With an hour for lunch and a growling stomach, what’s the most important thing about a quick service restaurant billing itself as “eco-gourmet”?
“Gourmet” of course. You can’t eat “eco”. Mixt Greens, with three locations in downtown San Francisco, has been committed to running a sustainable operation since its founding in 2006. But, as co-founder Leslie Swallow recently told me, sustainability is only as good as the food that derives from it.
For Swallow, Mixt Greens is a marriage, literally as we’ll soon see, of sustainability and high quality food service (in a very tough market), providing the denizens of San Francisco’s workaday downtown financial district a healthy alternative to burgers and fries.
I spoke with Leslie Swallow, whose somewhat tongue-in-cheeck title is “Founder, Chief Development Officer, and Environmental Sustainability Director” (she’s too busy doing all that to take such a pretentious title too seriously), about how Mixt Greens got started, the challenges and rewards of running a sustainable business model, and how she’s working to “dispel the myth” of what green business is all about.
The Mixt Greens team
Mixt Greens is a brother/sister/husband team combining the ideal mix of talents for an eco-gourmet restaurant. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and the University of Oxford where she earned an MS in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, Leslie Swallow brings the “eco” to eco-gourmet. Her husband, Andrew Swallow covers the “gourmet” end, with over twelve years of experience in high-end restaurant operations and a degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America. Leslie’s brother David Silverglide uses his MBA from University of Oxford to oversee business management and financial planning.
The concept to provide quick service gourmet food that is sustainably and locally sourced, fresh, and typically organic is apparently a sound one. Opening their first restaurant in 2006, Mixt Greens quickly expanded to three locations with plans for more in the works.
It’s all about the food
“We are very fortunate to be where we are”, says Swallow, referring to the Bay Area as an ideal region for sourcing fresh and organic produce, meat, and dairy products. Mixt Greens works with 15 local distributors, purchasing all their food primarily from local growers. There are instances when sourcing food locally isn’t possible – “Mangos” – but other than the occasional “exotic” fruit, Leslie and her team are committed to supporting the local community of sustainable and organic growers and farmers.
Leslie told me the first time they changed the menu to reflect the seasonal availability of produce, some customers balked. These days, customers are generally more cognizant of the idea or accept it when it’s explained to them: “Oh, that’s cool.”
The point for the Mixt Greens team is not “screaming in (the customer’s) face” about eco-consiousness, but simply walking the talk and allowing customers to make choices that not only taste good, but support the overall commitment to sustainability.
The full sustainable package
A sustainable restaurant starts with food, but extends, of course, into all aspects of the operation. Sustainability at Mixt Greens includes the following:
- Packaging is 100% compostable and biodegradable, including napkins, cups, utensils, lids, bags, and straws.
- Through a comprehensive recycling and compost program, Mixt Greens is able to divert 90% of its waste from landfill.
- Mixt Greens uses renewable energy credits from Renewable Choice to offset energy consumption. All their restaurants use CFL lighting (set on timers to increase efficiency) and utilize natural daylight as much as possible.
- All wood products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
- Dual-zone HVAC is used, utilizing natural ventilation as much as possible.
- Recycled and rapidly renewable materials are used where possible, such as tables made from 100% recycled detergent bottles.
- All of Mixt Greens’ spaces are designed by LEED certified architect William Duff of WD Arch
- Use of zero-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint and concrete flooring with high-fly ash content is used throughout.
- Mixt Greens uses non-toxic and biodegradable cleaning products from Method, a local manufacturer of green cleaning supplies.
- Dry cleaning of uniforms and chef jackets is done by SF Green Clean. Primarily geared to the “consumer” market, Mixt Greens recently reached out to SF Green Clean to offer a commercial contract. Swallow says that after a about a month of service, both Green Clean and Mixt Greens are very satisfied with the arrangement. Green Clean is looking to expand on the idea and offer its eco-friendly dry cleaning services to more local businesses. Which brings me to my next point:
Mixt Greens is a member of the Business Council on Climate Change (BC3). The BC3 is a partnership of Bay Area businesses committed to creating economic growth, environmental sustainability, and community outreach – in other words, seeking a triple bottom line (see my previous post on fellow BC3 member Temple Nightclub). Members of the organization are business leaders seeking to share ideas and lessons learned on creating a successful business model built around the concept of sustainability.
Mixt Greens also seeks to help the general local community through food donations and environmental awareness. They may not scream “eco”, but they are happy to explain what they do, why they do it, and how it helps the community and environment.
Swallow told me there are many worthy organizations to which a business or individual can align themselves. Mixt Greens has chosen to support in particular the Natural Resource Defense Council, by providing catering services and sponsoring events such as NRDC’s Green Bag Lunch Series.
“Dispelling the myth”
Green businesses are an anomaly. They don’t address a realistic bottom line. It costs too much to run. People aren’t interested. It’s only a fad. You can choose your own common misperception about green business and Swallow is out to dispel that myth. She hopes that their success not only as a “green” restaurant, but simply a restaurant, will help others, businesses and customers alike, realize that “being green isn’t a sacrifice”.
The only thing Swallow told me actually costs more than going a “non-green” route are bags. The compostable bags Mixt Greens uses costs about 15 cents apiece. Typical plastic bags cost one cent. On the other hand all those cheap plastic bags will eventually wind up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, so the real cost of that oily plastic bag is substantially higher in the long run.
On the other hand, by composting most of their trash, Mixt Greens saves 75% on their trash removal.
In any case, sustainability is a core component of the business model. Whatever costs are associated with practicing sustainability are built in, just as are the costs of providing excellent food. It’s all part of doing business. And, as we’ve said, business is going very well, thank you.
So whether you’re attracted by the idea of patronizing a green business, or you’re simply looking to find a healthy, high-quality lunch to quiet your growling tummy, Mixt Greens aims at the perfect marriage of “eco” and “gourmet”.
One more “green”
When writing about a green restaurant called “Mixt Greens, the term “green” can admittedly get bandied about a lot. Here’s one more, and the last:
In August, Mixt Greens was named by the non-profit group Thimmakka, as one of two “Greenest Restaurants in the Bay Area“.