September 22, 2008 | General

Hospitality Company Serves Up Sustainability

BioCycle September 2008, Vol. 49, No. 9, p. 29
Regional company with about 200 restaurants and catering operations actively promotes sustainability, increasing local food purchasing, composting and waste reduction.
Rhodes Yepsen

EAT’N Park Hospitality Group (EPHG) was founded in 1949 as a family car-hop restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It has since grown into a regional chain of about 80 restaurants and over 100 on-site catering locations consisting of 46 Parkhurst Dining Services (universities, business and industry) and 70 Cura Hospitality operations (hospitals and retirement homes).
The family business has broadened its mission to include sustainability initiatives. “Eat’n Park Hospitality group has ‘Positions of Sustainability,’ which establish both corporate and local responsibility standards, including a continual focus on environmental issues,” says Jamie Moore, Director of Sourcing and Sustainability for EPHG. “These comprise commitments to local purchasing, positions on social and ethical consciousness, and positions on environmental awareness, such as composting and alternative fuels.”
EPHG developed FarmSource, an initiative to find and partner with farmers and food producers within 125 miles of local distributors, based on the location of the restaurant or catering operation. In 2007, EPHG spent over $12 million on local food, which consists of about 20 percent of total food purchases.
The company developed “EcoSteps,” a logo used in marketing environmental improvements, i.e., where a specific operation has reduced its ecological footprint. The logo is accompanied by explanations of why the step was taken, such as why Fair Trade practices are followed, or the benefits of organics recycling. In this way, the company is able to target specific decisions that further the overall goal of sustainability. For example, Eat’n Park family restaurants, as a whole, recently decided to eliminate paper placemats. Previously using 25 million placemats/year, Eat’n Park estimates it will save more than 325,000 pounds of paper/year, the equivalent of more than 250 trees.
One of the major benefits of adopting corporate sustainability practices is EPHG’s ability to influence others positively through its buying power. Because it purchases such large quantities of food, if a distributor does not offer local products, or if a farmer uses nonsustainable products, they will often change those practices in order to keep EPHG as a customer. For instance, EPHG purchases milk from Turner Dairy Farms and used its buying power to influence a change in the farm’s milk carton selection. The original carton was lined with plastic, but EPHG said they would only continue purchasing Turner Dairy milk if it switched to a compostable lining. Soon all cartons from Turner Dairy will be compostable.
Six Penn Kitchen, part of the EPHG, is an upscale restaurant in the historic district of downtown Pittsburgh. Mark Broadhurst, Director of Concept Development for EPHG, opened Six Penn in October 2005, wanting it to be a local food restaurant that mixed a fine dining experience with green practices. The menu is seasonal and includes a list of local and sustainable farms that supplied the produce and meat for that season. In March 2008, 50 percent of the food served at Six Penn was locally grown. The restaurant also has a rooftop garden, which uses compost to grow vegetables and herbs.
The restaurant began diverting its organics to composting in December 2007. “Composting had been a discussion point for us for some time, and then the garbage disposal broke, making the decision for us,” says Don Mahaney, Manager of Six Penn Kitchen. Six Penn had already consulted with AgRecycle, one of Pennsylvania’s only fully permitted composting facilities, conveniently located just outside of Pittsburgh.
“We went through the Six Penn and conducted a product audit,” says Carla Castagnero of AgRecycle. “This differs from a waste audit in that we establish characteristics of the waste stream before it’s all mixed in a bin.” For the product audit, AgRecycle makes lists of everything a particular business uses, down to the tea bags and the wrappers they come in. “We then give our new customer two sheets, itemizing which products AgRecycle will accept, and which we won’t,” she continues. “These sheets go above the yellow compost bins.”
An upscale restaurant like Six Penn has a more complicated product list than, for example, a college cafeteria, continues Castagnero. There is a longer list of items, and some are specialty products like pastry paper, which can be tricky to find an alternative for. And, meticulous differentiations need to be made: Although some shellfish are acceptable, clam and oyster shells are not because they won’t decompose in a normal composting cycle. Six Penn now uses compostable products wherever it can, including cocktail straws.
In the kitchen, each prep cook has a scraps bucket. The wait staff is trained to be postconsumer-conscious too. “With 2,000-2,500 guests per week, it’s important to pay attention to both the food prep and the leftovers,” says Mahaney. “Everyone takes turns spot-checking the organics dumpster. A Green Committee was formed as a way of empowering staff, which has been even more successful than expected: A line cook recently took the initiative to research and advocate energy efficiency measures that could be made in the kitchen.”
AgRecycle runs an independent collection route for new customers during the first two weeks, at its own expense. This allows the waste stream to be isolated, to both limit the possibility of contaminating existing clean windrows, and to characterize the new feedstock. During the first week of organics collection at Six Penn, the loads were perfectly clean, but then plastic gloves started showing up. “This isn’t unusual,” explains Castagnero. “We always make it clear that plastic gloves are not compostable, are on the ‘No’ list, but everyone starts off putting them in the bucket anyway.”
The 2-cubic yard bin behind Six Penn now consistently has clean loads. The volume of trash has been significantly reduced, down to two days/week of collection from five. However, Mahaney says that composting hasn’t necessarily been a money saver. “For an upscale restaurant, composting doesn’t necessarily boost business – it’s not something directly advertised on the menu or website,” he explains. “And, because compostable products are more costly, it hasn’t saved us money.” But composting fits in with Six Penn’s green and local image, as well as EPHG’s overall sustainability mission. “In many ways it’s more about motivating the team,” continues Mahaney. “Sure, our composting efforts spread through word of mouth, and that plays into our image as a green restaurant, but we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”
p. 31 sidebar
Rooftop Garden Closes The Loop
THE rooftop terrace at Six Penn restaurant overlooks Pittsburgh’s downtown. And tucked just out of sight is a productive rooftop garden. One of the prep cooks tends the potted plants, grown with AgRecycle compost. He saves the seeds, and starts the plants on his apartment windowsills.
Keith Fuller, Executive Chef for Six Penn, features heirloom tomatoes, peppers, basil and other herbs grown in the garden on the menu. Lettuce purchased for meals is first planted in the garden to extend the yield. “We go through about 5 cases of hydroponically grown lettuce per day on the weekends,” says Chef Fuller. “Because we plant the lettuce in our rooftop garden, we’re able to get 2.5 crops per case.”

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