Social Innovation and the Sustainable Restaurant

Last semester a class of 4th year hospitality students at the University of Guelph were asked to come up with a socially innovatKITCHEN day 023ive idea that related to hospitality.  Working with a partner, the students were challenged to prove the feasibility of their idea and be prepared to present their work to their peers. Students found the work challenging and engaging.  Not only were they asked to flex their creative muscles but they were also required to relate social issues to the business world for the first time in their student career.

Here is the story of two of the students, Emily Ronzio and Maria Johnston.  Their creation “Cafe Marly” looked to solve two social issues, children’s hunger and food waste.

We are currently completing our final year in the Hotel and Food Administration program at the University of Guelph. Throughout our studies over the last few years, we have gained extensive knowledge on the hospitality industry that we will take with us into our future. It is now in our final year, however, where we are really able to apply what we have learned, and to engage ourselves in certain issues and topics in the hospitality industry, and think strategically to solve real life problems; this has proven to be so much more valuable than we anticipated. For our fourth year Co-op class, HTM 4300, we were given the assignment of coming up with and presenting a ‘socially innovative’ idea. We were challenged to think creatively and outside the box to come up with a solution to a social issue. There were no limitations on this assignment, which actually made it a bit more challenging. After doing some research, we found two issues that were evident in our greater community. These issues that we chose to focus on included food waste in the hospitality industry and malnutrition in children. Both food waste and child malnutrition are substantial issues in our society. Our solution to these problems was to create Café Marly.

Café Marly is a specialty sandwich restaurant located in Toronto, and is open seven days a week during lunch hours only. The Café offers a wide variety of fresh ingredients to customers, including fresh breads, cheeses, vegetables, and meat and alternatives. Customers are able to completely customize their own sandwiches, adding whichever ingredients they wish. Café Marly also offers “Our Favourites” menu, which are some of our favourite combinations of sandwich items. These are just suggestions to help the customers, and can be changed in any way. None of the sandwiches are premade; they are all made to order. This is done to reduce potential food waste of unsold sandwiches. For every sandwich sold at Café Marly, a nutritious lunch is given to a child in need at a local school in Toronto. To start the program, we will work with just one school and provide every student in a couple classrooms a nutritious lunch. Once the program has grown, we will start to reach out to more classrooms and more schools.

Café Marly will sell their gourmet sandwiches at an increased price, to help cover the cost of making the children’s meals. Many specialty sandwich restaurants sell gourmet sandwiches for about $6.00 -$8.00. We have increased these prices to $10.00- $12.00 per sandwich. After doing a breakdown of all of Café Marly’s costs, we calculated that this price difference would cover the cost of the more simple children’s sandwich, and a healthy snack to go with it.

We have also taken into consideration, the fact that many people have dietary restrictions and allergies, and because of this, gluten free, vegetarian, and lactose free options are all available at Café Marly as well as for the children’s meals. Therefore, as much as possible, children’s meals can be made using Marly’s unsold sandwich ingredients to further eliminate food waste. Children’s meals are prepared at Café Marly every weekday morning and delivered to the respected school for lunchtime.

We presented our social innovation, Café Marly to our peers and asked them if they would be willing to pay the higher price for a specialty sandwich knowing that with the purchase of the sandwich, a nutritious meal would be given to a child who otherwise wouldn’t have a lunch. There was an overwhelming response that our peers would be willing to pay the higher price. Due to the positive response, and after our own reflections on our innovation, we feel that Café Marly would be a successful solution to the issues set forth. This was much more than just a school assignment, it made us realize that we really can put our ideas into action and make a positive difference in our community.

Emily Ronzio & Maria Johnston

2 thoughts on “Social Innovation and the Sustainable Restaurant

  1. Congratulations Emily and Karina (Maria)!
    A viable business concept that is sustainable AND gives back to your community!
    Wishing you both much success as you complete your final year at the University of Guelph and enter the working world. Kudo’s!

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