Restaurants, by their very nature, consume a lot of energy and produce a lot of waste. So how do you turn them green?
A handful of Charleston restaurants are leading the way, building awareness, and changing attitudes about earth-friendly practices, making a case that doing the right thing is indeed a viable business model.
The REV restaurant group, a supporter of the Charleston Green Fair since the first one in 2008, operates two Taco Boy restaurants along with Poe's Tavern on Sullivan's Island and Monza and Closed for Business on King Street. The company has been on the cutting edge of Charleston's green movement, implementing a host of practices aimed at reducing waste and energy consumption.
"As a company, we're always looking for a better way to do things and that starts with analyzing everything we do, purchase, or consume to see if there is a more efficient, sustainable way to operate," says co-owner Karalee Nielsen.
The company's newest Taco Boy on Huger Street is the flagship of their green commitment. "We basically built it from the ground up, aside from the concrete block structure that makes up the dining room," says Nielsen. "There were more opportunities to reuse materials and fit them into the design versus trying to fit things into an existing structure. We used a fallen North Carolina walnut tree for the bar top instead of harvested material, permeable patio pavers to help return storm water to the water table instead of through the city water treatment system." They also used soy-based foam to insulate the buildings and bought used furniture to outfit the restaurant.
Down on King Street at World Oriental Kitchen (WOK), Nick Bergelt also incorporated green practices into his renovation of a former Chinese restaurant. "WOK was a comprehensive sustainable build-out in which nothing was overlooked," he says. "First, everything that came out — over 10,000 pounds of metal, wood, etc., that normally gets tossed into a dumpster — was recycled locally. From there, building materials had to be specially sourced, whether it was recycled woods or rapidly renewable materials such as bamboo tables, low- or no-VOC paints and sealants, repurposed steel signage, specialty products such as soy bean cushions, insulation made from blue jeans, countertops made from laundry detergent bottles, and more. It was a comprehensive process in which everything used to construct the space was evaluated based on its environmental qualities, with the help of our LEED-certified architects, who were familiar with these new types of products/materials."
In addition to greening up their places of business, restaurants are also challenged to curb the waste they send to landfills.
The Black Bean Co. recently opened on Spring Street, and owner Ellis Grossman is finding that the Charleston County recycling pickup every other week is not frequent enough. He is lobbying for the county to pick up more frequently, but in the meantime he may have to turn to a private service like Fisher Recycling. REV uses Fisher for regular pickups. "We started recycling three years ago," says Nielsen of REV, "which reduced our waste going to landfills by over 60 percent."
At WOK, they recycle everything that can be recycled, from shipping containers to kitchen oils to all glass, aluminum, plastic, and cardboard. "We also look to utilize materials internally before sending them out in the first place," says Bergelt. "For example, a rice wine container is emptied, and instead of recycling the glass, we sanitize and use it for sauce preparation containers."
Then there's to-go packaging, which comes in compostable and recyclable forms.
And finally, when it comes to being green, there is the food. Using local, organic, and sustainable sources is important to all three companies. "We use Rainforest Alliance coffee," says Grossman of Black Bean Co. "We only buy organic products. We also use local farmers for our produce, unless some produce is not currently available for purchase locally. We buy local because we care. We are green because we care, not just for a seal."
And that's what it comes down to. These business owners care a great deal about setting an example, raising awareness, and running an eco-conscious business.
"The most significant thing about our business," says Bergelt, "is the fact that we are opening people's minds to concepts and ideas they never thought twice about and providing a new level of awareness that will hopefully dictate what consumers come to expect from restaurants in the future."
Black Bean Co., WOK, and REV restaurants Closed for Business and Taco Boy will be participating in the Charleston Green Fair food court this Sunday. Stop by and visit them along with these other green-friendly vendors: Tasi Bites and Blends Juice Bar, Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, and Roti Rolls.