Photograph: http://americanflatbread.com/lareau-farm. Lareau Farm is home to American Flatbread in Waitsfield, Vermont.
A few of my readers will see “Waitsfield, Vermont” and think “skiing.” That’s because they were skiing there a couple weeks ago.
But this post is about the man who launched American Flatbread in Waitsfield in 1985, franchising his restaurant concept in other states and using his business success as a platform to advocate for the environment and other causes.
“In the fall of 1979,” writes Mike Ives for the Christian Science Monitor, “George Schenk stuffed all his worldly possessions into his pickup truck and moved from upstate New York to central Vermont. After settling in the sleepy ski town of Waitsfield, he began working as a dishwasher, freelance photographer, and live-in baby sitter.
“He also apprenticed at local restaurants and learned from chefs who were cooking in ways that emphasized local and regional ingredients. By 1985, Mr. Schenk was selling his own ‘flatbread,’ a variation on the brick oven-style pizza he’d eaten as a teenager, topped with Vermont produce.
“Serving nutritious food, he realized, was a good way to promote the kind of community values he’d absorbed in his Connecticut childhood and the ecological principles he’d embraced in his previous careers as a farmer and forester. …
” ‘I felt as though the environmental dimension of food needed a voice,’ Schenk recalls.
“Today, American Flatbread operates three popular Vermont locations, exports frozen pizzas nationwide, and is franchising its restaurant concept in other states.
“But profit isn’t Schenk’s only priority: For more than two decades he has donated thousands of his flatbreads to the poor and sick. He’s also held an average of eight benefit bakes each year to raise money for those in need.”
Although his political views and “civil disobedience” actions have often raised hackles, the people who know him best defend him.
“They insist his commitment to his employees and community is sincere and unwavering,” writes Ives. ” ‘I don’t always agree with George, but I always appreciate him,’ says Amy Shollenberger, former executive director of Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group. ‘He loves everybody, wears his heart on his sleeve — and walks his talk.’ “