John Holmes this fall. “I was really longing to make my food more accessible. As a high-end chef, you’re out of reach for a lot of people. You’re just the special-occasion guy,” Crawford says. “I’ve moved around my whole career, and I love it here. I wanted to feed the larger community.”

Chefs and Partners
Chef Scott Crawford and Business Partner John Holmes return the corner grocery to Raleigh.

So, together, Crawford and Holmes are bringing back the corner grocery store, the kind that used to exist in most towns across the country. “We’re playing off the meaning of ‘standard’ to represent what we’re doing as normal—because many years ago it was,” says Holmes. Even their logo, a generic UPC code, reinforces that idea.

And through Standard Foods, they are hoping to build trust and strengthen the food community. They want you to be able to learn the details behind every product you buy, whether in the restaurant or the market: who produced it, how, and where. They want you to know that the pork from Spruill Farms lived on a foraged diet of apples and acorns in the woods. That Ran-Lew Dairy uses 100 percent non-GMO feed. They want you to know that it’s clean. Crawford is willing to stake his life on it.