January 24, 2011

A Guide to Mindful (Green) Dining in Boulder: The Sink. ~ Joe Yeoman

This is the first article in a series of profiles about mindful dining practices in Boulder. Through interviews with proprietors, I will present their views on how their restaurant is 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). Instead, this is a utensil—a guide to green, eco-friendly, consumer and community conscious Boulder cuisine. Check out the other interviews: Mountain Sun.

The Sink

Opened in 1923, the Sink offers a variety of food, including the Sink Burger, and a fully stocked bar. Located on the Hill, it is a perfect spot for lunch or to meet-up on a weekend night; it was voted Yellowscene’s ‘Best Of The West: Best Burger’ (2009). View the Menu here.

I sat down with Chris Heinritz to discuss the mindful practices the Sink implements:

1. What is Chris’s stance on being socially responsible?

Chris: We’ve found it very hard to blow our horn in a not very obnoxious way. We’ve tried a different approach. We try to subdue it so that people don’t notice. We’ve found that we serve a better product and most of the time it’s less expensive. And it’s the right thing to do.

Chris: Any business in this country can go with low-flow fixtures, waterless urinals, compact fluorescent bulbs. We are a high volume business. Things get abused here with all of the college students and drinking. It all holds up to that, so I think that we are a great test site for all of that.

2. What are the ways the Sink conserves on electricity?

For electric consumption, The Sink offsets their footprint by purchasing kilowatt credits from Renewable Choice Energy, a wind power solution.

Chris: We are able to do a trade with them. This increases the overall cost of electricity. I feel we need to push the wind technology forward, and someone’s got to do it. And it adds to the message we are trying to send.

Then they were able to implement a few easy tactics to give them an overall 10% savings on their electric bill.

Chris: That was updating all of the lighting that we could. [They are all compact fluorescent bulbs.] Now, there are compact fluorescents that are dimmable. As technology has improved, we have been able to continually go down that road.

Chris: It’s also how we look at our practices. [This includes when they turn everything on and off. They make sure that their staff is conscious of their power activities] mostly on the kitchen side, because that’s the big power sucker in here.

In the summer, they have found another energy reduction by using “Swamp Coolers instead of AC. Basically, all you are running is a little pump and a fan instead of a whole air conditioning unit. It only works in a dry community, because it produces humidity. They work great.”

Overall, Chris would like to add LED lighting to save even more.

3. What are the ways the Sink conserves on water?

One of the ways is that they switched over to waterless urinals three years ago. Originally, Chris had a hesitation over the cleaning products and cartridges, but then found out that “they are super easy to clean.”  Most of their users and staff think that “they are pretty cool.”

Chris: It kind of just puts it in your face that we are trying to be green and efficient.

He really wanted to stay within the tiered water allotment, which meant that if the Sink went over a certain amount of water, then he would be charged at a higher rate. The waterless urinals keep them “well under [their] allotment”, which meant they recovered the initial costs in a year and use the continued savings to keep upgrading the business.

These and other methods (low-flow toilets, updated kitchen fixtures) allow them to save up to 30% on their original water consumption.

Chris: If we can do it here, why can’t most other places do it.

4. What are other conservation methods the Sink employees?

Chris: We started composting two years ago. All of our plate and kitchen scraps are composted. It really cut down on our landfill. We were able to drop two days off of our dumpster pickup.” The savings allowed them to go to corn ramekins, which are also biodegradable, including all of the straws, napkins, and even the salad dressing cups.

Chris: We don’t use our outside heaters as much as usual.

This helps save on propane consumption.

Chris: We work with Rocky Mountain Sustainable Enterprises with our grease. They are turning it into bio-fuel. Some of it is used for feed for pork.

5. How is their menu tailored for mindful practices?

Chris:On the food front, we were able to form a relationship with a farm run by CU students, called Beyond Organic Farm. They are studying sustainability. We’ve been able to get more competitive prices compared to traditional sources. We bought enough basil from them this summer that we made fresh pesto that we froze to last us through the winter.

Chris: We’ve been able to find affordable grass-fed beef that was raised here in Colorado. All of our breads are organic and made by Bread Works here in North Boulder.

Even in the bar, they look to create a sustainable relationship with the community.

Chris: From the get go, we’ve always supported Colorado breweries. We were the first account in Boulder to have a Fat Tire handle on the tap. In the last year, we’ve really increased our local spirits, like 303 Vodka and Vodka 14. We have a whole top shelf dedicated to Colorado spirits.

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

Chris: One of the things we are limited by here, we have price constraints with our market. We can’t charge 14 or 16 dollars for our hamburger.

Chris: We are forced to make choices and sacrifices. We can’t go fully organic, like other restaurants in Boulder County, because our client base doesn’t go for that price point. That is kind of our box we are reigned within. It has been difficult to find locally made organic produce to get onto our menu.

Chris: The volume that we have it is hard for an organic producer to keep up. But this summer we did use a lot of squash and zucchini. Next summer, we are looking to expand this program [with Beyond Organic Farm].

Chris: With beer, alcohol is very expensive to ship around. Part one of a keg is to get it here, and then part two is to ship it back to the brewery, so you’re paying for all that transportation.

7. What does the future have in store for the Sink?

Chris: As technology improves, we will look to improve. Every time we move forward, we look at how efficient we can become. We need to replace our pizza oven, but that’s a big piece. How can we make a pizza oven more efficient? It’s always evolving.

They want to re-invest their savings back into the bar.

Chris: If we can do it, anyone can. There are a lot of ways to be green.

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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