This Earth Day, we wanted to know more about what our businesses in the Central West End are doing to “Go Green” and be more sustainable.
The CWEscene is home to four restaurants that are Green Dining Alliance certified: Gamlin Whiskey House, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Mission Taco Joint and Sub Zero Vodka Bar. The Green Dining Alliance certifies restaurants in sustainability and offers practical, pragmatic strategies to help them lower their environmental impact.
We recently caught up with Jimmy Menousek from Mission Taco Joint to learn about some of the steps they’ve taken to become a more sustainable Mexican restaurant.
How long has Mission Taco Joint been Green Dining Alliance certified?
Jimmy Menousek: Mission Taco Joint first became certified in 2014, at our first store in the Delmar Loop.
Why did Mission Taco Joint decide to go through the certification process?
Jimmy: Here at Mission Taco Joint, we are attempting to be leaders in reducing our carbon footprint as we realized the impact we can make as our business continues to grow. We saw becoming Green Dining Alliance certified as a way to get a third party to audit how environmentally-friendly and energy efficient we were being, and to provide recommendations of how we can improve. It is a way to give back to the environment by simply changing a couple of practices.
Can you walk us through the steps the restaurant had to take to become Green Dining Alliance certified?
Jimmy: Green Dining Alliance certified restaurants must commit to a number of practices including banning Styrofoam, recycling, phasing in energy efficient bulbs and equipment, and reducing overall environmental impact per time. To become certified, we set up an onsite consultation and certification audit with Jenn DeRose, the Green Dining Alliance Program Manager from Saint Louis Earth Day. She came through the restaurant and discussed what types of paper, lights, to-go ware, bags, and chemicals we are using, as well as our trash and recycling processes. Based on what she found, we received points for our environmentally-friendly practices and then got a star rating based on how we scored on the audit.
What benefits has the restaurant seen since becoming Green Dining Alliance certified?
Jimmy: Besides feeling great about helping run a green restaurant, probably our biggest benefit came from the information and resources the Green Dining Alliance (GDA) provides. Mission Taco was able to change out all of our lighting to energy efficient bulbs for a discounted price, thanks to an incentive by Ameren. We likely would have never heard about such a thing had we not been involved with GDA.
Becoming a member also got us in the conversation about being green, something that for many, has never been a part of the restaurant circle. We have also seen some of our neighbors here in the Central West End follow our lead by becoming GDA members, removing straws from their store, and adjusting their recycling habits.
April 13 was Plastic Bag Awareness Day and we heard that Mission Taco Joint removed all plastic bags from its restaurants. Can you tell us more about this decision?
Jimmy: We have discussed removing plastic bags for some time now. However, plastic bags are a lot more cost effective and are less than 1/20th the cost of the alternative, a recyclable brown paper bag sourced through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. We recently received an email from the GDA letting us know there was an initiative to go a full day without using plastic bags, on Plastic Bag Awareness Day. We decided that this was the perfect opportunity to take it a step further and completely remove them from our restaurant. We feel this is something we should have done a long time ago and the friendly reminder from GDA was just the nudge we needed to get that conversation going again and finalize our decision to remove plastic bags.
Besides removing plastic bags, what else is Mission Taco Joint doing to be more sustainable?
Jimmy: We replaced all our lights to energy efficient. We only serve take-out ware upon request, rather than sending it with every order and we only provide containers that are compostable. We now only serve compostable straws upon request. We buy energy star equipment when opening our new stores.
In addition, we have taken efforts towards educating our staff on environmentally-friendly practices at the restaurant. We have created custom posters for staff, identifying the items we use in-house that are recyclable. We have also had Jenn come in and host training sessions for our managers and staff, reviewing the ins and outs of what can be recycled.
Why is it so important for restaurants to practice sustainability?
Jimmy: We serve 400-1000 meals at each of our six stores daily. The sheer volume of waste that can come from a restaurant is huge, but we want to do our part to have less waste. Not only are we able to lessen our impact, we can also attempt to make it cool to be environmentally-aware and recycle.