Can you even imagine what 50,000 pounds of trash looks like? At dinegreen.com, you'll learn that the average restaurant throws away that much trash every year. Of those 50,000 pounds, 95 percent of it could have been recycled or composted.
Those alarming numbers are exactly what spurred Nick Bergelt, founder of WOK (World Oriental Kitchen), to take on the eco-friendly status. His restaurant, which will open this month in a space he's been renovating on King Street, uses Energy Star certified equipment, as well as solar and wind energy. The lighting system in the restaurant uses low-voltage and low-heat systems in order to reduce dependence on the local electrical grid. Their sinks and toilets operate on a low flow basis, and they use rain barrels in order to capture natural water for tasks like cleaning the floors and watering plants whenever possible. Bergelt definitely planned ahead. "After two years of researching eye-opening statistics and revealing information, I was frustrated with the state of the restaurant industry and the associated wasteful operations which have become status quo," he says.
Karalee Nielsen, owner and operator of Rev LLC (Taco Boy, Monza, and Poe's Tavern), thinks if you make it easy for people to recycle, they'll be more apt to do it. In fact, in the three or four years since making the switch to go green, Rev LLC's restaurants have reduced the amount of trash they send to the landfill by 75 percent.
Taco Boy on Huger Street downtown is showing off its green side from some other angles as well. Just try and find something in the restaurant that hasn't been recycled or used for a previous purpose. Take a look around and you'll find stained glass windows from a soon-to-be-demolished building in Atlanta. The chairs came from an old plantation up in Greenville. The hallway to the restroom is wallpapered with movie posters the owners found in Mexico. The antique bottles and vases that adorn the shelves were found in the excavation process. According to Karalee Nielsen, the piece de resistance is the bar top. It's made from the trunk of a North Carolina walnut tree, which fell on its own in the forest.
You'll also have a hard time finding a trash can at Taco Boy. Instead, they use recycle sorting stations. All of their disposable products are made of compostable or recycled matter, and what needs to be washed is done so with biodegradable soap. They're right on top of things and they made the decision to be part of the solution.
For Nielsen and her business partners, there came a point where the thought of what restaurants were doing to the environment was simply too much to bear. "Every decision we make has an impact. ... You can't be green 100 percent of the time, but it's a good thing to strive for," she says.
For The Buccaneer on Faber Street, it wasn't really a question as to whether or not to go green. They've been doing it that way since its inception back in December of 2008. Kristin Cunningham of The Buccaneer says the principles of an eco-friendly business are high on the priority list, and being green is something the owners are very passionate about.
"They figured the restaurant was something brand new, so why not go against the old habits right from the start," she says.
All of their carry-out materials are made from recycled paperboard along with biodegradable corn and potatoes. As part of their water conservation efforts, customers are given water only upon request and all bathroom fixtures are motion sensitive. Their website boasts that they have the endorsement of the Green Restaurant Association, and that they were the first restaurant in South Carolina to obtain membership.
Plenty of restaurants in the Charleston area are making the decision to go eco-friendly, and each green step can make a big impact.
Visiting these high-profile green restaurants is the City Paper's first step in compiling a green restaurant directory. Does your favorite restaurant use green practices? Let us know. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org