By Bill Clevlen
Environmental sustainability is much more than a trend, especially among the culinary set. Restaurants across the country show no signs of letting up in their efforts to become more eco-friendly. A growing number of consumers are demanding it, in fact, while many business owners are learning that “going green” can lead to lower costs in certain cases.
Environmental sustainability efforts make particular sense for restaurants, which use copious amounts of water, electricity, fuel, produce, and other resources in their daily operations. “Businesses are able to save money by reducing their consumption of fossil fuels if they follow our advice,” says Jen Myerscough, executive director of the St. Louis-based Green Dining Alliance, which works with member restaurants to improve their environmental efforts.
“And when restaurants source more food from local farms, more money stays in the community, benefiting everyone in the region,” she notes. “I’ve seen places ditch their straws and other single-use disposables, reduce their water consumption, and cut their electric bills nearly in half after joining our program.”
From growing vegetables and herbs on-site to serving patrons water only on request, there are scores of ways restaurants can make the dining experience “greener.” We found four group-friendly establishments in Missouri that are doing their part. For them, green means better business.
The Order is one of Springfield’s newest and hippest places to gather for a drink, meal or meeting. It’s located at the Hotel Vandivort, a boutique hotel in the city’s re-energized downtown district – and it’s just a short walk from the site where Wild Bill Hickok staged an infamous gun duel. The Order offers guests a menu with “green” entrees that stem from local suppliers.
Urban Roots Farm, which cultivates “certified naturally grown” produce in downtown Springfield, provides fresh, synthetic-chemical-free vegetables to the restaurant. And the beef and pork used in The Order’s dishes come from livestock raised on local farms, where the animals are fed natural diets without added fat.
A former Masonic Temple, the hotel and restaurant property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building reopened as the Hotel Vandivort in 2015, and the gutted contents of the 110-year-old landmark were largely recycled, used in the design and structural elements of the new property. The restaurant and hotel feature high-efficiency LED lighting, and are expected to receive Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The restaurant’s state-of-the-art banquet room with great views of Springfield can accommodate up to 200 guests. There’s also high-speed WiFi on the property.
305 E. Walnut
Springfield MO 65806
Five years ago, chef Robert Padilla of the Trezo Mare Restaurant and Lounge teamed up with Missouri Organics, an organization that performs large-scale composting in the Kansas City region. Instead of one trash can per work station at the restaurant, there now are two: One for non-compostable items, and a second for food, cardboard and other paper products.
The second can is lined with a special biodegradable bag for those items that can be “returned to nature.” Its contents are picked up three times a week, and processed into mulch that is sold to the public. The restaurant also recycles up to three tons of glass every other month, including items dropped off by local residents.
Chef Padilla says going green has brought some extra costs to his bottom line, but overall, the restaurant is saving money. “We were able to get rid of a large compactor, and our trash bill was split in half,” he says. “We also spend less on pest control because we no longer have waste sitting around. Everything is cleaner, and we’re doing something good. We’d never go back to the way it was before.” Trezo Mare now recycles about 80 percent of the materials that come into its building. Even biodegradable table utensils are in the works.
Trezo Mare offers custom menus, and audio-visual equipment if your meeting includes a presentation. Indoor and outdoor seating is available, and there is a private dining room that can seat up to 50 guests.
Trezo Mare Restaurant and Lounge
4105 N. Mulberry Drive
Kansas City MO 64116
Sanford Speake, co-owner of the Sycamore Restaurant in Columbia, has been working in dining establishments since he was 15. He maintains that many places have been “going green” since he first started in the business. “I’ve always worked in places that grew at least some of their own produce or ingredients,” he says. “One of my first jobs as a kid was cutting edible flowers in a garden. It doesn’t take a genius to taste the difference in food that’s locally produced.”
Speake works with about 15 Missouri farms that supply him with fresh meat and produce, and the Sycamore menu evolves based on what’s ripe and ready at the time. For example, “if tomatoes aren’t in season, we don’t use them,” he says. His farmer partners also stop by the restaurant regularly to gather up food waste for their own composting efforts.
Sycamore can handle gatherings of 20 to 30 guests during normal business hours. Menus can be customized for groups with advance notice.
800 E. Broadway
Columbia MO 65201
From its solar roof panels to its half-acre produce garden, the Schlafly Bottleworks brewery restaurant in Maplewood is setting a high standard for sustainability. The first new production brewery to open in St. Louis since the end of Prohibition, it features event space for about 100 guests, including its Crown Room with a direct view into the facility’s brewery operations. Tours are available, too.
The Bottleworks garden grows four tons of produce each year, and the restaurant donates spent grain from its brewing processes to area farmers for their livestock. Energy conservation efforts include ultra-high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The brewery also buys green power offsets so it can operate entirely on renewable energy.
Andy White, director of restaurant operations at Bottleworks, says its environmental efforts have been more of a philosophical undertaking than a cost-saving one. “At best, it’s a break-even situation for us,” he notes. “But we believe it’s the right thing to do. As far as our garden is concerned, the amount of money we would save by growing our own food is offset by hiring a full-time gardener-farmer.
“The true benefit is knowing that the food actually is 100 percent organic,” he says. “And we have control over what we are offering on our spring, summer, and fall menus.”
7260 Southwest Ave.
Maplewood MO 63143
Bill Clevlen is a St. Louis freelance writer and host of the nationally syndicated radio travel show Bill on the Road (www.billontheroad.com).