Foodie Q&A: Jake McDaniel & Garrett Herring of Local’s Underground

Foodie Q&A is a series showcasing the Harrisonburg food community. Food enthusiast and storyteller Sarah Golibart Gorman interviews food and drink makers behind the Friendly City food scene. You’ll read about their origins, creative processes, aspirations, and go-to spots in town. Fresh articles drop the second Tuesday of each month from June 2024 to June 2025.

This month Gorman sat down with Jake McDaniel and Garrett Herring, the chefs behind Local’s Underground, a locally sourced catering company in downtown Harrisonburg.

Jake McDaniel (left) and Garrett Herring founded Local’s Underground, a locally sourced catering company, in 2023

Gorman: Can you tell me where you grew up and about the food you grew up eating?

McDaniel: I grew up in Harrisonburg. My dad managed Dave’s Taverna (Jimmy Madison’s predecessor) for a while. I grew up eating their Greek food. We didn’t eat out much other than that. My mom’s a great cook. She can stew vegetables really well. She’d improvise with different styles of slow cooked vegetables with bread or pasta. 

Herring: I grew up in Weyers Cave. My family loved build-your-own pizzas, Chef Boyardee, Hamburger Helper. Other than that we ate a lot of church meals, potlucks, Jello salad. My mom has a really good taco salad recipe. My grandma’s always making tuna casserole. We all go crazy for that. 

Gorman: When did you begin cooking and who taught you?

Herring: As a kid, when I’d get to cook the ground beef for my mom’s taco salad I remember saying I wanted to be a chef. I started at Lola’s in 2019. I had no plan to be in food at the time, but Logan Strawderman, one of the owners, inspired me and showed me that working in food and loving it is possible. Also, my sister-in-law is a food scientist and she’s always baking and making cool dishes. She inspires me to try foods I’ve never had before.

McDaniel: I got a job running food with my dad at Dave’s when I was 15. I hosted for a little over a year before they closed. That experience taught me about how food is handled, prepared, and served. Running up the stairs to the rooftop with a tray full of food was difficult but incredible. After that I worked at Domino’s and learned a lot about the speed of food there. I worked at Greenberry’s, The Golden Pony, and Lola’s before moving up to Vermont during COVID and working in a restaurant up there. 

Gorman: What brought you to Harrisonburg and what’s kept you here?

McDaniel: After Vermont, I came back to the Valley and worked for Shenandoah Vineyards. But Lola’s is really what brought me back to Harrisonburg. I went there to eat one day and the owners, Logan and Lauren, asked me if I would like my job back. What’s kept me here is the vibrant agricultural scene and all the access we have to quality, local food. 

Herring: I moved in with my brother and sister-in-law in 2019 and fell in love with Harrisonburg. We lived on Water Street, so we’d walk downtown and explore different restaurants. I moved around a couple times, but no further than Gift & Thrift, which is one of the things that’s kept me here. That and the food scene, retro game stores, and my family. 

Gorman: Can you share The Local’s Underground origin story?

McDaniel: The restaurant I worked for in Vermont sourced locally and seasonally all year round. That really inspired me. I got the idea for catering when I worked at Shenandoah Vineyards. I helped with a few wine club meetings, making homemade soup and homemade bread. When I started back at Lola’s, the restaurant closes at 3pm, so I felt like I had room for more work. I was longing for food creativity and found out that we could source pretty much every ingredient to make plenty of different styles of meals at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market each week. Also, working with wine was a palate opener for me, not just in terms of wine, but food too. The subtle flavors and textures I learned through tasting wine also apply to food. That opened me up creatively. 

Herring: We bounced around the idea of starting a catering business when Jake was in Vermont. When he came back to Lola’s we talked all the time about starting a business. We finally approached Logan and Lauren in early 2023 to ask them if we could use their kitchen. Soon after that we got our business license. 

Gorman: Why did you choose to open a catering business? 

McDaniel: In catering, we get to kind of be in control of when and where we’re going to source ingredients and what meal we’re going to offer. It’s a more fluid type of business model. I’m not sure I could manage a whole restaurant as my first business. It’s a lot. We get to focus mostly on the food. Which is great to me. The Farmers Market has given us a really good chance to branch out and try unique ingredients. We have a kohlrabi spring roll coming up. I’ve never used kohlrabi, so it’s going to be a nice learning curve. We source a lot from Curtis and Judith at North Mountain Produce. They grow a great selection of vegetables that you don’t usually find at grocery stores. Watermelon radishes, Hakuri turnips, Jerusalem artichokes. 

Gorman: What does the name Local’s Underground mean?

Herring: Our first purchase was this giant walk-in from Union Station. We knew we needed somewhere to put a lot of food and our best option to put it was in the cellar of Lola’s.

McDaniel: As for the Local’s part with the apostrophe “s”, I want it to feel like it can be anyone’s. It’s the farmers. It’s the customers. It’s the cooks. It’s the diners. It’s theirs. And it’s made and sourced from people they may know. 

Gorman: What is your creative process like? What’s working best for you right now?

Herring: After a busy day at Lola’s we put on the slow music and take our time. There are two different speakers in middle of house and back of house. Jake plays Errol Garner, a pianist. I play MF Doom. 

McDaniel: Initially, we planned on being a Giddy-Up Courier-only ghost kitchen, offering delivery or pick up only. We catered a 130 person wedding last October. We did the Co-op’s Memorial Day staff party. What’s working best for us right now is dropping a menu, like this Spring we did mole chicken enchiladas with the option of an asparagus salad or a forager’s salad with foraged greens and morels and a rhubarb tart for dessert. People place an order a few days in advance, and then we prep it so that customers can reheat it for dinner that night or reheat it in the next few days. 

Gorman: Why is sourcing local important to you? 

McDaniel: Everything comes from your neighbors. We source almost all ingredients from Rockingham County. Then, food doesn’t have to be shipped around from warehouse to warehouse, there’s less stress on 81, less vehicle emissions. It’s fresher. The produce is not stressed out because it doesn’t have to be refrigerated and shipped and moved and boxed and unboxed and wrapped. You can taste the difference. I like the challenge. When I find myself longing for an ingredient, something great comes up at the Farmers Market and I forget about what I was missing. You improvise or substitute whatever is possible. 

Gorman: What aspirations do you have for the future? What’s next for you in your food journey?

Herring: We have a few weddings booked in the fall. Our goal is to host 20 person parties on a regular basis, plated meals at people’s homes. I like to make really beautiful plates. I feel proud of the food when I see it on the plate. We can guide diners how to enjoy the plate, which vegetables to eat with each proteins. The purpose of the garnish. 

McDaniel: Maybe even one day we can find a venue where we could do that instead of going to someone’s home. A venue where we could have that intimate dining service.

Gorman: What are some of your go-to spots in town to eat? To drink?

McDaniel: Boboko. The street noodles swept me off my feet. Indian American Cafe. Any kind of korma, spice level 2 ½, and the samosa chaat. With a lassi. 

Herring: La Morena. My girlfriend and I always split chips and queso. And they have that amazing salsa bar. We try every salsa. Our new thing is we each get a pupusa and we’re each building a pupusa, chip, queso, salsa bite. We’ve been obsessed with that recently. I always get a mandarin Jarrito. 

Gorman: Who would you love to cook for?  

McDaniel: I got to do my mom’s birthday party. That was very fun. And my granddad’s birthday party as well. But on my dad’s side, so it was a mix of her’s and his family. I mean, just to see them happy. It’s just a great feeling. I’d like to do that again.

Herring: That’s a tough question for me. I haven’t really felt like I’ve worshiped anybody in a while. That hasn’t been on my mind, but now it is gonna be. 

For more on Local’s Underground, check them out on their website, Instagram, or Facebook.

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