Lupi's Pizza.Farm to Table and Back Again

By Melanie Mayo, Fall 2015

Lupi’s Pizza has been an institution in Chattanooga since 1996. It brought pizza culture to a then-struggling downtown area. Before Lupi’s there was no place in town where you could pick up a slice of pizza and a beer.  It is now acknowledged as one of the best pizza joints in town, taking the prize for “Best Pizza” in the Chattanooga Times/Free Press “Best of the Best” awards for the past 6 years. From their fresh, hand-tossed crust to their gourmet sauce to their highest quality and often local ingredients, Lupi’s sets itself apart. 

But it’s not just about great pizza. Lupi’s is also committed to supporting a stronger, more tight-knit and sustainable local economy.  

Dorris Shober, owner of Lupi’s Pizza, is also co-owner of Flying Turtle Farm with her husband John. Lupi’s menu reflects Shober’s devotion to locally grown foods and is the product of her unique perspective of both restauranteur and farmer. While it is extra work to procure local ingredients, Shober feels it’s important to keep Lupi’s money in the local economy by supporting local growers. “Relationship with the farmers is key. We have to be able to depend on them, and the farms have to be able to depend on Lupi’s,” says Shober.

Lupi’s began sourcing ingredients from local farms back in 2000 and last year they spent $75,000 on local food in their restaurants, including 2,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes. Their menu proudly features other local products, including Sonrisa Farm stone ground wheat, Couture Cake gluten-free crust, and fresh, in-house made mozzarella cheese. Additionally, all the ground beef and ground sausage used at Lupi’s comes from Sequatchie Cove Farm, Beulah Farm and the Shober’s own 65-acre farm.

The Shobers embrace sustainable growing methods and responsible livestock management techniques that limit the amount of inputs required to raise meat for the restaurant. According to John, their Berkshire/Hampshire pigs and Scottish Highland cattle are 100% grass-fed, “but they get more than just grass from the pasture. We keep a good mix of forages, including clover, and we use rotational grazing on the farm.”

Their sustainable management plan also includes an efficient composting system in which Lupi’s pre-consumer food waste, such as egg shells, veggies, old pizza and bread are fed to their farm pigs, which in turn are grown for ground sausage that goes back to the restaurant.

Continuing to tighten the farm to table loop, the Shobers have big plans to expand into vegetable production this spring, growing vegetables as sustainably as they raise livestock. “We have about an acre and a half devoted to organic produce exclusively for Lupi's, but plan to use only half of that at any given time. The other half will be in cover crops,” says Shober. 

Between running Lupi’s restaurants and managing a 65-acre farm, the Shobers have their hands full, but their passion for local food is helping to close the loop between land and eater while strengthening the local community and economy. “Dorris and I are constantly marveling at how fortunate we are to be able to derive so much of our diet from right here on the farm. Eating fresh veggies picked moments ago is an experience we all need to know. Good in so many ways!” says John Shober. “I feel like I’m starting a whole other business,” says Dorris. “There’s no telling where it will take us!”