As a fourth-generation wheat, corn, barley, and soybean farmer who understands the challenges facing today’s American family farmers, Mark Watne has dedicated the better part of his career to working for the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU). He is the union’s ninth president and uses his love of farming and the farming community, his know-how, and innovative ideas to improve and grow the organization. This includes opening their first restaurant in 2006.
With the ideal of growing the NDFU, Mark and his fellow North Dakota Farmers enlisted the help of Michael Vucurevich and Dan Simons of the successful restaurant consulting group VSAG, to develop a restaurant brand with its foundation rooted in the notion that family farming was, and remains, essential to our nation’s well being. Together, they opened the flagship Founding Farmers DC.
Mark continues to represent the more than 47,000 American family farmers in North Dakota through a flourishing partnership with Mike V and Dan for the Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG). Working passionately on NDFU’s behalf, Mark ensures that the Farmers Restaurant Group venture continue to honor both their shared way of life and directly benefit them and their families.
Though he visits DC often, Mark is a lifelong resident of North Dakota where, in addition to his many other responsibilities, he continues to run his family farm.
Michael Vucurevich (also affectionately known to our team as “Mike V”) is one of the industry’s most respected restaurant concept developers for his knowledge of every aspect of the business, from brand creation to profitability. Since the age of 19, when he ran his first high-volume kitchen, Mike V has helped some of America’s best-known restaurants evolve and succeed.
Mike V has enjoyed living in and traveling to many of our nation’s destinations, enabling him to experience local cuisines and be inspired by them when creating the delicious, diverse, and interesting menu offerings FRG has become known for.
Within the industry and among his own team, Dan Simons is known for his energetic leadership style and passion for hospitality. An impressive career in the management ranks at several large, high-volume restaurants helped propel him toward starting his own firm, Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG), which he founded in 2004 with mentor Michael Vucurevich. The two form a well-balanced partnership based on mutual respect and a shared vision that proved critical in their formation of Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG), which began with the first Founding Farmers in 2008.
As co-owner and skilled communicator, Dan is frequently called upon to serve as the voice of FRG’s growing collection of sustainable, farmer-owned restaurants. Everyday, he works to educate guests and the media about the importance of family farming and sustainable operations, to share his hospitality industry and management expertise, and to encourage responsible industry practices. Always out in front for FRG, he was named Ernst & Young’s 2018 Entrepreneur Of The YearMid-Atlantic for his business acumen, novel approaches, and success.
He is also the founder of Our Last Straw, a non-profit company devoted to eliminating the use of plastic straws and raising awareness about the environmental and health hazards of single-use plastics. Dan launched Our Last Straw to bring together a coalition of restaurant and hospitality industry partners with government leaders and NGOs to lead the charge for change.
Joe Goetze’s official title is managing partner, culinary & bakery, but in his restaurants he’s simply known to everyone as Chef Joe. He’s the man responsible for all of the innovative food and leading the culinary teams across Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG). Chef Joe’s extensive experience includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, and years spent developing menus and running kitchens at notable restaurants around the country.
Chef Joe started working with Mike V and Dan in 1997 and joined their VSAG team in 2004, where he’s worked on a variety of successful ventures, becoming an integral part of FRG in 2008. He aims for authenticity in every recipe and strives to create, as he likes to put it, “exactly what people are expecting, but better.”
Aside from especially enjoying the creative experience of menu development for each restaurant, Chef Joe has recently discovered a renewed passion for delicious, fresh baked bread. In his own words, “The bread we are baking is fantastic!” At approximately 118,000 loaves per year, that is a lot of delicious bread, all made with flour primarily sourced from the state-owned North Dakota Mill. Chef Joe continues his quest to make tasty, wholesome food using two key ingredients: expert technique and smart food sources.
Jon Arroyo started his career in the acting world and, like most actors, spent a lot of time working in restaurants, specifically, behind the bar. A decade of experience in the industry gave this Los Angeles native an appreciation for, as he puts it, “all things liquid.”
At Farmers Restaurant Group, Jon has been able to pursue his true passion: the art of the craft cocktail. He runs all bar & beverage programs, overseeing the development of our award-winning cocktails; from-scratch mixers to our house-made nonalcoholic sodas.
Always looking to up our bar service ante, Jon developed the Founding Farmers Spirit Project, working hand in hand with Rick Wasmund, of Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA, on our Founding Farmers Rye Whisky and Founding Farmers Gin. He traveled to Macchu Pisco to create our Founding Farmers Pisco Blend, toiled with the talented vintner teams at two different vineyards in order to bring guests our house line of wines, Virginia Vines Rosé and New York Vines White, and is currently working with a winery in the Northwest on a house Pinot Noir.
Jon’s desire to continue developing unique spirits with his own recipes and blend of ingredients was instrumental in building our micro-batch distillery, Founding Spirits, located in Farmers & Distillers. As Distillery Director, Jon is calling the shots, which include creating our Founding Spirits Vodka, Founding Spirits Arroyo’s “Never Bitter” Amaro, and Founding Spirits American Whiskey.
According to Jon, he finds inspiration through all of his experiences. His ultimate goal is to provide fresh and interesting flavors that resonate with guests and deliver a positive experience.