Brian and Amanda Light want to revive the connetion diners once felt with each other and their food.
The couple set out to accomplish that mission with the opening of their 15-acre Bryan property, Ronin Farm, in 2012, and their restaurant, located just ten miles away, in 2018. Ronin Farm & Restaurant is a farm-to-table concept, with 60 to 85 percent of the restaurant’s menu sourced directly from the farm.
“The menu changes every day based on what comes in off our farm,” co-owner Amanda Light said. “Many days of the week, my husband, Brian, walks in with the goodies picked that day. The proteins stay pretty consistent. Everybody loves our chicken fried steak because it’s made with Texas Wagyu. The one menu item not [sourced from] Texas is scallops; they get flown in two or three times a week from Maine.”
Other menu items include Gulf Coast shrimp and Freedom Ranger chicken, which “are bred for flavor, not for size,” Light said. “The chicken has really, really great flavor. I’ve had people tell us, ‘I haven’t had chicken like this in 50 years.’”
Undoubtedly, Ronin Farm & Restaurant is different from other eateries because of its authenticity, Light said. “We’re living there, raising the food, making it all by hand, and providing something that’s not out of a box or can,” she said. “Everything is made from scratch. We even have our own sourdough starter. I think there’s a genuine aspect we’re able to provide just because we are raising the food ourselves.”
The Lights’s foray into entrepreneurship began when they catered their midwife’s wedding. “We realized there was a need for a caterer in town that would provide something different than the traditional barbeque or tacos,” Light said. “We’ve both been in the restaurant industry for twenty plus years, so we just wanted to provide something a little different in town, and it seemed like a good opportunity to do so.”
Amanda Light’s career took a culinary trajectory when she was just a preteen, working at her father’s friend’s restaurant as a hostess. Brian Light started in the service industry at age sixteen, working first at a coffee shop, then moving to Houston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
“I convinced my husband to try out for Top Chef because he’s worked for Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and he has a great culinary background. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re a shoo-in,’” Light said. “We went out to L.A., he tried out, and they asked him to use two words to describe himself. He said, ‘Humble and honest.’”
Laughing, she added, “He should have been a little more flamboyant. He didn’t get a callback, but we did realize we needed to open a restaurant.”
Fresh From the Farm
The Lights began hunting for a place to house their restaurant and fell in love with a historic 20,000-squarefoot, $3 million building in Downtown Bryan. “A few months later, the building’s owner approached us and said, ‘We’re looking for someone to put a restaurant in,” Light said.
After two years of planning and a full year of construction, Ronin Restaurant opened. “When we started the farm, I think we thought it would be a little more consistent than it is,” Light said. “The restaurant offered the opportunity to be open every day, the ability to provide the community with farm food on a little more of a consistent basis.”
The 108-year-old building in the historic downtown, which is primarily occupied with locally-owned mom-and-pop eateries, harkens back to simpler, friendlier times. “My grandma used the term ‘neighboring.’ Nobody neighbors anymore,” Light said. “It’s a verb to her, and I think there’s something to that. We need to be more community-minded, thinking about what we’re eating and how it impacts future generations.”
Communal seating is offered at both the restaurant and the farm, Light said. At the former, tables are suspended from the ceiling that can be pulled up when not in use. Both locations provide guests with a general appreciation for where their food is sourced – and for the company around them.
“We’ve lost the connection to food but also to our neighbor,” Light said. “Eating food that comes from a genuine source just makes you feel better because it’s whole, healthful, and it doesn’t travel far to get here. A lot of produce and foods people eat have been plucked two or three weeks ago and are still being sold, and they’re sprayed so their shelf life is longer.”
Fresh food and good company make people feel comforted, satisfied, nurtured, and loved, she said.
Down on the Farm
Ronin Farm is nestled near Lake Bryan, a picturesque, peaceful getaway and hotspot for events including corporate gatherings, weddings, showers, and dinners.
“At the farm, you’re able to see where everything is growing and being raised; you’re outside and eating among the trees,” Light said. “It’s just lovely. People feel a connection to food in a way that they don’t at a different location.”
Full Moon Dinners are held monthly (with the exception of July, August, and January) and offer guests a nine-course menu in the forest. “It’s a showcase of whatever’s in season and delicious at that time; the farm never stays the same for more than a month or two,” Light said. “They show up about an hour before sunset. Thirty minutes later they’re taken on a walking tour of the farm to see what’s growing and see the pigs and chickens. We take everybody out to our garden for dessert, and we watch the moon rise and have coffee.”
In the spring and fall months, the farm hosts a Family Farm Day complete with a plant sale, family photos, live music, activities for children, and a meal for purchase. The event is free with an RSVP or $5 at the gate.
Getting the Word Out
For now, the Light family is enjoying the close-knit vibe of their farm and restaurant and are doubtful they will expand further.
“We’re pretty busy as it is,” she said. “I think generally improving what we’re doing is the plan over the next five to ten years. There are still a lot of people who don’t even know we exist. We’ve done the farmers’ market the last eight or nine weeks because we’ve had so much growing that the kitchen can’t use everything we have. At the market it’s really interesting because it’s directly across the street from the restaurant, and people will walk up and say, ‘We’ve never even heard of you, and we’ve lived here for 20 years.’
“It’s good because we’re getting the word out more, but we’re small and family-owned, and we don’t have an advertising budget. So just generally growing and continuing to produce as much food as possible” are the goals for now, Light said.
Ronin Restaurant is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch. Ronin Farm is open during events or by appointment. For more information, visit their website.