Park City's Most Elusive Restaurateur Takes an Innovative Step Away From the Kitchen
Local, and some would say legendary, chef/restaurateur Bill White has always had the Midas touch when it comes to creating dazzling environments dedicated to the joys of eating and drinking. His seven Park City restaurants and one bakery tell that tale. But now, after 20-something years shaping the dining scene in his adopted town, this 50-year-old entrepreneur is forging a different path. Today, White has emerged from behind a curtain of carefully orchestrated privacy, trading his chef’s whites for well-worn denim and muddy boots—and a palpable air of inner peace.
The subtle shift in White’s private/public personas began to take shape in 2013, just after he bought the old Hixson Farm—a conglomeration of dilapidated buildings and overgrown fields across the road from his home on Highway 224 near Silver Springs. It didn’t look like much, and its location right off the highway wasn’t exactly bucolic. But still, it called to him.
“At first, I just thought the old garage on the property would make a great workshop,” he says. “I didn’t really have a master plan for the rest of it, but right away, I began to feel the history of the land. It spoke to me. I realized that it offered a time and place for me to really stand up for what I believe in. This whole valley used to be an agricultural basin. There were 36 dairy operations here at one time. You could see wide-open land, and now, so much of that is gone. They say houses are the ‘last crop’—nothing is the same once they’re planted on the land. I knew I could make a difference.”
The passions driving White today are largely fueled by his upbringing. When White was five, his father left a job in the automotive industry to move his young family (White has both a younger and an older brother) north to a cherry farm near the tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula. White spent the rest of his childhood exploring those 80 acres and developing a deep appreciation for the hardscrabble existence of making a living off the land.
White’s bucolic roots manifested into his current quest that’s both nostalgic and forward-thinking at the same time: to restore and preserve a piece of Park City’s agricultural heritage using state-of-the-art farming and animal husbandry techniques. He’s coined (and actually trademarked) his philosophies as “earthganic”—a chemical-free, environmentally friendly, sustainable, and “you are not just what you eat, but what you eat eats” approach to farming that involves carbon sequestration and giving back to the community, both in terms of education and with the food he produces. He practices what he preaches at both the highly visible Bill White Farms on Highway 224 and the newer five-acre Bill White Ranch on Old Ranch Road, all part of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit enterprise supported by donations and by his restaurants.
White was able to launch his farm venture with an agricultural permit that allowed him to build whatever he wanted on the Hixson farm, as long as it wasn’t for human habitation. He decided to use the existing structures to host fundraisers and cooking demonstrations that support a variety of environmental and community causes. He restored the old garage and turned it into a reception area where guests mingle before heading into the former barn that now houses an open kitchen and dining room. Both spaces exude White’s distinctive style, blending recycled woods and metals with the occasional vintage chandelier. White donates all of the food for the events, and the nonprofits keep all of the funds they raise. Most recently, he has added offices, a film-screening room, and a lecture hall to the property.
Dedicated to nurturing nature’s bounty—from honeybees and apples to hoop houses full of vegetables—the entire enterprise also serves as a venue for teaching groups about “where real, healthy food comes from and what to do with it.” Between the farm and the much larger ranch, White and his crew raise enough fruit, vegetables, turkeys, chickens, lambs, pigs, cows, and fish to supply the endless stream of fundraising dinners at the farm and to donate food for 4,000 meals each month to the Christian Center of Park City—an organization White has supported over the past 20 years. “What we don’t grow for the Christian Center we buy fresh and send to them every week,” he notes. “Good, nutritious ingredients—not the usual food pantry fare.”
White is clear about his role in the community. “I’m not necessarily the guy who’s on the board or who administers the work that organizations like the Summit Land Conservancy or Park City’s Sustainability Department are doing. I’m the boots-on-the-ground person who supports them by making things happen.”
White has hosted industry groups, including the Farm Bureau of Iowa and the Utah State Extension to share his methods and discoveries, including experiments in germinating and sprouting barley seeds within vertical growing systems. “It took us a year to get it right,” he says, proudly holding a handful of tender, green shoots. “We can turn 25 pounds of seeds into 25 pounds of food, with no soil or chemicals. It’s the way of the future.”
It also appears to be just the beginning of White’s farming future. His newfound skills also include birthing litters of piglets, and he can tell you that those piglets are capable of squealing at a deafening 115 decibels. That’s just one of the many facts he casually drops with a smile of contentment that, as he says, “only comes when we’re really connected to nature.”