The Media School

Local restaurants push back against chains

April 18th, 2019 by
Photograph by Arianne Kelley

Farm just started to undergo the Green Restaurant Association's process to become a certified green restaurant.

Green basil grows in pots in sunny front windows of local restaurant Farm Bloomington, the second Certified Green restaurant in Bloomington and only the fifth in Indiana. Facing downtown Kirkwood Avenue, Farm is full of recycled furniture and locally sourced food, but 20-year-old Bloomingtonian Satchel Wyatt fears the threat of encroaching chain restaurants on the local flavor.

“I like chain restaurants, even in important places.” Wyatt said. “I just don’t like seeing local businesses fail because of competition from huge companies.”

However, locally sourced restaurants and businesses are still growing, despite the influx of chain restaurants in areas like Kirkwood Avenue. With a commitment to environmentally friendly practices, despite the added expense, local restaurants are also raising standards of sustainability

“Farmers shouldn’t have to wholesale to big corporations to be farmers and survive,” said Wyatt, but he thinks chain restaurants pose risks for pushing out local restaurants because they’re cheaper for the consumer.

Wyatt worries the high cost of sustainable restaurants and businesses could bring them down instead of bring them success, but local restaurants new and old are still succeeding.

New restaurant gets most of their ingredients from farmers in the area while Farm just took Green a step further and will undergo the Green Restaurant Association’s (GRA) rigorous criteria to qualify for a Green Certificate.

“We recently replaced two water heaters and two old style coolers,” said 39-year-old events manager and front of house manager at Farm Bloomington Zach Rody.

GRA lays out eight criteria for a “green” restaurant, which includes things like water efficiency and lower energy usage.

“We even try to keep and reuse as much as possible for decor,” said Rody. They reuse items from owner Chef Daniel Orr’s family. “The curtains are his family’s quilts,” he said.

Farm’s practices didn’t need to change much to meet GRA’s requirements.

Rody believes ethics and sustainability extend past just recycling. Farm has always offered health insurance for its employees, including servers.

Rody thinks restaurants that have a commitment to being Green might neglect this aspect, especially because it is pricier.

“It’s always worth it because if at the end of the day, if we can say we are doing things the way we think it should be done, we can lead and show folks this is the way it can be done,” he said.

A new locally sourced fast-casual restaurant in Bloomington is Hive. Hive, although not GRA certified is a locally sourced business. It is a part of OneWorld Food Enterprises which includes Lennies, the only other Green Certified Restaurant in Bloomington, and Pizza X.

Because of OneWorld Food Enterprise’s dedication to the environment, Hive opened with sustainability in mind.

“Composting and recycling is not hard, it is not hard at all,” said 28-year-old manager at Hive, Abbi Springer.

Besides just sourcing locally and talking to farmers, she says the difficult part is figuring out how to reduce food and product waste.

“Reducing food waste just comes with knowing how much food to cook,” she said.

But Springer said the other aspects like recycling and compost collection can be daunting for people who have never tried it before.

“With Rhodes Farm they were like ‘This is too many eggs. We can’t do this,’ so we said, ‘We are committed to you. We are gonna keep buying these eggs,’ which gave them the confidence to invest in a whole new flock.” -Abbi Springer, Hive manager

“It makes me sick to think about restaurants in town that just throw their wine bottles in the trash,” she said.

She admitted it is more effort but she knows from experience there are farmers out there ready to work together with local restaurants.

Springer said it’s about communication.

“With Rhodes Farm they were like ‘This is too many eggs. We can’t do this,’ so we said, ‘We are committed to you. We are gonna keep buying these eggs,’ which gave them the confidence to invest in a whole new flock,” she said.

Springer believes the community has a responsibility to support local but only if it is better, which is why she doesn’t fear chain restaurants.

“The cost I think that’s the hardest thing,” she said. “But if it’s better and more responsibly sourced it’s going to be better.”

Wyatt worries this might not matter for a town like Bloomington with a large out-of-town student population, but he’s happy that restaurants in Bloomington care about sustainability

“I think restaurants will only gain success from advertising stuff like that but there’s only one demographic that really cares,” he said. “Most people don’t really make purchasing decisions based on sustainability.”

Wyatt hopes that new chains won’t stop new local restaurants from opening and sustaining farmers in Bloomington.

Meanwhile, Springer knows others in the business are aware of the cost of an ethical establishment and they aren’t afraid of the competition.

“If you truly offer a better product and better experience than the corporate counterpart, people will come,” she said.