Located in a small shopping strip off of Monroe Road is Zone 7 Foods (zone7foods.com), a spot deserving of closer inspection. This comes as a challenge since the shop is only open for take-away lunch on Thursdays and Fridays. On those days, the shop, manned by husband and wife Chris Russell and Emily Hoody-Russell, offers three soups -- meat, veggie and cream options (check website for weekly updates) -- and their signature ricotta rolls, available hot and fresh. They also plan to start making open-face sandwiches soon.
But the business primarily sells frozen, pre-made meals that use locally-sourced, sustainable and organic ingredients. The couple recently concocted a beer and mushroom soup that used a porter from Free Range Brewing and mushrooms from Urban Gourmet Farms. While you'll find a variety of soups, available hot or frozen, there are also pizzas and an assortment of TV-style dinners to choose from in the large freezer that looks more like a treasure chest after peeking inside.
Chris Russell has worked as an executive chef at a variety of restaurants across the states, while Emily Hoody-Russell has a background in baking and a love for shopping at farmers markets, where she's built relationships and clients. If you can't make it for lunch, then try hitting up the NoDa Farmer's Market where Zone 7 Foods products are sold on Saturday mornings.
Creative Loafing: All of your products are labeled in detail. What pushed you guys to be so precise about where the ingredients in your products are coming from?
Emily Hoody-Russell: I think the reason that we chose to label it in such a way where the website links people to other farmers' websites is because I think sometimes there's a mistruth in menuing. We want to be as transparent as we can be with where we're getting things and who we're sourcing them from and the way that they're raising their foods. I think sometimes people's intentions start out that way and then they sort of realize it doesn't work anymore but they never change their wording on the menu, so I try really hard to always give credit where credit is due for the farmers, for the artisans and the mill where we get our flour from. I think it's important that people know where their food comes from if they want to.
Your products focus on farmers and local growers, but they are also mostly all frozen — for taking home and baking and/or heating. What made you take this specific route for serving meals?
We wanted to do something different and something where we had more control of our hours. So, part of it was a lifestyle choice and part of it was to fill a gap in the market. There are a handful of farm-to-fork restaurants that are mainly high end and it costs a fair amount of money to eat at them and we wanted to have something that was more accessible to more people because you don't always want to go out and sit and eat fine dining but you sill might want that farm-to-fork. If you were going to prepare meals like these at home it takes planning, coordinating, shopping and prepping and not everyone has time for that. So, we're trying to offer affordable farm-to-fork meals for people that don't have time to go out and source all of it for themselves.
How did you come up with the name, Zone 7?
The United States Department of Agriculture has zoned out the country as far as what goes where. So, when you're a farmer looking for seeds to plant you're going to pick something that grows well in your zone. The whole country is mapped out into different zones depending on your soil, weather and rainfall. Charlotte falls into Zone 7, so that's where we get our name.