Leslie and Dave Lenox are the owners, the chefs, the vendors, ofHope’s Gardens, an artisan food business centered around pesto. They met in the paper business; Leslie a former stylist and high-end fashion designer assistant, entered the Division of Kimberly Clark for a more stable, consistent career, where she immediately met Dave who had been working at the company for some time.  The attraction was instant and they moved down to Atlanta for business soon thereafter.  Moving into a wonderful home tucked in the woods of Buckhead, the Lenox’s were drawn to the land for the 1937 greenhouse with original Lord & Burnham steel structure. It took 8 years to renovate, and became home to hundreds of basil plants…

   

In 2007, the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market was at its inception. One of the market creators, Sydney Shipps, approached Leslie about selling her handmade greeting cards at the market. Leslie automatically agreed and it went from there: the next week she brought bags of gourmet lettuce, freshly picked that morning, just three miles down the road from the market stand itself. They sold out immediately.  Three weeks later, the original Basil Pesto (with heaps of locally grown Sweet Basil) made its first appearance. Also sold out immediately.

There was an “infectious buzz” about the Peachtree Road Market. The locally grown and sustainable food mentality quickly grabbed Leslie and Dave. The Market grew rapidly and became a hub for Atlanta’s Slow Food organization.  Business boomed for Hope’s Gardens.

Dave and Leslie were new to the food business. It was a bit of a guessing game at first, in regards to pricing and selling their pesto. “We didn’t really know what we were really doing, but we did it anyway,” Dave smiles. But they were doing something right. And their pesto’s popularity grew instantly. Soon they were picked up by Whole Foods, and several restaurants and food markets to use and sell their product.

The parameters for selling processed foods are not as clear as selling whole produce, no How-To Guide for beginners.  For Hope’s Gardens, it became about quality, consistency, and a straight-forward approach. New flavors were added to accommodate varied taste preferences and diets: Jalapeno Pesto (with locally grown jalapeno), Sundried Tomato Pesto (without any nuts for those with allergies), and Mint Pesto (a seasonal offering, with local mint and no cheese, for those that keep a vegan diet).

Everything was a home-operation. They grew as much as they could in their greenhouse and backyard garden, and prepared it in their in-house certified kitchen. Dave devised the watering and misting systems, while building the growing tables and raised beds himself.  Their daughter, Hope, not only was their inspiration, but an integral part of the business; helping her dad plant and tend the basil, while setting up her own handmade jewelery to sell  alongside the pesto.

 

In 2009, the large storms that swept over Georgia, also destroyed the Lenox’s Greenhouse. It was a devastating blow, physically and mentally. Basil had to be outsourced from another local farmer, raising prices and time coordination, while the years of effort for reconstruction became practically futile. However, the local food community of Atlanta began several organizations and fundraising events to rescue and support the flooded farmers of the area. “And one day, there were all these strangers in our yard, helping clean up the flood’s destruction,”  Dave remarks on the benevolent acts of Slow Food Atlanta volunteers. “it made us feel so a part of this really large community.”

It is this sense of community that attracts Leslie and Dave to the local food movement.  “We meet more people in this environment than we do anywhere else!” Leslie laughs. For Leslie, food has always played a critical role in her life. Her mother was a fabulous cook, and Leslie has followed in  suit. “Cooking has this great domestic sensibility, and you get to take care of people. It’s also so creative.” With an artistic mind and family-oriented mentality, cooking is seriously important for Leslie, so much so that she will often wake up at 5:30 in the morning to start cooking dinner.

I worked for Leslie and Dave two summers ago as a market vendor and prep cook. It became instantly clear how much they all cared about each other and how much they cared about the work they were doing. It isn’t necessarily about the money, it is about something else; a sense of respect, obligation and most importantly, a love for their local community.

Plus, I can (almost) without bias, say that this is the best pesto I still have ever had. period.

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