Business is growing at Cool Breeze Gourmet Greens
● By J. Chambless
Cool Breeze Gourmet Greens owner Jim D’Orazio and employee Tiffany Price. (Photo by John Chambless)
By John Chambless
“Here, try this,” says Jim D’Orazio, holding a tiny flower between his thumb and forefinger. “It’s a nasturtium blossom.”
After an initial taste of what you’d expect flower petals to taste like, there’s a burst of warm pepper flavor that comes as a complete surprise. “A lot of people have never had microgreens,” D’Orazio said, “but once they try them, they’re hooked.”
D’Orazio owns and operates Cool Breeze Gourmet Greens, a business that began in 2010, catching the first wave of microgreen mania in restaurants nationwide. He now runs the business with full-time employee, Tiffany Price, making every inch of his 2.5-acre property work for him. He could hardly have done anything else, he said.
“My family grew up in West Grove,” he said. “My grandfather ran a farm right in the middle of West Grove back then. I had two uncles – one ran a farm, the other one owned a farm. We always had fresh greens and vegetables.”
D’Orazio’s main business is Yardworks, which does mowing and handles road maintenance for Franklin Township, meaning he oversees road crews most days. But when he’s not on the road, he’s in the greenhouses near his home, cultivating a tempting array of tiny greens and exotic items that end up on plates in some of the area’s best restaurants.
“We grow 42 varieties of heirloom tomatoes,” he said. “There are probably 1,000 plants out here at one time. In the summer, we have a farm stand here, selling vegetables. But our biggest sellers are the micro mixes we do for restaurants.”
Pouring out a leafy, colorful pile of slender sprouts, flowers and leaves on a work table, D’Orazio pointed out tiny radish sprouts, broccoli, nasturtium shoots and more, mixed together in an instant salad that’s a cut above most ordinary blends.
In the greenhouses – nothing fancy, just plastic tarps stretched over plastic poles – he is growing trays full of herbs, 12 varieties of edible flowers, mint, pine berries (tiny white strawberries), mouse melons – which look like tiny watermelons but taste like cucumbers – and more, including nearly lethal peppers called Carolina Reapers that he sells to 896 Pie and Skipjack’s for hot sauces. Just don’t touch them without rubber gloves.
One advantage of growing microgreens is that it doesn’t take long, D’Orazio said. If a customer requests a tray of something, “I’ll tell them to stop back in two weeks and they’ll be ready,” he said. “We plant about twice a week and we cut five or six days a week, so it doesn’t take long.”
Cool Breeze services 25 to 30 restaurants, including Krazy Kat’s, Brandywine Prime, Café Gelato, the Back Burner and many other top locations. D’Orazio delivers them all himself, in his own car. Along with Tiffany, he has three part-time helpers during the summer and in the evenings.
The Cool Breeze retail outlet – in a work building near the house – is open pretty much every day, D’Orazio said. “If you pull in and the door’s open, we’re open,” he said, smiling.
The advantages of microgreens include being packed with nutrition – twice as much as the larger versions of some of the greens. And as an all-natural growing facility, Cool Breeze uses no pesticides. “We use ladybugs and some praying mantises in the greenhouses,” he said. “We use natural soaps and remedies and things like that.
“One of the things I’m proud of is that we sterilize all of our own soil. I have my own recipe for it. I recycle everything, sterilize it and use it again in the greenhouse. So everything that comes out gets recycled in bins, breaks down and comes back, and we do it again.”
D’Orazio knows where each plant has been for its entire life, something that chefs and restaurant owners value. There’s no gap in the supply chain that would allow contamination, which can occur in large, factory-farmed produce.
“One chef I work with said the stuff he gets shipped from California, he has to send half of it back because it’s rotten by the time it arrives,” D’Orazio said. “The more local the product is, the longer shelf life it has.”
The chefs he has worked with for years keep using Cool Breeze greens, even if they move to a new restaurant, D’Orazio said. “I’m here, and I’ve built a reputation,” he said. “I’ve done the Farmer and the Chef event five times, I supply schools in Delaware for their culinary classes. Business is definitely up.”
Whether people try his greens at a restaurant or come to the farm stand, D’Orazio and Price love to get customers to try new things. “That’s satisfying, for people who have never tasted microgreens,” D’Orazio said. “For instance, radishes -- you can eat the greens. It just puts a smile on your face when someone tries something and likes it.”
Having grown up with farms, D’Orazio said he loves what he grows. “I’ve always been into healthy eating, and there’s nothing like picking tomatoes from the vine and just eating them with a little salt,” he said, smiling. “Even if you’re having a bad day, you come into the greenhouses and look at all the greens and smell things growing, and it’s not that bad, you know?” he said.
Cool Breeze Gourmet Greens is at 1001 Wickerton Rd., Landenberg. Call 610-345-0345 for more information.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.