Story by Kaitlin Hill | Photos Courtesy of Bluewater Kitchen
Orson Welles once famously said, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” Welles’ edit of JFK’s call for patriotism may seem silly or even unpatriotic, but food service and community service are frequently brought to the table in tandem. This is perhaps most true in times of crisis. Nourishment is often an overlooked but essential medicine for dark days and roots us more deeply to our own community.
In Upperville, Bluewater Kitchen owners, chef Michael Kozich and his wife Christina, understand the connection between kitchen and community. The husband and wife team opened their catering operation in 2013 with a shared vision of building a bridge between producer and patron. Christina Kozich explains, “We saw it as an opportunity to connect the people back to where their food comes from…making that connection between farms and what people are eating, specifically at special events.” They built their reputation on exquisitely executed events focused on showcasing Shenandoah’s finest ingredients and chef Michael’s Michelin kitchen-training.
More recently, in November 2019, they expanded their vision to include The Market at Bluewater Kitchen, their reimagination of the old Upperville country store with the same focus on local producers. Christina says, “We wanted to take the country store and put our spin on it, offering really awesome local products that people in the area need, along with delicious, yet affordable meals.” Part grocery, part takeout spot, and a few things in-between, The Market allows customers to experience chef Kozich’s cooking in different formats. From a daily hot order menu, grab-and-go items, locally-sourced pantry staples, and delivered meal subscription plans, the Kozich’s are driven by the idea that everyone deserves access to good, fresh food.
This fundamental belief still drives them. Even in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, where business looks a little different, their desire to feed the community remains the same. “We had no choice but to figure out how to make this work for the community and for us,” Christina says, “We are doing the same thing but just in a different form.”
Though catered events and onsite eating have given way to curbside pickup and contactless delivery, the Kozichs’ connection to the community has remained.
“We just try to listen to what the people have said [and] their feedback about things they need,” Christina says, “We are open, but doing curbside service and deliveries, especially for older people who are just cocooned in their home right now. My heart goes out to those people and we’ll help however we can help. At some point, my husband and I stopped thinking about the business. I mean you still have to, but I really think that when you put your heart in the right place, good things happen. That’s what we are leaning on.”
They also desire to help other businesses, mainly farms, hit hard by the economic consequences of the pandemic. “We are really trying to move local farm product as much as we can because we want to highlight them as well,” she says.
In The Market, Christina says, “We currently have Long Stone Farm kielbasa, cured meat, bacon and breakfast sausages (Lovettsville) and Whiffletree Farm chicken (Warrenton), along with produce from Root and Marrow Farm (Lovettsville), Chilly Hollow Farm (Berryville) and Lydia’s Field Farm (Purcellville). Additionally, we have George’s Mill Farm (Lovettsville) cheeses…and other products like their soap and delicious goat milk caramel. We are always looking for new farms to support and bring their product in.”
And in these difficult times, Christina is thankful the support goes both ways. “Without [our customers] we would have to close our doors and let people go. We are able to keep people employed in the hospitality industry, which many businesses are unable to do unfortunately. We just feel blessed.”
She adds that even in times of social distancing, it is still so important to build relationships. “Since we are one of the only places open, I see a lot of new faces and we’ve made relationships. And I think that’s the basis of any good business. It’s all about relationships and genuine relationships. For them, we are determined to come out on the other side of this better and have better relationships.”
The Kozich approach to business gets to the heart of the idea that food service is community service. For many in the food industry, the work they do every day is so much more than the meals they make: It’s the ability to nourish customers and champion other businesses. Perhaps Christina puts it best, “I really feel that for us, as people, contributing to the community is what people want us to do. That’s success, if you are contributing to something bigger than yourself…you just got to put your head down and do the right thing right now. And it’s all going to be okay.” ML
This article first appeared in the May 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.