Sustainability in Restaurants… What the food?!

Court Desautels, Director of Operations of the Neighbourhood Group of Companies, talks of the struggles and triumphs his company faces when striving to run sustainable restaurants in Southwestern Ontario.

By: Court Desautels
A new trend not only in the hospitality business, but it seems in all businesses, is the “sustainability” trend.  This is great news…. Right?  The media is telling us sustainability is good, but what are we even talking about, especially when it comes to running a restaurant?  The actual definition states that all things come to a full circle.  This isn’t quite what we are doing as a company, but it is our ultimate goal.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could fill up the future bio-diesel truck I would drive to work with last night’s fryer oil?
That may seem far-fetched but technology isn’t as far off as you’d think!  Just as the individual can take small steps like this towards living a responsible lifestyle, so can a restaurant.  Sustainability is something achievable by anyone, that’s individuals and businesses alike.   It may seem overwhelming at first, but think of your restaurant as a person and how they can make responsible, sustainable decisions in their everyday life.

Wooly Panels
Solar Panels at the Woolwich Arrow in Guelph Ontario provide the energy required to heat their water as opposed to electricity or gas.
At the Neighbourhood Group of Companies, we are trying to do just that.  Treat each one of our three restaurants like a person leading a sustainable, environmentally conscious life.  We operate two restaurants in Guelph, the Borealis Grillhouse and Pub and longstanding downtown pub, the Woolwich Arrow.  Our newest addition to the family is a second Borealis Grillhouse and Pub in Kitchener, Ontario.  At all three restaurants, we pay attention to selecting our suppliers, energy and water consumption, paper products, supplies and much more.  These are much the same decisions the individual would be faced with if they were thinking of changing their lifestyle to be more sustainable.
The neat thing is, multiply the restaurant as an individual times 2000 plus guests per week…  Then multiply that number by three restaurants and we’re talking almost 7000 guests per week that are sharing and supporting our philosophy.  Supporting like-minded people is the first step… as the saying goes ‘strength in numbers’.  We want our guests to feel like they are ‘buycotting’; using their dollar as their vote towards a sustainable operation.
Just like how an individual guest is voting with their dollar on where they choose to eat, we as a restaurant can do the same.  This is where we are paying attention to the integrity and sustainable practices of every single supplier we chose, whether that be for food, wine, beer, paper, supplies, energy etc.   To be fully sustainable, to reach that full circle, all these suppliers need to be thinking the same questions as we are; How can I run our business in the most environmentally sustainable manner?  We don’t want to see our dollar going towards supporting something or someone that does not share the same philosophy.  Voting with our money, and deciding where we put our money is the greatest influence on change.
Utilizing pre-existing structures: A historical schoolhouse built in 1889 awaits it's restoration to become the future location of Borealis Grillhouse and Pub in Kitchener, Ontario.
Restoration Complete! Borealis Kitchener is able to preserve a historical piece of the local community that, otherwise, would have been torn down.
That’s what we’ve done at the Neighbourhood Group of Companies and found small steps that can make a big difference:
  1. Research the people (suppliers) you are dealing with, find those people who share your passion while trying to support your local community
  2. Use environmentally friendly products where ever possible
  3. Recycle… everything!  We started sending our vegetable trim to a local farm to feed their livestock and even brought it back in to the restaurant, as a feature! You don’t get much more ‘full circle’ than that…
  4. Sustainable energy – Installing solar panels above our Woolwich Arrow patio and on the roof of Borealis Kitchener, using oil that can be turned to bio-diesel, Bullfrog Power, something as simple as rain buckets
  5. Utilizing local stones and building materials while transforming existing structures vs. building from scratch
  6. Re-Finish… not replace!
  7. Getting the word out!  Let people know it can be easy… as easy as coming out to support a restaurant that is making the efforts to do all these things!
Before Basement
The original basement of the old schoolhouse at Borealis Kitchener, before restoration.
After Basement
The original stone walls now serve as a chic lounge with historical charm.
As I’ve mentioned before, these are only the first steps to hundreds more.  We still have so many challenges we face daily such as: waste, take out packaging, water use, energy consumption, paying a premium, and legitimacy- many companies are coming out with ‘green’ washed marketing strategies to take advantage of this new ‘sustainability’ trend.
Luckily, our efforts seem to be paying off and guests are starting to catch on.  We just need to keep taking those steps towards that ultimate ‘full circle’ goal.  Lastly, what’s always important to remember is ‘To do, is to be” and the only way to BE sustainable is to actually do it!

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