January 24, 2011

A Guide to Mindful (Green) Dining in Boulder: Mountain Sun. ~ Joe Yeoman

S.O.B. Burger and Burrito

This is the second article in a series of profiles about mindful dining practices in Boulder. Through interviews with proprietors, I will show the variety of ways restaurants are conscious of their surroundings. My intention is not to persuade you where to eat on your next culinary excursion (personally, I would dine at all of these establishments, and in fact, I did eat the SOB Burger and the Burrito, and they were delicious). Instead, this is a utensil—a guide to green, eco-friendly, consumer and community conscious Boulder cuisine. Check out the other interviews: The Sink.

Mountain Sun.

Mountain Sun, part pub, part brewery, part family restaurant, is situated just east of the Pearl Street Walking Mall. It serves an assortment of daily specials, published on recycled paper, that pair nicely with one of their many in house brews. View their menu here.

I hung out with Will Doerrmann, General Manager, and his Kitchen Manager, Annabelle Forrestal. We listened to Phish over a noisy and busy lunch hour and discussed the ways Mountain Sun is socially responsible:

1. What are Annabelle and Will’s thoughts on Mountain Sun’s social responsibility?

Will: What’s cool is that Boulder’s pretty awesome. I think that a lot of people are trying to do the same thing. They are all on the same bandwagon of supporting local, which we have been all about since we’ve been open. We don’t advertise at all. All that we have comes from the community, and we try to give back to the community.

Every year, they put on a show to generate donations for a local company.

Will: It’s called our Funk Show. All the proceeds go to KGNU, the local radio station. We donate a lot back to the community, and then they give back to us. There isn’t a legitimate donation that walks through the door that we don’t try to donate too: sports, safe way houses.

Annabelle: We just began with a local company called Growing Gardens. They have a youth program called Cultiva. Will was actually the one who started the relationship. He donated, and they came back in with fresh basil.

Will: His product is really good. We built our relationship there, and now, he actually grows for us. He’s got gardens set-up for us.

Will: As far as being green, we are PACE-certified, we get audited every year from Xcel. There are some light bulb fixtures that we can change. But we are usually very high, almost perfect on their scale. We do the certifications every year just to make sure that we are staying up with any new technologies that they know of.

2. What are the ways Mountain Sun conserves on electricity?

Will: One of the recent things we’ve done is had solar panels added to our roof. There are 44 panels. Each one is about 224 watts, so we get about 10 kilowatts off of them. To my knowledge, that is a healthy chunk of electricity.  It was a completely painless process. Excel came in and we switched over to the new electricity.

Will: It’s something that we are always conscious of. We don’t turn the lights on until we have to.

Annabelle: We don’t turn on the fryers until we have to.

In the kitchen, they use compact fluorescent bulbs, but they still use incandescent light bulbs in their dining room because of the dimming capability. I told them that the newer models dim, just like the Sink uses, and we discussed if the new bulbs blow or not when dimmed. Will wrote a note down on his pad. Hopefully, they look into the newer models.

3. What are the ways Mountain Sun conserves on water?

Obviously, all restaurants need to use water; it is against several health codes not to. For Mountain Sun, they have two major drains on their consumptions: the kitchen and the brewery. Water goes into the process of making alcohol. There is going to always be water that is wasted. To clean the tanks, it takes a lot of water. If not, yeast, sugar, or a variety of by products can cling to the apparatus, and then ruin the next batch.

Will: I’d say that is where we waste the most water is keeping our brewery clean, which has to happen.

In the restaurant, they have considered installing waterless urinals, but they had reservations about smell and the piping systems. I tried to persuade them to do more research, and Will took down a note about what to research.

4. What are other conservation methods does Mountain Sun employ?

Will: With our spent grain [used in the brewing process], we have two people that come and pick it up. There is a farmer who uses it to feed his cows. The guy from Growing Gardens comes and picks it up. He spreads it over his compost. It is kind of a fun cycle. He takes our grain and then grows our food.

Will: As far as recycling goes, we recycle everything that can be recycled. All the menus are from recycled paper. All the to-go boxes are from recycled paper.

Annabelle: We just switched people who pick up our oil for our fryers. They take our spent oil, and they actually make a degreaser chemical for us. So our chemicals, we’re switching over to a more sustainable chemical.

Also, customers are able to bring in their own growlers to receive money off their beer purchase (the restaurant also sells their beer for you to take home). This is one simple way they can cut down on consuming more glass, and it insures that the consumer has an incentive to reduce and reuse.

5. How is their menu tailored for mindful practices?

Will: Our special menus change every week. It goes with what is growing, what is seasonal.

Annabelle: We keep up with the seasonal part. We are in a constant conversation with the farmers. They let us know what they have for the week. What we will do, we’ll design a special that revolves around the product itself.

For example, in the winter, they won’t have strawberries on the Daily Specials menu.

Annabelle: We like to keep the produce as locally as we can.

There are other ways their regular menu is sustainable.

Annabelle: All of our beef is from a local purveyor out of Louisville.

Will: Steele’s Meats is who we get our burgers from. We call him every morning, and he packs them and brings them in fresh.

Will: Almost nothing we get is frozen.

Will: Kevin’s [the owner] mission from day one was to have good, cheap, local food. Our most expensive thing is our nachos [at $10.25, which includes chicken].

Unfortunately, the cheese on the nachos is not local, but the goat cheese on other items is.

Will: We do what we can.

6.What are the main challenges Mountain Sun faces when going green?

When it comes to solar power, the panels may generate 10 kilowatts, but that doesn’t cover all of the electric consumption.

Will: We try to do what we can. But space is an issue. We just don’t have any other place to put solar panels.

Will: Honestly, if it were easier and cheaper to do, we’d all be green. ‘Cause everybody wants to do it, but who has 10,000 dollars to throw solar panels on the roof? And the pay-off is great. Yeah, it’ll take us five years to initially get our investment back, but some people don’t have the capital to spend.

7. What does the future have in store for Mountain Sun?

Annabelle: The more conversations like this, the more you learn about new technologies like this.

Their main goal for the future is composting.

Annabelle: There is a staff member here who is spearheading it. It just something that a lot of people here want to do, and it would be feasible. It’s just finding the space here.

Will: We do whatever we can to be as green as possible. Obviously, there are some things we can do and some that we can’t, whether it be space limited, money wise, or the pure fact that we are not able to do it. With the new green things, we pretty much try and do all we can.

Joe Yeoman loves you. He is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School. As a displaced Chicago writer and editor, he hopes to see the Windy City soon. You can contact him at Joeyeoman [at] gmail [dot] com.

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