Everyone has their favorite lunch spot, whether its a diner, a delicatessen, or an upscale establishment that makes ice cream with edible gold leaf. The menus at these eateries might be wildly different, but at the end of the day their food scraps sure look the same. And there certainly is a lot of it. According to the Green Restaurant Association, the average restaurant produces 150,000 lbs. of garbage annually, amounting to millions of tons of food being thrown away by restaurants all over the country.
That statistic was not lost on restaurant owner Jason Vrany, who established his own restaurant called Sandwich Me In with a menu built with zero waste in mind. The restaurant’s menu includes a number of items with overlapping ingredients so that none of the produce or meat goes to waste. Vegetables leftover from the salad menu are used with burgers the next day, and chicken scraps, such as the bones, are used to make chicken broth from scratch. This not only reduces the restaurant’s organic waste, but it also allows them to eschew the use of boxed broth and a number of other goods that come pre-packaged.
Instead of buying his ingredients from distributors, Vrany buys all of his ingredients locally with minimal packaging. This has allowed his restaurant to reduce its waste to just a single bag worth of trash over the two years his restaurant has been open. An accomplishment made possible by repurposing everything that normal restaurants would simply toss away. He sends the restaurant’s food scraps to the same farmers that provide him with eggs and meat, while fry oil is reused in a variety of dishes.
His zero waste system is so efficient that the only real waste his restaurant deals with is outside trash brought in by patrons. Coffee cups are one of the most frequent junk items brought in by customers, among other miscellaneous trash. But even accounting for the trash coming in from outside, Sandwich Me In has produced the same amount of trash in two years that the average restaurant produces in an hour.
Chef Vrany hopes that his example of a quick-service, zero waste restaurant will serve as an example for others in the food service industry. Because if a scrappy up-and-comer restaurant like Sandwich Me In can do it, why can’t the big guys?