If you ask Katie Lesh — who owns The Good Plow in Carpinteria with her husband, Jason Lesh — to describe her new restaurant, she puts it this way, “Sexy fast-casual farm-to-table.” And then her chef, Pedro Garcia, emphatically adds, “It’s fucking good food!”
Given that a meal rarely rises above its ingredients, these emphatic Good Plow claims are bound to ring true: For almost a decade, Katie and Jason have run Farm Cart Organics as a farm stand and CSA delivery service, and she’s the daughter of the revered farmer Tom Shepherd. One of the first farmers to get his name onto fine-dining menus — thanks, John Downey! — Shepherd started farming organically in Carp in 1973, blessing Katie with the heartiest of, uh, roots.
While Farm Cart Organics grew and pivoted over the years — thanks to the pandemic, about half its business is now delivery rather than in-person retail — Katie was constantly plotting this restaurant. “There’s such a need for this concept in Carpinteria,” she explained. “The food scene isn’t really up-to-date.”
Prior to opening, Lesh told people that the menu was “just going to be veggies, veggies with sauces,” used “food with lots of flavor, really clean, really colorful” as the driving descriptors, and insisted to Garcia that there be “bowls and super fun tacos.” That’s translating to items like the Korean fried tofu tacos, which are buried in a savory mix of red cabbage, pickled cucumbers, basil, spicy tahini, and poke sauce and served on a homemade corn tortilla.
But in hoping not to offend Carpinteria, which she recognizes as less trend-following than Santa Barbara, Lesh explained, “We didn’t want to be labeled a vegan restaurant,” despite the menu’s plant-based lean. Indeed, for the first few weeks since The Good Plow’s August 20 opening, the two most popular items have been the “Real Burger” (made from Rancho San Julian beef) and the fish tacos starring grilled flesh fresh from the Santa Barbara Channel.
“People ask me what’s my favorite thing on the menu,” Lesh explained, “and I honestly can’t answer that.” She stressed that their family farm and connections to other organic purveyors helps them get ingredients from the source, keeping prices lower than usual. “Why pay for three markups?” asked Lesh, whose menu items tend to cost around $10.
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For his part, Chef Pedro Garcia, a native of Ecuador, couldn’t be happier at The Good Plow. While he had lived in Santa Barbara previously, leading the food efforts at Cottage Hospital — “he transformed Cottage from bad cafeteria food to farm-to-table,” is how Lesh put it — he was working in Georgia when he connected with the Leshes online and decided to visit. “He literally cooked us dinner at our house, and, by the end of the evening, I offered him a job,” said Lesh.
Since that job is located within the former Fosters Freeze on Carpinteria Avenue, The Good Plow is selling organic frozen yogurt from the to-go window. The Leshes had to fight to take over that coveted lease, but Katie is overjoyed. “It’s such a great spot to have,” she said, “with so much open space, an open kitchen, and a huge patio.”
To finally reach their restaurant dream, they turned to their fans to raise $50,000 via Kickstarter, which went toward the patio, outside tables, inventory, to-go ware, and other small equipment. “Construction costs went through the roof,” Lesh said. “But I knew people would help us if they could, and that gave us the last push.”
Building that kind of community spirit is critical for both Katie and Jason, who’s also a Carp native. Since the beginning of Farm Cart Organics, they’ve sponsored efforts such as the Better Bucket, which redirects customers’ food scraps toward composting, and have donated food boxes to people who need them via nonprofit organizations.
And today, they’re serving fresh, creative food to a hungry audience of all ages. So when Lesh says “we just feel so lucky” about getting to open The Good Plow in the iconic Fosters Freeze spot, she’s talking for everyone.
5205 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria; goodplow.com