Bringing Light to the Food Industry
Amanda Light ’18, owner of Ronin Farm & Restaurant, proves that the College of Liberal Arts can empower entrepreneurs with a recipe for a successful innovation and entrepreneurship program. Plus she provides a Ronin original recipe!
Story by Alix Poth ’18
Photos by Ryan Price and Rachel Knight ’18
Transparency and authenticity.
These are not likely the words that come to mind when thinking of today’s food industry. But this is exactly what Amanda Light ‘18, former student of the College of Liberal Arts, and her family desire to restore the way people view food. Ronin, their new farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Bryan, is accomplishing exactly that.
When you walk into the restaurant at the Ice House on Main, you get a glimpse of the Lights’ vision coming to life — an open kitchen and long, wooden communal tables. Six years after establishing their local farm, Amanda and her husband, Brian, opened Ronin in May of 2018.
“Our restaurant is a reflection of what we do at the farm,” Amanda said. “We wanted to connect the farmer and the neighbor, and rekindle the mentality of being conscious of what you eat.”
The business had an organic start. A friend of the family needed a caterer and wanted something different than the usual barbecue options in town. The Lights already had a love for cooking, so they used their home kitchen and took the job on a whim — and the passion ignited.
“We learned through trial and error. We always adjust the food to what is available and in season,” Amanda said. “We wanted to create a more connected, genuine product.”
Amanda began her education at Texas A&M University in 2008, and returned to finish in May 2017. She studied women’s and gender studies, the perfect combination of her interests and relevance to her roles as mom and business owner.
“I found it fascinating to study interactions with people,” Amanda said. “My time at Texas A&M taught me the importance of diligence, and returning to finish my schooling allowed me to see the value of an education. It was the missing piece.”
This overlap of business and interpersonal skills is also emphasized in the College of Liberal Arts’ priority of innovation and entrepreneurship. A minor program was added in the fall of 2018 for students who share Light’s entrepreneurial initiative. Dr. Patricia Thornton, professor of sociology and entrepreneurship, said this priority can be a force for positive change when used by students like Light.
“Teaching liberal arts students the skills to start companies is one way to empower students to act on creating social good,” Thornton said. “It can increase sustainability and solve grand challenges through innovation in products and services that move us toward a circular economy — where we make, use, and recycle — rather than a linear economy where we take, make, and dispose.”
Ronin is a shining example of the sustainability and social good that’s produced by an entrepreneurship-focused education. The restaurant’s ingredients come from their own farm or are sourced locally. Nothing is ever prepackaged or frozen. Brian, the chef, raises his own chickens, and the staff helps harvest the vegetables used for that evening’s meal. The resulting meal placed on the table is entirely authentic.
Authenticity is established not only with the food, but with the community it feeds. Ronin hosts full moon dinners and communal dinner events, where the meals foster connections that would otherwise be missed.
“We love watching groups of people come to our dinners and befriend other groups of people sitting right next to them,” Amanda said. “When they come back the next month for another event, they’ve stayed connected.”
Amanda’s story demonstrates how a liberal arts degree provides useful skills in countless disciplines. She shared how applying critical thinking to a creative field is crucial for her business, which were developed as she studied in the College of Liberal Arts — something Thornton also believes is a responsibility to encourage in all students.
“Liberal arts students are creative and care about social and economic issues,” Thornton said. “Entrepreneurship skills are easy to teach, but creativity is not, yet it is essential to entrepreneurship. Investing in this helps students to have the skills to make a better world.”
The creativity Amanda and her family use produces a space that restores something much needed in our day and age — a holistic experience with genuine and transparent products. Their efforts leave people more connected to their food, and to each other.
College of Liberal Arts Original Recipe: A Successful Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program
Time (to complete minor): 1-2 years
Yields: 1 minor, 1 healthy economy, & the future of innovation and entrepreneurship
Cost to Name Program: $5 million
Cost to Endow Faculty & Student Success: $25,000+
2 entrepreneurial-focused courses, divided
1 course on marketing strategy, societal impact, & organization building
1 course on accounting & management
2 elective courses
1 capstone course in which students propose launching a product or service solution venture
1 opportunity to study abroad
1 cup of creativity
2 cups of research
3 tablespoons of classroom technology
6 Aggie core values
Plenty of events to engage students
Combine all ingredients in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. Add a dedicated and inspiring professor of sociology and entrepreneurship, and a generous donor whose support helps whip up success. Serve immediately as a force for economic and social good.
Ronin Original Recipe: Grilled Chicken Wings with Spicy Vinegar Sauce
Ingredients for Chicken Wings:
5 lbs chicken wings
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped, including stems
1 head garlic, minced
1 baseball sized onion, finely chopped
2 Tbs crushed black pepper
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
Ingredients for the Spicy Vinegar Sauce:
2 cups sugar
2 Tbs red pepper flakes
2 Tbs minced garlic
2 cups vinegar, distilled or apple cider
Mince cilantro, garlic and onion together, add black pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce and vegetable oil, stir to combine well. Place chicken wings in a non-reactive dish, add cilantro sauce, and marinate at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.
Place sugar and red pepper flakes in a small pot, put over medium high heat, cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar starts to caramelize. Add vinegar carefully (it will splatter a bit), stir to melt the sugar completely, add garlic, reduce heat to medium and reduce almost halfway, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
Fire up your grill. Once it is good and hot, drop the heat down to medium, or bank your coals to one side. Grill chicken, flipping every minute or two, until nicely charred and cooked through, 8-12 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce and enjoy!