Milk & Honey: Harlan’s Sweet Spot for Brunch
By April Pearson
Small Town with Sophisticated Taste
When Ellen Walsh-Rosmann and Daniel Rosmann decided to open Milk & Honey in Harlan, they wanted to: (deep breath) serve elevated comfort food at an accessible price in a cozy environment while cultivating community, investing in their town and supporting local producers — all on top of raising two kids, farming, going to graduate school and working full time.
Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s because it is! But when one of their favorite breakfast spots closed in 2015, the Rosmanns felt compelled to fill the gap. After all, they had the unique skills, creative vision, local resources and strong work ethic to make it happen — and the people in their hometown deserved good food. “Just because we live in a small town doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things,” Walsh-Rosmann says. “We have a fantastic school system, lots of nice shops downtown and the human capital to make Harlan a great place to work and live.”
Fresh Food from Iowa Farms
Milk & Honey is the definition of a farm-to-table restaurant. Almost all the eggs, beef and pork come from Rosmann Family Farms — seven dozen eggs a day, plus a whole hog and whole cow every six to eight weeks. This ensures the protein they serve is of the highest quality and nothing goes to waste.
Milk & Honey uses as many Iowa-produced ingredients as possible. Their milk and yogurt come from Picket Fence Creamery in Woodward and Country View Dairy in Hawkeye, the greens come from Beaver Creek Produce in Berkley, the coffee is from Pammel Park Coffee in Winterset, and even the maple syrup is local, coming from Great River Maple in Garnavillo.
So, how does one go about sourcing such a wide variety of fresh, delicious, local ingredients in a small, rural town in western Iowa? It’s not easy, but it is easier when you’re a food broker for Farm Table Procurement & Delivery, the business-turned-nonprofit Walsh-Rosmann founded in 2013. “It’s a lot of work,” she says. “Getting local food to people through regional food systems is hard. But food hubs are essential for providing restaurants with a good selection of food in a way that’s not cost prohibitive.” The connections she’s forged through Farm Table Procurement & Delivery have parlayed perfectly into ensuring Milk & Honey’s fridges are always stocked with the best Iowa offers. “Fresh is best,” she says.
If You Cook It, They Will Come
Walsh-Rosmann came from a restaurant family in Gunder, where her great-great-grandparents settled ages ago. Her parents owned the Irish Shanti — home of the iconic Gunder Burger — for 15 years. She knew from experience that if people from Minneapolis and Chicago would visit an Iowa town, population 27, to eat a locally produced, perfectly cooked, 20-ounce hamburger, Milk & Honey could be a destination location, too. And she was right.
Diners flock from Omaha and Des Moines to taste Milk & Honey’s breakfast skillets, build-your-own omelets, classic burgers, sandwich specials and rotating menu items — which are cooked on a flattop grill Walsh-Rosmann brought over from the Irish Shanti. “There’s been a lot of food cooked on that grill,” she says. “It’s seasoned to perfection.”
Serving breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Milk & Honey is managed by Chef James Calkins and supported by a team that helps with day-to-day operations. “We just have great employees we really do trust,” Walsh-Rosmann says. “We let them have the freedom to be creative with the menu. I think it’s important to let them do their art.”
Food, Fun, Family and Friends
Among the regulars who visit Milk & Honey — nurses and factory workers coming off the night shift, retired folks chatting over coffee and families out for a special breakfast — the Rosmann kids fit right in. “We have an 11-year-old and 7-year-old, and they love going to the restaurant,” Walsh-Rosmann says. “I have to tell them to sit still because they want to bus tables and wait on customers.” It’s important to note that, like their parents, these young titans of industry are also getting their start on the farm. “My kids do chores, collect eggs, help pack the eggs for the restaurant…and then they get to help with the restaurant side of things.”
Milk & Honey is a great place for kids, teens and adults to unwind. The Rosmanns have started hosting community nights on Friday evenings, allowing residents of all ages to catch up with friends, play games and sing karaoke.
“We firmly believe that food creates community — it brings everyone together, and everyone can relate to it,” says Walsh-Rosmann. “Our goal was to create a place for people to meet their neighbors, have a high-quality meal and support Iowa’s producers.”
It’s a goal as wholesome as milk and honey.