The Grand Central Bakery BLT starts 26 miles east of Seattle, along the Snoqualmie River, where rows of rangy vines twine upward on strings and fist-sized tomatoes blush an ever-deepening shade of red. It’s early August at Arenth Farms, the start of a long, sweet season. Deb Arenth, hands stained from a morning tying plants to trellises, will bring the first medium-size red slicers to Grand Central Bakery’s Seattle kitchen this week, marking the opening day of BLT season.
The start of tomato season is cause for celebration in Grand Central’s cafes, where you can bliss out on a BLT for the next two months, or add thick slices of juicy local tomato to any sandwich on the menu. (In Portland, Deep Roots Farm in Albany supplies a season’s worth of ripe tomatoes.)
“We know an Arenth tomato when we see it,” says Laura Heinlein, Grand Central’s commissary manager. “They’re perfectly red, juicy, a bit bigger than a baseball. They’re just gorgeous.”
This farm-to-bakery relationship goes back nearly a decade, when the bakery’s owners decided to only serve tomatoes in season, from local farms. The rest of the year, sandwich customers would go without and be offered house-made tomato relish as a substitute.
The first year, kitchen and café staff waited for a backlash from customers that never came. Instead, the Grand Central BLT became wildly popular, something customers waited for all year.
And the other consequence? A permanent home for the Arenths’ entire crop of organically grown tomatoes – some 300 pounds a week for a two-and-a-half-month summer season.
“My husband and I do everything,” says Arenth, who started farming with husband Rob in 1991. “It was wonderful to have one place we could deliver to and have a company like Grand Central that was flexible enough to work with us.”
Along with an appreciation for a perfect, farm-grown local tomato, Grand Central employees forge a connection with the place and people behind it.
Heinlein has visited the farm with her family as well as with some of the kitchen staff.
“It’s very personal,” Deb Arenth says. “I like that. We have watched Laura’s family grow. We care about the people and the company.”
This post was updated Aug. 8, 2018