Sustainability and “going green” have seen a massive push in our industry over the last several years. As environmental consciousness and food waste in restaurants enters a deeper conversation industry wide, I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss our thoughts and approach to environmental sustainability and consciousness at Tocabe.
It’s funny to think back to some of the first press we got from media outlets when we opened. I thought we would be contacted about being the only Native focused restaurant in Denver, but nope, that wasn’t the case. Our first contact was actually made about a small business taking a risk and opening during a recession, which now that I have been through a major recession I completely understand. I would like to think Matt and I were that gutsy, but really, we were too young and naïve to understand that opening any business during a recession can be idiotic. All we knew was that we had an opportunity and took it, gratefully to our benefit. Following this, there was an article discussing yes, our food, but also focusing on our use of sustainable and compostable plates, bowls, cutlery and the use of recycled materials when building our shop. Again, I would like to think this was Matt and my smarts but in fact it was not. We of course believed in the use of these materials, but in many ways this credit goes to the builders we worked with. As other articles and press came to follow, our food became the focus as was expected.
It has been years since those initial articles and local news spots, with little discussion on what we have done in terms of food waste and sustainability since then. At Tocabe, we always try to improve on our sourcing whether it’s paper goods or ingredients. If you have not been in lately, we have stopped using plate liners, paper bowls and plastic cutlery altogether. We did use compostable materials prior to this change, but with increases in volume we found difficulties in pricing and the process of actually composting due to outside contracts. Now, all our dishes served in house are presented on melamine plates, platters and bowls along with metal silverware. We have wanted to make this move for quite some time and are very excited about this step, not only for the quality of the food presentation but for cutting down significantly on unnecessary waste.
Beyond the serving dishes and utensils, there is the important topic of food waste. The problem of food waste is a major discussion nationally. I will be honest and say we still have food waste and room for improvement in this area. Most of our waste is from leftover food after guests finish their meal, which is hard to avoid, but hey there’s always something to work toward. From a more controllable standpoint we have made steps over the past year to utilize kitchen produce food scraps. We now collect trimmed, peeled, cut or whole foods in a bucket which we donate to 4 Winds Community Center for composting and use in their gardening program. Four Winds is a Native community center which does some amazing work and has been creating and establishing a traditional indigenous gardening program for several years. We believe in the knowledge and teachings they are providing and are excited to be able to help with this project in our own way.
Like many restaurant concepts we are keenly aware of where our food and products come from while also keeping in mind where it goes after it leaves our door. We need to be the best stewards of our environment while understanding there is always more work that can be done. We will continue to work to find better ways to cut down on waste while striving to help our community and the environment as we grow and evolve as a restaurant.