In Pat Ebnet’s mind, “He’s just the farmer.”
In the minds of the Minnesota chefs he supplies, Ebnet is “The duck guy.”
Ebnet is the owner, operator, driver and anything-else guy at Wild Acres Farm Fresh Poultry products in Ideal Corners. The second generation farmer has carved out a reputation for excellence in the restaurant business.
“Of those products he supplies, his is the best you can get. It’s just that simple,” said Tim Anderson, executive chef at Iven’s on the Bay in Brainerd.
Anderson would know, he’s been using Ebnet’s products, which range from chickens, ducks, turkeys, pheasants to geese, since he opened Goodfellow’s in downtown Minneapolis in 1985.
“It’s the process that he goes through to get to the finished product,” said Anderson. “There is a (heck) of a lot of difference between the way Pat does it and the way Gold’n Plump does it.”
Unlike Ebnet’s competition, his farm breeds, hatches, raises, processes and distributes 26 different forms of poultry products to more than 60 accounts in Minnesota. Four of those accounts are local in Grand View Lodge, Iven’s, Lost Lake Lodge and Madden’s Resort.
Last year, Ebnet processed 60,000 birds. That number will increase this year as it has every year since 2003.
A 1986 Pequot Lakes High School graduate, Ebnet returned to the area with a business degree from Augsburg College in Minneapolis. He purchased part of the family business from his mother, Mary Ebnet, in 1992. In 2002, he purchased the property where his operation sits and since then has added or remodeled buildings to their current state, which produces farm fresh chickens that can be sold as young hens, medium hens and large hens. The Wild Acres Pekin ducks produce eggs, breasts, wings, legs, feet and fat in addition to a whole duck. The product line for the turkeys include beasts, drumsticks, bones and ground turkey in addition to the Thanksgiving turkey line that has 10-15 pound birds, 15-20 pound birds, 20-25 pound birds and more than 25 pound birds.
Customers may purchase wild pheasants, wild turkeys, semi-boneless quail and farm-fresh geese. All the birds can be smoked. Enjoyed a smoked turkey drumstick during a Twins game at Target Field? Thank Ebnet.
The long, time-tested process Ebnet uses to grow his products is better fit for another story, but it’s a process that has James Beard award-winning chefs like Tim McKee of La Belle Vie in Minneapolis eager to work with his birds.
“I don’t go out and search for customers,” Ebnet said. “Most of them just call me. It’s all word-of-mouth or chefs move to a different restaurant and take my number with them.”
Word-of-mouth was how Ebnet scored his first major client.
“One of our (Wild Acre Game Farm) members from Minneapolis used to have breakfast at the New French Cafe in downtown Minneapolis every morning,” said Ebnet. “He told the chef, ‘If you’re interested in any poultry products call these people.’ He called us and we started shipping down to them om 1978. Then it grew because chefs would move and they would carry our product. In the early ‘80s, the chef at the New French Cafe asked my mother if we had any chickens that didn’t taste like liver. We had some chickens on the farm so we took some down. He loved them and asked if we could raise him some free-range chickens. We were the first to introduce free-range chickens into Minneapolis and all the Midwest in the early ‘80s.”
One key contact Ebnet picked up early on was Chef Anderson at Goodfellow’s. After a stint in Cincinnati and around the United States, Anderson returned to Minneapolis at Napa Valley Grille in Bloomington. Once there, he called Ebnet for his poultry and that relationship blossomed. Anderson was instrumental in the buy local movement and brought that philosophy to the Brainerd area.
“My chef friends become very good friends,” said Ebnet. “I invite them to come to the farm and so Tim came up to the farm. Then he ended up coming to the farm once a month for hunting or fishing. Now he lives by me. He’s helped me know and understand the (restaurant) process.”
Ebnet had accounts in Chicago and served most of Wolfgang Puck’s earlier restaurants until shipping prices severed those accounts. Now his business is all in Minnesota with the Twin Cities being his major markets. But Brainerd is growing and local chefs want good products, too.
“It’s really nice to have Pat so close because he always gives us quality duck and chicken,” said Paul Fitzpatrick, executive chef at Cru at Grand View Lodge. “I know Mike (Manders, executive chef at Grand View), uses his pheasant and I’ve used his quail eggs. It is really nice. What I like most is he delivers it himself. You see him pulling up in his truck and it’s nice to see him. I’m on a texting basis with him. I can text him and say I need six ducks. It’s very personal and it’s so much nicer to deal directly with Pat.”
Ebnet employs 10 people and has purchased more land for the possibility of growing. But he’s passionate about keeping it a family business. He wants to be the one delivering the product. He wants to deal directly with the chefs. He said growth is good as long as it doesn’t hinder the quality of the products he already has.
“I do the best I can to price it the best way I can for that restaurant to make money so they aren’t charging the guy coming into the door — the end user — so they’re willing to buy it,” Ebnet said. “That’s the circle. It has to be that way.”