Gorgeous, handmade chandeliers, thousands of pig statues, and a breathtaking historic fountain aren’t the items you’d expect to find at a local restaurant. In fact, it sounds like the background for the setting of a Hollywood movie. Lucky for you, you don’t have to make a trip to California for a dining experience inside this eclectic setting. Simply head over to Evansville’s very own farm-to-table restaurant, The Dapper Pig. We spoke with the owner, Amy Word, to learn more about how this incredible eatery came to be.
How did The Dapper Pig get started?
"The Dapper Pig will be three years old this year. At the time I was forming the idea, the farm-to-table movement was spreading like wildfire, and there wasn’t anyone in town really working with that concept. I thought it would be great to make The Dapper Pig a farm-to-table restaurant. I wanted it to be in a “Renaissance” area of town, meaning a part of town that was going through a revitalization.
So at the time, Haynie’s Corner Arts District here in Evansville was starting its growth. There was a beautiful building in the area that I fell in love with. The city owned the building and was waiting for someone to purchase it. Prior to me, it had been vacant for six years. I instantly knew that our restaurant needed to be there."
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
"I was actually a biology teacher before this. My aunt owned Lamasco before me, and she gave me a call to let me know she was selling the restaurant. She asked if I would let people know. That night I had a dream that I purchased Lamasco and turned it into a music venue. I woke up the next morning and knew without a doubt that I needed to have a restaurant bar with a music venue. The Dapper Pig came along after that, but my original start in the restaurant industry was with Lamasco."
What is your personal connection to the style of food at The Dapper Pig?
"I’m the founder of an organization on Franklin Street that now hosts the region’s largest farmers market, and so I’ve made connections with all of these farmers who are vendors for us. It was just the perfect tie-in for a farm-to-table restaurant. Literally, there are farmers who pull up to our back door and say hey, we’ve got this big shipment of collard greens or tomatoes or snap peas, or whatever it is. It’s not the way that normal restaurants operate today."
Why is it important to work with local ingredients?
"Every year we spend at least a quarter of our food budget back with local farmers. These are literally our neighbors and people who grew up in this town just like I did. They use small farming techniques and little to no pesticides.
For example, one of our farmers does a rotating farm concept. So the chickens come in first and they scratch up the ground, then the pigs come in and fertilize everything, and then the next year things would be ready to grow. They didn’t have to fertilize because the pigs were doing that, and they didn’t have to deworm the pigs because the chickens were eating the worms. It’s totally fascinating, and that’s not happening on a big agriculture farm where they are shipping products across the U.S.
So at The Dapper Pig, we’re looking closely at the quality of the ingredients that we’re using. We even have some farmers who raise certain crops just for The Dapper Pig. We have a local farmer who does green tomatoes just for us because we’re famous for our fried green tomatoes. It’s precious, it’s beautiful, it’s what makes community work, and it’s “Towny” in every sense of the word."
How would you describe the atmosphere at The Dapper Pig?
"We’re at the historic Haney’s Corner Arts District. Right outside our front door is a gorgeous fountain, and our building is on the national historic registry. It was built in 1885, and it’s old and so different. People walk in and tell us, this is nothing like a chain restaurant. It’s honestly the best thing anyone could say to us.
You walk in our front door and the first thing you see is a chandelier that we handmade with about 400 forks, knives, and spoons. In the dining room there are lamps hanging upside down from the ceiling– it looks like something straight from Alice in Wonderland. There are probably 2000 pigs across the restaurant from teeny tiny ones to massive ones. It’s probably one one of the most eclectic restaurants you’ll ever come to. It’s gorgeously and chaotically beautiful."
What are some of the highlights of running The Dapper Pig?
"It was a really hard project in terms of getting started: permitting the building, turning a home into a commercial application, and building a patio over a fountain. It was ten months of difficulty, but then to come in on nights where the restaurant is completely full and people are overlooking one of the prettiest fountains in town it just makes me think, ok this was worth every blood, sweat, and tear to bring this to life. We’re still young and new, but it’s magical to see how everything has come together."
What are some of your dreams for the restaurant?
"I see us continuing to make high quality food using the best ingredients possible. We’re constantly stretching the culinary imagination of Evansville by making unique dishes and being trendsetters. Going back to the whole concept of Towny, the more of us who are doing this sort of thing together, the more we are changing how people view eating out and why it’s important to support places like ours. The more we (ourselves or other local restaurants) expose people to unique eating, the more we change their expectation of what it means to eat out."
What do you love about being a local business in Evansville?
"So, one of my favorite things that has happened here was one time we came to the restaurant and there was a bag outside with a little note that said, 'Dear Amy, my 96 year-old grandmother passed away and she collected pigs, and of course the only place we thought to bring them was to you.' I opened the bag and there were all these amazing pigs inside. It’s moments like that where you realize that we really are a part of the community, and the community in turn has become a part of us. That’s the beauty of all of this at the end of the day."
Restaurants like The Dapper Pig prove that there is truly something special about local businesses. The deep connections to the Evansville community and the passion to bring something new and exciting to the city are just a small part of what makes The Dapper Pig and owner Amy Word such a treasure. Visit The Dapper Pig for a mind-blowing culinary experience, and before you go, don’t forget to look them up on Towny – your FREE guide to local perks around Evansville.