Green restaurants: Serving up sustainability and savings

By Jasmine Sanborn

Businesses like Piece Brewery and Pizzeria and its sister restaurant, Brobagel, serve up mainstay menus in Wicker Park as they have for 13 years. Environmental sustainability is another cornerstone built into the business model.

“The main thing, we already had built in [is] we brew our own beer. There is less distribution and we cut carbon there. Our spent grain goes to urban farmers or anyone else who asks. It gets used to make some of our bagels next door,” said Eric Fritzsche, 33, general manager. “We try to make sure everything we do is local and clean.”

The pizzeria has partnerships with multiple farms in the area and tries to keep its ingredients local. All coffee brewed on site is from Metropolis Coffee, located in Roger’s Park, for example. To celebrate March Madness, the restaurant is partnering with Hot Doug’s to create Hot Doug’s Atomic Pizza which features Hot Doug’s atomic bomb sausage. Ten percent of sales go to Pilot Light, a children’s culinary education organization.

Despite closing down his legendary Hot Doug’s restaurant in October, Doug Sohn remains active in the Chicago food scene. He served up Hot Doug’s for just a day in February and has spent March collaborating with Piece. Piece estimates it has sold 2,135 Atomic Pizzas so far this month. The special continues through the end of the month.

“There are so many local things you can do that makes everyone’s life easier and a little more fun. There are so many simple things that anyone can do,” Fritzsche said.

Beyond sourcing food locally, businesses can undertake renovations to make their current buildings fit within newer sustainability standards from easy and low-cost projects to renovations with long-term payoffs.

The Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce has developed a program to guide small businesses toward easy steps they can take to reduce their footprints. They call it the 10 Simple Things. By completing 10 or more action items and the minimum amount of requirements per category, businesses receive WPB-Green designation.

Steps on the list range from offering half-meal portions to installing low-flow faucets and appliances.

“People come in because they know we’re green and they’re amazed that a restaurant can be green. They think it’s impossible,” said Felippa Janik, 53, owner of Janik’s Cafe in Wicker Park. “Other restaurants come in and ask us how we’ve done it and we give them advice on what they can do.”

Janik owns the cafe with her husband, Wayne. They’ve owned the business together for 10 years, but only began to adopt green practices such as recycling and switching light bulbs five years ago. They were inspired at a neighborhood meeting when a ComEd representative came to talk about the small business energy savings program sponsored by ComEd and People’s Gas.

The program offers businesses free energy assessments and detailed reports that suggest business-specific energy saving improvements. It also offer rebates on future energy improvement investments and offer free installation on energy-saving products, such as compact fluorescent lamps, vending machine controls and low-flow faucet aerators.

Janik admits it seemed expensive at first, but that they’ve saved a lot over the years. By adopting strong recycling programs, their garbage costs have decreased and garbage pickups have been reduced from three times a week to once.

Being a neighborhood leader in sustainable restaurant practices has come with some other perks too.

WPB has had other green successes in the neighborhood.

In 2012, it offered local businesses a $10 per-sign incentive to upgrade exit signs with super low-wattage LEDs. By working with ComEd, businesses paid less than $39 per sign. On average, signs like these last an average of 10 years without needing replacement.

For the last three years, Wicker Park has been home to the Green Resources Fair. The family-friendly event has green-themed activities for kids like learning about planting seeds and beekeeping and features over 30 exhibitors with workshops for adults on sustainable gardening with native plants, composting, rebuilding computers and other sustainable practices that can be adopted in the home. The next Green Resources Fair will be held June 14 at the Wicker Park Field House.

WPB and current WPB-Green businesses hope others will take the time to do just 10 simple things.

“It’s about being a decent business and being decent to the things around you,” Fritzsche said.

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Graphic by Jasmine Sanborn/Medill. Information from WPB Chamber of Commerce. There are five key areas businesses should evaluate when looking to green up their business model: water, indoor environment, transportation, energy and waste reduction.
Photo at top: Piece Brewery and Pizzeria has won countless awards for their locally brewed beers. (Piece Brewery & Pizzeria/Courtesy)