Environment at Work: Owners of the Hyde Park restaurant committed to buying from local farms, recycling

November 15, 2006 

When new owners took over Richard's of Hyde Park more than two years ago, they changed more than just the restaurant's menu. They made the restaurant an environmentally friendly business, establishing an internal recycling system and committing to buy sustainable foods.

"We brought our own personal philosophy in how we run our household to how we run the restaurant," said Erik McLaughlin, who owns Richard's, 1520 N. 13th St. in Boise, with his wife, Jennifer.

Richard's, across the street from Lucky 13, is an upscale restaurant known for its seafood and wine selection. The restaurant has a sushi bar called Taste attached to it.

The restaurant's environmental practices rely on three major policies: ordering local foods, buying sustainable seafood and recycling.

Glance at Richard's menu and you'll notice it doesn't list specific vegetables, just the "day's fresh vegetables." That's because McLaughlin never knows what vegetables local growers will have on hand. He buys from local farms like Boise's Peaceful Belly as much as possible. When local produce isn't available, he uses Food Services of America's organic food program to find organic foods from other parts of the country.

The trout, chicken, pork and most other menu items also come from small farmers and ranchers in Idaho — and they are all organic or natural foods.

Buying locally saves energy and fossil fuels, because the food doesn't have to travel long distances, and the purchases support local farmers and the local economy. Buying locally reduces the amount of packaging, such as plastic, styrofoam and cardboard, so the restaurant generates less garbage.

"Buying locally is really powerful," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin and his wife serve only sustainable seafood, which means seafood grown on farms that reduce pollutants in the water and protect underpopulated species. McLaughlin uses a Web site, Seafoodwatch.org, run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to find sustainable seafood producers throughout the country.

He buys most of the restaurant's trout from Idaho producers, salmon from a farm in British Columbia, and organic prawns from Florida. McLaughlin is as concerned about what leaves his restaurant as he is about what comes in. While most restaurants have a Dumpster out back, Richard's — and Taste, the sushi bar attached to Richard's — have a Dumpster and cluster of five garbage cans used for recycling.

"The city's blue bins are too small," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin started by paying his employees extra — about $400 a month — to haul the recyclable waste to a local recycling center every week. Then he hired All About Commercial Recycling, a Boise business that picks up recyclable waste for companies around town.

The restaurant recycles all its glass, plastic, paper, aluminum and cardboard. He's reduced the amount of waste heading to the landfill from his restaurant by one-third in the last two years. He estimates he needs to feed about 135 people in his restaurant to pay for the recycling collection.

"It's a choice we make that I feel is the right choice to make," McLaughlin said. "Because of that philosophy, we probably get that many more people to come to us."

But the restaurant doesn't advertise its environmental practices. "We don't think there's a huge marketing advantage. We don't want to seem preachy," he said.

McLaughlin frequently gets calls from other restaurant owners and chefs in the area, asking where he gets his seafood or local vegetables. And he's happy to share tips with them. "I'm proud to be a part of encouraging others," he said.

Richard's of Hyde Park was one of five businesses awarded an EnviroGuard Pollution Prevention Award from the City of Boise earlier this year. Mayor Dave Bieter said McLaughlin and his wife exemplify how other business owners run a successful and environmentally responsible business.

Contact reporter Melissa McGrath at mmcgrath@idahostatesman.com or 377-6439.

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