Pure Genius

Ten ways to build an eco-friendly restaurant

Ten ways to build an eco-friendly restaurant

Posting in Cities

Washington's Poste takes the extra step to grow, recycle, compost and educate, becoming one of the most environmentally friendly restaurants in Kimpton's portfolio.

WASHINGTON -- Poste Moderne Brasserie recycles its paper, glass and plastic, and the restaurant uses environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and energy efficient light bulbs. But at this Kimpton restaurant near Washington’s Penn Quarter, executive chef Robert Weland has done much more—from recycling cooking oil to making his own vinegars and sausage.

Weland has been at Poste since 2004, and his commitment to sustainability was recognized by the city in 2009 with an Environmental Excellence award. His harvests go directly from his patio garden to his customer’s plates. In summer months, he leads small groups to the local farmer’s market, after which he prepares dinner with their purchases. I recently stopped by the restaurant to learn the top 10 ways Weland is making Poste one of the most eco-friendly restaurants in Kimpton's portfolio.

  1. On-site organic garden: Weland said one of his biggest sources of pride is his organic vegetable and herb garden. “It started with 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes,” he said. “Now we have two dozen fruit trees. We have asparagus, almonds, cherries, heirloom apples, herbs… The cool thing is that we plant three times a year now—spring, summer and fall.” The restaurant partners with the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum, and staff go there once a week to volunteer and to get advice on their own garden. “The more the staff gets involved,” he said, “the more they understand the restaurant.”
  2. On-site water purification: In 2007, Poste eliminated all bottled water by installing an on-site water filtration system, allowing the restaurant to serve both carbonated and non-carbonated purified water. In 2008, the restaurant began using the Natura system, which uses ultraviolet filtration. The restaurant serves the water in reusable bottles. “My biggest concern was the shipping costs and the plastic bottles in the landfill,” Weland said. “Bottled water’s a weird topic, because the filtered water can be better than what’s in the bottle.”
  3. Sustainable seafood: Weland said Poste only serves sustainable seafood, according to the guidelines from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch List. “We work with Prime Seafood,” he said. “The owner is a former marine biologist. He’s always steering me toward what’s most sustainable, like the reasons to stay away from blue fin tuna, which we all know now. But there’s so many others—skate, cod, scallops. When you go scallop dredging, you ruin their environment. People need to know the smaller fish—sardines, anchovies—need to be consumed. It’s really frightening to see what’s being over-fished. It’s our job [to serve sustainable seafood]. Who else should be advocating for this?”
  4. Composting: All food scraps, organic waste and spoiled foods are composted. In 2009, Poste composted more than 40,000 pounds of food scraps. Part of the restaurant’s compost (including table scraps and paper menus with soy-based ink) is picked up by EnviRelation. The rest (coffee grounds, vegetable scraps from the kitchen, oyster shells) is saved for the garden. “We’re composting on two levels,” Weland said. “It’s important to our garden but also the fact that half our waste is now compost. Our waste costs are down 50 percent.”
  5. Recycling cooking oil: All cooking oil is filtered and donated to Endless Summer Harvest (the source of Poste’s hydroponic lettuce, arugula, butter lettuce and mache), which uses it to heat their greenhouses in the winter.
  6. Humanely-raised animals; using nose-to-tail: Weland works with Bev Eggleston, who sources his meats from small family farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. “He’s extra committed to raising animals humanely,” Weland said. “It makes a difference in the end product. If you have a good animal and feed it well, it’s translated to a good dish.” Poste offers “Poste Roasts” in the summer, during which outdoor rotisseries cook pigs, goats and lambs. Weland said using the whole animal is ecological because it means no waste. “We split a carcass with Proof. One month they get the innards, and the next month we get it. I’ve been surprised that people really want to try things like pig cheeks, liver, kidneys. They’re digging it. And it makes me happy—you’re not wasting anything.”
  7. In-house production: The restaurant has started making several items in-house, including vinegars, jams and sausage. Weland gets overripe apples and peaches from Black Rock Orchard to make vinegar, and he is experimenting with making things like pickled ramps and fruit jams.
  8. Wine on tap: This spring, Poste is starting to serve wine without the bottle. The restaurant is installing an eco-friendly wine-on tap system, which saves money on shipping wine bottles. The wine (sauvignon blanc and merlot) will be served in the courtyard, poured directly from the cask.
  9. Biodegradable products: For its to-go orders, Poste uses biodegradable corn-based utensils, containers and straws from Bio-Plus Earth.
  10. Market-to-Market dinners: Weland hosts a weekly market-to-market dinner, where he takes small groups on an excursion to the neighboring Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market. He shops for fresh produce, introduces guests to local farmers, and takes them back to the restaurant where he prepares a meal with their purchases. "It’s important for people to see how easy it is to cook with things they buy at the farmer’s market,” Weland said. “And we have a great relationship with almost all the farmers at the market. One woman sells flowers, so we go over there every week to get our centerpieces.”

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Melanie D.G. Kaplan

Contributing Editor

Melanie D.G. Kaplan is a Washington, D.C.- based journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and National Parks Magazine. Her website is www.melaniedgkaplan.com. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure