When I was a kid there was a product offered by McDonald’s called the McDLT. I know I’m dating myself here by admitting that I remember this monstrosity, but if you’ve never heard of the McDLT allow me to explain why I mention this sandwich. As I did some research about green restaurants in the Omaha area, I couldn’t help but remember back to when people started to realize that the McDLT –which was served in a huge Styrofoam container that kept the meat and bottom bun separate from the condiments and upper bun- was not the smartest idea as far as the environment was concerned. During my brief stint as a McDonald’s worker in high school I remember glaring –yes, glaring- at anyone who ordered a McDLT. “Don’t these fools know they’re hurting the environment?” my sixteen year old self wondered.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful restaurant so blatantly thumb their nose at the environment nowadays. Many restaurants within the Omaha area are operating under an environmentally-friendly, sustainable model, demonstrating a true regard for the world around them. These restaurants are not just trying to appear green in an attempt to help customers feel good about eating there, but are instead actively doing what they can in order to have as little environmental impact as possible.
They’re managing to do this while also serving great food. Consider The Green Belly where they only use 100% environmentally sustainable packaging or McFoster’s Natural Kind Café where recycling is the norm. V. Mertz’s head chef Jon Seymour is proud to be seasonally driven while also incorporating foraging into the menu and chef Matt Weber at Table Grace Café makes sure that every bit of food that comes into his establishment is used, either with his own menu items or as compost for local farmers.
The Boiler Room’s Paul Kulik says that starting an environmentally-friendly restaurant in Omaha was an easy decision. “I think that our attitude is not that we have to do extra work to be environmentally-friendly, but rather that we integrate it into our everyday,” he says. “We work with growers that come to the restaurant to deliver products, so if we have available compost material for them they can just go ahead and take it with them as they leave. It’s things like that which are pretty simple.”
Kulik’s known for serving extraordinary dishes, and he credits some of his success to his environmental ideals. “We have a belief that we get a superior product by developing relationships with growers and producers. This allows us to deliver a better product to our guests. The attitude is first and foremost to create a great experience.” He’s careful to not take resources for granted. “It’s just always been our approach about things. There are other minor details, like power usage is a big one; economize when lights are burning and when gas is on. It’s not just simply economizing. I mean, there’s an impact there.”
Ask Clayton Chapman of the Grey Plume what his restaurant is doing to help the environment and he’ll chuckle. He doesn’t laugh because it’s an absurd question, but rather he laughs because he just doesn’t know where to start.
“That’s a really broad question,” he replies, and then goes on to explain what makes The Grey Plume the greenest restaurant in the nation. “We’re seasonally driven. We work with over 60 growers within the Nebraska/Iowa area, so we change the food daily based on the local farmers.”
Being green was always the plan for Chapman. “During the conception stage we partnered with a nonprofit called The Green Restaurant Association. They’re a certifying body based out of Boston and have been around since 1990.” Working with the GRA and opening by their standards allowed The Grey Plume to earn the bragging rights of being the very first 4-Star “Sustainabuild” Certified Green Restaurant ®.
So how do you know if your favorite restaurant is green? Just ask. Most restaurants are proud of what they do, so they’ll be happy to let you know what they do to lessen their environmental impact. Obviously, not all restaurants are as green as The Boiler Room or The Grey Plume, but many of the Omaha area’s eateries have some plan in place to lean toward environmental friendliness.
For chefs like Chapman, however, being green just makes sense. “It really started with the food,” says Chapman. “We wanted to know where our food was coming from and we wanted to work with small, sustainable farms. We wanted to be able to provide a delicious, locally-sourced sustainable meal for our guests, and in doing so we felt that the space really needed to mirror that thought. They kind of go hand and you couldn’t have one without the other.”