Questions & Answers with community faces
Dana Falconberry (41) is from Dearborn originally. She went to college in Arkansas, where she graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music business Afterward, Falconberry moved to Austin, Texas, to pursue a career in music; she recorded multiple studio albums and toured with a full band for years. She also created visual art, focusing on chain-stitching and print-making.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Boyd (40) is from Alpine, a small town in west Texas. He attended middle and high school there and then moved around the state for several years working in restaurants in the Dallas and Austin areas. After a decade or so, he took a break from the food service world and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geography from Texas State University in 2018. Shortly after graduation, Boyd began working with a biologist doing field research on bee ecology in the high desert micro-climates of the Big Bend and Guadalupe National Parks. After a few seasons of field work, Boyd decided to switch gears again and pursue work in the addiction field by becoming a peer recovery coach; he has been working in this capacity with Catholic Human Services since moving to Northern Michigan this past year.
Back in Texas, Falconberry and Boyd met in 2012 through a mutual-friend group: they had both worked at the same Austin restaurant, though at different times so that they never overlapped. The couple remained in Texas for many years, but through multiple trips to Northern Michigan—where Falconberry had vacationed as a child—the couple fell in love with the beautiful landscape and decided to get married three years ago on Good Harbor Beach in a simple ceremony on the water with their families.
Falconberry and Boyd then spent the next few years trying to figure out how to relocate here permanently, and they finally made the move—along with their two pups, Super and Linguini—from Texas this past January.
The couple had already started a food business together—originally called Rolls Rice but recently with a name change to Roll Model—in 2019 back in Texas. At first, they were uncertain if they would restart the business here in Northern Michigan. They drove by Grow Benzie, curious about what it was all about; after checking out the website and a phone conversation with Josh Stoltz, the nonprofit’s executive director, who they say is “one of the friendliest souls to welcome us to this area,” the couple knew that they wanted to be involved with Grow Benzie.
Now, all of the food creations of Roll Model are prepared in the commercial kitchen at Grow Benzie, and purchases can be made via pre-order pick-up and walk-up purchases at various farmers’ markets and businesses throughout the region. They also offer catering services and pop-up dinners at local bars and restaurants. The couple is committed to finding creative and environmentally sustainable ways to run a business and provide the community with healthy and delicious food.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with Falconberry and Boyd as they were preparing for this week’s orders.
The Betsie Current: What made you want to work in food? What do you enjoy about this line of work?
Dana Falconberry: I had no intentions of ever working in food, ha! We started this business up as a way to make a little extra cash and provide our community in Texas with some fun and healthy food, and I never had any idea that it would turn into my full-time job. When we moved here, we just loved Grow Benzie so much and thought we could help pay our rent by selling spring rolls on the weekends—the business has certainly taken on a life of its own, and while it’s a scramble every day to keep up, I’m so thankful for its success.
Jonathan Boyd: Plainly, I love food. It has been central to my professional life for many years, and these days, there are few things I value more than preparing and enjoying a beautiful meal.
Current: What are your top three sellers?
Falconberry: Welp, we only have one menu item—springies! We make vegan, gluten-free spring rolls that include as many local ingredients as possible: for instance, we’ve had carrots, snow peas, and golden beets from Lost Lake Farm in Honor, depending on whatever is in season. We’ve also had flowers from Sow She Grows Flower Farm, via Charla Burgess, of Frankfort. Customers get to choose from a peanut sauce and a hot sauce; we also sell the sauces separately in 12-ounce containers. In the “off season,” we also have rice bowls, and wowee, people are still mad at us for discontinuing that option for the summer; we just couldn’t keep up! We’d love to expand the menu to include many more vegan and gluten-free items in the future, but again that’s just not something we can take on by ourselves at this point. We have hired one additional awesome employee, but we would need to hire more to expand more.
Current: Why the name change?
Falconberry: At the end of May, about five months into being here in Northern Michigan, we changed our name officially from “Rolls Rice” to “Roll Model.” We changed the name because of trademark issues, but we feel really good about the decision, regardless. First of all, we like the name Roll Model more anyway! It suits our passion for local ingredients, sustainable packaging, and community awareness. Also, on a more personal level, this is something that we’ve thought about and talked about a lot since we started this business. To put it simply, we are white people. We are white people making food for profit that is clearly very informed by a culture/cultures that are not ours. So, we want to separate ourselves from that as much as possible. I cringe when people say we are making “Thai” food or “Vietnamese” food; we are not making either of those things, and the food we make is certainly not traditional. Of course, we didn’t invent the spring roll, and we want to be reverent to those that are carrying on the very important traditions of the classic spring roll and other traditional dishes. There is another company in New York called Rolls Rice, and they are making gorgeous traditional Cantonese food. They have applied for the Rolls Rice trademark, and while they never reached out to us about our use of the name, we felt strongly that the name is theirs to own—we were happy to change our name to something that feels a little less derivative of other cultures, honestly. That’s a quick dip into this super complicated topic, but we just think it’s important to have an open dialogue about this kind of stuff.
Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you?
Falconberry: If it’s a market day, I’m up at 4 a.m., in the kitchen by 4:45, and making spring rolls as fast as I can to make it to the market in time to set up. The afternoons are spent answering emails, tending my garden, and if I’m lucky, a hike or a swim. On non-market days I’m often in the kitchen doing prep and making sauces, and then hopefully making it out into the gorgeous landscape!
Boyd: Currently, I work for Catholic Human Services as a recovery coach, so I stay busy with that during the 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday business hours. Dana has taken the lead with Roll Model, so I work to support her in the kitchen during the earlier mornings and on weekends.
Current: How has that changed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Northern Michigan last March?
Falconberry: Well, we moved here right in the middle of the pandemic, which is insane to think about now. But we are constantly discovering new things now that everything is opening up, and we are elated!
Boyd: We were operating Roll Model in Central Texas when the pandemic started to change everything. The business model at the time—residential delivery—fortunately was ideal for a world that suddenly had to practice social distancing. So, as our other jobs vanished along with so many others, we pivoted to this full time. Then, after we moved to downstate Michigan towards the end of last year, we did some research into the Sleeping Bear area and came across Grow Benzie. After talking with Josh [Stoltz], the executive director, we immediately felt supported and decided to move on up to the area and give Roll Model an “Up North” reboot.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next? Have you had any collaborations?
Falconberry: Oh my goodness, we’ve seen a crazy amount of growth and change over the past couple of months! We started off just doing weekly pre-orders, but as summer was approaching and everyone’s schedules got busier, it became clear that we needed to make our product more readily available by doing markets, too. Since then, it has honestly just been a race to keep up with the demand. Back in April, we were making maybe 250 to 300 spring rolls per week; now, we’re making more like 1,500 every week. There are lots of ways that we’d love to see the business grow in the future, but it is clear that we can’t take on much more growth on our own. We are very much open to seeing these growth opportunities through partnerships and collaborations in the future. Another direction that we’d love to see the business move in is to help the fight for Native food sovereignty. We want to use the business as a platform for education and financial stimulation for this.
Boyd: Initially, it was a pre-order/pick-up model for the first three months of operating. But when the summer came around, it was clear that we wanted to include some farmers’ Markets, and we’ve also been fortunate enough to develop relationships with other local small businesses, a few of which we have wholesale accounts with: Left Foot Charley, Iron Fish Distillery, 45 North. We also have had a booth at local events, like the recent Grow Benzie Bayou event in Elberta. We’re not sure what is next. This is our first summer up here, and we have already learned a lot. We talk about the future of the business often but are sort of trying to let all of this data kind of wash over us for now, sit with it, and then make some plans during the winter.
Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?
Falconberry: Well, I am really hoping that I can get back to some print-making and songwriting when the season slows down. I am also going to be performing for the first time since moving to Northern Michigan at the upcoming LivelyLands music festival in Empire on Friday, August 20, at 7pm. Otherwise, we love all outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, swimming, etc. I love walking through the woods slowly and taking photos of the tiny worlds I come across out there.
Boyd: When we’re not making food, we like to eat it. Going out to dinner is probably our favorite weekly thing to do. We also love to spend time outdoors. Sleeping Bear is a magical place to explore, so we try to prioritize that. As a person in long-term recovery and now as a recovery coach, I try to stay involved with the local recovery community. It’s important that I do my part to help folks who are struggling with substance use disorders to get connected with the resources they need to establish themselves in their own recovery.
Current: How have you seen Northern Michigan change since you started coming here? What are your hopes for the area in the future?
Falconberry: I started coming up here every summer the year that I was born, and it always felt like our own little private paradise when I was a kid. I told my parents early on that I would someday live in Empire, and now I do. But oh yes, it has changed. There are so many more people now! The tourism is great for the economy up here, so I hope there’s a way to balance it all. And, of course, I hope that more and more land is conserved and protected from development.
Boyd: We’ve only been here full time for six or seven months, so the only changes I’ve noticed are with the seasons. I’d like to help address the lack of housing issues that lead to labor shortages for many of the other small businesses.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Falconberry: Finding employees is almost impossible here. Everyone I talk to is facing the same issue. It’s a super complicated problem, I think, but one that needs a lot of attention. The most rewarding part of my job is talking to people at the farmers’ markets who love our food, especially people with dietary restrictions that have trouble finding food that they can eat in this part of the world.
Boyd: The rewards of living and working in Benzie County include the incredible locally grown produce—much of which we get from Lost Lake Farm in Honor—and the magical forests, lakes, and beaches, as well as the excellent hiking and biking trails in and around the county. Additionally, we are so grateful for all of the community support for our business, which we have felt from the get-go.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area?
Falconberry: Affordable housing. Affordable housing. Affordable housing.
Boyd: People will come if there are places to live.
Current: What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?
Falconberry: Native-owned and -operated land/farms.
Boyd: Affordable housing. Affordable housing. Affordable housing.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?
Falconberry: If we’re not working or hiking, we’re probably at one of our favorite local restaurants. We love going out to eat, and we have been blown away by the food here. Some of our favorites are Rock’s Landing, Amical, Farm Club, Radish, The Good Bowl, and The Riverside Inn, which is where we had our wedding dinner three years ago. There are so many more we haven’t tried yet! We are so fortunate to live close to Esch Road [Otter Creek] beach, and that’s one of our very favorite places to go. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is so beautiful and amazing for biking. So many wonderful things to do here!
Boyd: I love to bike on the Heritage Trail, hike in the Platte Plains, swim in Lake Michigan and eat at Rock’s Landing with my wife.
Current: What does your perfect summer day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Falconberry: We’d start with coffee on our porch and then an early morning hike on Treat Farm trail with our two pups. Then home for a garden bunch, and then some reading and napping, of course. After that, we’d head to Lake Michigan to swim in her magical waters, then probably head to Rock’s Landing for dinner!
Boyd: My perfect day is to do all of the above in that order, which I have, and it is awesome.
Visit “Roll Model” on Facebook or RollModelFood.com to learn more. Email RollModelFood@gmail.com for more info. Find Roll Model at the Grow Benzie Farmers’ Market on Mondays from 2-6 p.m. or at Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville from 3-9 p.m.; on Wednesdays at Left Foot Charley Winery at the Grand Traverse Commons from 12-7 p.m.; on Thursdays at the Elberta Farmers’ Market from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.; on Saturdays at the Frankort Farmers’ Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or at 45 North Vineyard and Winery in Lake Leelanau from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pre-orders are highly recommended for all locations.
Featured Photo Caption: Dana Falconberry and Jonathan Boyd are owners of “Roll Model, vegan and gluten-free spring rolls which include as many local ingredients as possible. Photo courtesy of Roll Model.