Meriwether Godsey: Fabulous Foods Prepared by Dedicated Folks

Meriwether Godsey (MG) is an employee-owned dining management company headquartered in Lynchburg, Va., and focused on a single specific ideal: take care of each customer as if they are your only one. MG strives to create popular, healthy, sustainable and memorable dining experiences for each of its client communities. This has been the company’s practice and focus for nearly 30 years, one it has delivered across a variety of prestigious settings, including schools, colleges, retirement communities and business venues.

Simple, Elegant, Cutting Edge

While working for a large contractor and catering part time, Marie (Rie) Meriwether Godsey and her husband Eddie were convinced that if they practiced the discipline and commitment of hands on ownership, they could provide a unique service that global operators could not – a service defined by customization, relationship and fabulous food.

With this in mind, they launched MG in 1985 with just two accounts: a college and an independent school. Since then MG has expanded its client roster almost entirely by word of mouth to over 25 partners, including long-term relationships with locations like Virginia Episcopal School (27 years), as well as Chatham Hall and St. Catherine’s (both nearly 19 years).

“We’re operations focused and don’t spend much time on PR,” explains Leslie Phillips, president and COO of MG. “Fast growth is not our goal; we are thoughtful about where and when we add business so we can assure our people resources are able to deliver.” However, MG does not view its size and position as a detriment, as it allows for that personalized attention. “We like to say we’re big enough to compete, but small enough to assure hands-on attention, including by Rie,” says Phillips.

While growing MG, Rie and Eddie’s passion for food lead them to open and operate two original concept restaurants: Meriwether’s Market from 1996 to 2008; and Isabella’s Italian Trattoria from 1999 to 2009. In 2007 MG entered the retail frontier with the purchase of The Farmbasket, a Lynchburg icon since its start as a farm stand in 1964, now a boutique specialty store and café.

Today MG is a family of over 500 talented managers, chefs and service staff serving the Mid-Atlantic with locations in Virginia, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

Embracing Fresh, Local, Scratch

Not only does MG care about fresh, nutritious, variety-filled cuisine, it cares about where its foods come from. “We are very particular about our ingredients and we look for partners who share that interest,” explains Phillips. “It’s about relationships with the people growing the food as close by as possible.”

MG’s first preference is for local, seasonal products and the company works its vendor relationships to achieve this goal. The company builds farm-to-table menus and themes around what’s available. “Menus should reflect the heritage of where they are served; if it’s Virginia, we want to make sure we’ve got local lettuces, sweet potatoes, kale, tomatoes, apples, strawberries, and the list goes on and on for what we can source throughout the seasons,” explains Phillips. “And we want to show great Southern signatures - that means shrimp and grits, even for kids!

“My dream would be to have our own farm,” continues Phillips. “Guilford College, one of our partners, has an incredible production farm with year-round produce. It’s amazing what they’ve accomplished in just a couple of years. It would be a dream to do this everywhere.”

Much the way MG emphasizes a direct relationship with its supply chain, the company doesn’t put fussy technique in between its ingredients and guests. Simplicity shines when you’re creating food that is fresh, local and from scratch. “It allows us to bring more focus to real foods,” details Phillips. While many are under the impression that this way costs more, MG challenges that idea. Sustainable foods, in the end, should be more sensible when looking at the true costs of long-distance transportation, over-packaging, processing and waste.

Restaurant Grade in the Cafeteria

MG is known for cutting-edge, five-star catering (with contract clients such as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and the Virginia State Capitol, both in Richmond), while also emphasizing unrivaled foodservice to schools and children (such as those at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.). With its largest segment being independent schools, the company provides a model for how daily dining should be an above-average experience in a school setting.

“In some of our schools, we rarely serve traditional dessert,” explains Phillips. “You’ll find yogurt with homemade granola and seasonal fruits.

“Composed salads are really popular in our school accounts, too,” continues Phillips. “It’s not unusual to see quinoa with local farmer’s market vegetables on the salad bar. We’re using more grains and being creative with our vegetarian and vegan offerings. And we’re intentional about serving kids things that are different but good for them to try – pureed butternut soup and chilled blueberry soup, for example. But it all has to taste really good!”

MG and Sidwell share the same philosophy and goal: to achieve a cleaner, greener dining program. Both feel a responsibility to provide quality ingredients to young bodies. Sidwell started with staples like organic milk and all-natural meats and cheeses. This has grown to become a more comprehensive green cuisine that includes local bakery goods, organic breads, as well as local produce and local orchards, which are all used to provide attractive, varied and nutritional meals.

Even as the economy has made business more challenging, MG continues to thrive through its approach, which emphasizes scratch cooking and smart menuing to maximize fresh ingredients and to avoid things that are suffering from price spikes. “Our size allows us to shift quickly to stay in step with the market; when prices go up, we look to adjust our menus to provide the same quality without it costing more,” says Phillips. “Our commitment is to our clients first.”

Dedicated to hospitality, customization and worry-free service, Meriwether Godsey collaborates with its trusted partners to prove how local ingredients and a creative, food-focused philosophy can feed a sustainable success story.