Chew on this statistic: the average American household spends about $2,434 on “food away from home.” Given that these National Restaurant Association’s numbers are from 2004, these dollar totals are probably even higher today.
However you slice it, we Americans love the convenience and ease of someone else cooking for us — and cleaning up afterwards. But just think about the potential economic and social impact if part of those dining dollars went to restaurants whose mission went beyond bottom line profit, offering a sustainability message along with daily specials?
Welcome to Kavarna, a coffeehouse my family and I discovered last weekend in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Kavarna (the Czech word for cafe) subtly yet poignantly exudes what conscious dining is all about, from securing used furniture to serving up locally grown sprouts year-round on the menu. Over the last decade, owners Alex and Linda Galt have cultivated a thriving business by creatively blending running a restaurant with leaving this world a better place. “It’s all about relationships, connections with both the environment and community,” explains the Galts. “Our customers and staff feel like stakeholders in this place, which shows in the loyalty that has grown over the years.”
Here’s some ways Kavarna serves up sustainable value-laden fare, providing a tip sheet for any restaurant looking to go greener and attract the conscious eater: (list after the jump)
• Admit You’re an Energy Hog. Then Do Something About It.
It’s right on Kavarna’s website: “We are acutely self-conscious about our use of energy (all restaurants are energy hogs) . . . ” Unfortunately, Kavarna is right on the money. In fact, restaurants consume more electricity than any other retail outlet, according to the National Restaurant Association.
If admitting your problem is the first step, Kavarna leads the road to recovery. Not only does the business itself participate in their local utility’s green energy program (Wisconsin Public Service’s NatureWise), the Galts take it up a notch and encourage customers to do the same by offering a free beverage every month you’re enrolled in the green energy program. Buy green energy, get a free sustainable caffeine buzz. That’s my idea of renewable energy.
• Creatively Cook Up Community
Kavarna proves that the Field of Dreams theory applies to green business: “Build a promotion around a political statement, and they will come.” In this case, Alex and Linda shared the belief that many feel that educators are underpaid in our current system. But again, they put marketing where their mouth is: “Since K – 12 teachers should be paid 15% more than they are, we charge them 15% less on salads, wraps, pitas, pizzas, and sandwiches,” state the Galts on their website. Make a statement and stand behind it. That’s how you grow a loyal community. Changing the educational system one pita at a time; I’m all for that.
• Love Your Veggies
While Kavarna is a vegetarian coffeehouse — offering an eclectic menu of veggie fare — any restaurant that offers even a handful of vegetarian entrees gives customers options to at least spend some of their $2,434 lower on the food chain. Do the math: For every calorie of vegetables we eat, about ten calories of hydrocarbons (oil) are needed. For every calorie of beef? Add in fifty calories of energy, maybe more if the beef comes from South America. With restaurants offering more vegetarian options, we can collectively make conscious menu choices.
For those who wistfully drooled over Kavarna’s menu and started contemplating a Green Bay road trip, here’s a gift from Kavarna to tide you over: the house recipe for their Black Beans and Rice Salad, both vegan and gluten free:
Kavarna Black Beans and Rice Salad
2 c. uncooked brown rice
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup grape seed oil (or olive oil)
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 bunch green onions, diced
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
Cook rice (Kavarna uses a rice cooker). While rice is cooking, blend vinegars, grape seed oil, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper in a food processor. When rice is done, combine with dressing and add black beans, green onions, parsley and peppers. Chill.