June 2010 CoverBy Polly Sattler

Local nonprofit GreenPlate, Inc. works to raise awareness about and reduce single use plastic. Each month, our newsletter highlights local restaurants who are either well on their way or working to become more environmentally friendly (and less plastic dependent). The restaurants then give a GreenPlate special for our readers.

Of course we had to start with Atlanta’s only Certified Green Restaurant, Radial Café. Owner Phil Palmer has been leading the way in reducing his environmental footprint for more than 10 years by finding bio-based take out products, using local foods and even using a tree bark cleaner.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 62 percent of consumers say they would prefer to eat at an eco-friendly restaurant. It’s a positive trend that while people have always gone for quality, great service and good value; they are now also searching out locally grown and organic food as well as businesses who care about their impact on the environment.

Here are profiles of Intown restaurants that are taking the GreenPlate challenge and how they are getting plastic off their menus.

Chef Steven Sanderson opened Miller Union on the Westside of Midtown six months ago and he is committed to sustainability and great food.

What inspired you to open Miller Union?
I really wanted a restaurant that creates great, fresh, local foods and that is equally environmentally responsible. It really bugged me to see all sort of resources thrown away instead of being recycled and seen as a resource.

What are you most proud of?
We set our standards in place for what we wanted to achieve and we have achieved all our goals but we aren’t complacent because we can always be better. We recycled everything, we compost, we buy locally, we grown our own lettuces on the patio and we even offer organic and biodynamic wines.

Was setting up composting difficult?
No it was really easy and it has really helped us reduce our trash output. Fortunately, GreenCo is able to pick up our compost a couple of times a week. We just separate out any food materials and put it in the GreenCo containers every day. Last month we diverted 7,150 lbs of food waste from the landfill. In addition, we only throw away 1-15 gallon container of waste a day.

GP: How do you incorporate local foods into your menu?
Local foods are our focus. We work directly with local farmers as much as possible and we build our menus around what is available. One thing we are committed to is only offering sustainable fish. We look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to determine what fish we will serve. It can be a bit of a challenge to find fish that people like. For instance we will prepare Wreck from which is an alternative to Grouper. We offer Atlantic Tile fish but not Tilefish from the Florida coast. It can get complicated!

Owner of award-winning Radial Café, Phil Palmer has long been a strong proponent of eco-friendly living at work and at home. From avoiding plastics to installing water-conserving toilets, Palmer carefully considers every purchase and is always forward thinking in his efforts.

Why say “No” to plastics?
Plastics from every angle are just a really bad idea. Beginning with the fact that plastic is made from petroleum. If we are going to war for access to oil, when it comes to using it to wrap our food, there are simply better choices.

How do you fight plastics?
I actively look for ways to not bring plastic into my restaurant. I buy products based on packaging. For example, I’ll choose the jar of pickles that comes in glass instead of plastic. And I take those decisions home, too.

What’s a dirty plastic secret?
At Radial we are stuck with an inventory of plastic bags. Aaargh! They only came in lots of 12,000 and that was five years ago!

GP: What’s your tip to readers?
Do something…anything! Start wherever you can.

Steve Franklin and Heddy Kuhl, owners of JavaVino Coffee and Wine House, in Poncey Highland are committed to sustainability. Franklin talked about how the neighborhood favorite has taken plastic off the menu

How are you sustainable?
At JavaVino, we sell coffee from Selva Negra in Nicaragua. It is recognized as one of the world’s most sustainable coffee farms, and it is Heddy’s family farm.

What about plastics?
From the very first, we decided not to use plastic stir sticks and we always offer mugs for people having their coffee here. Right now, we are wrapping our to go orders in paper and cardboard boxes. We’d like to find even more biodegradable alternatives. While the top of the to go coffee cups are plastic, we are going to start educating our customers and letting them decide whether they need the lids.

What is the next step?
We want to extend the network of local and sustainable coffee growers in Nicaragua. By providing better wages, and buying from additional growers, we will be able to help them set their own sustainability goals to grow coffee in ways that support their families and communities and the environment and make better coffee.

How does the farm inspire you?
Every action they take on the farm is taken with a framework of sustainability. They collect old plastic bottles from ditches and waterways and turn them into “Broca Traps” as a means to organically remove the Coffee Berry Borer, a damaging pest to the beans.

Got a dirty plastic secret?
Right now, we are selling bottled water but are looking to sell the water bottles made from cornstarch.

Matt Rupert opened Noni’s on Edgewood Avenue in 2008. With its great food and fabulous patio, its been a favorite spot for the food service industry and people in the neighborhood ever since.

What kind of food does Noni’s specialize in?
I wanted to prepare Italian comfort food in an elegant way. I named the restaurant Noni in honor of my Italian grandmother. Some of my recipes come directly from her so we are serving some traditional Italian dishes.

What about local and organic food?
We are committed to providing good quality, fresh foods. We don’t have a freezer so we get our foods on an almost daily basis. We buy from as many local sources as possible. We get our sausage from Patak Meat Products in Austell, our milk from Johnston Family Farms, and some of our produce comes from Greenleaf Farms in Barnesville.

Recently, you have been working with GreenPlate to reduce your environmental impact. How would describe that process?
What I liked about working with GreenPlate is that they wanted to help us save money and reduce our environmental footprint. It has been sort of a learning process in how to incorporate some of the recommendations. I am now seeing the benefits financially as well as knowing that I am doing something positive by making these changes.

What are the changes that you have made so far?
Well one of the first was switching from Styrofoam to-go containers to sugar cane. That’s one that I know my customers appreciate. GreenPlate helped me find solutions that weren’t cost prohibitive. We are also switching to more efficient water fixtures that are estimated to save us about $3000 and reduce our water use by 100,000 gallons of water over two years. I’m also excited that these options and the energy efficiency changers are helping me reduce my carbon footprint.

Milltown Arms Tavern is a neighborhood meeting place with healthy, great food and fun games in the Cabbagetown community. Owner Barb Kenney talked abut how the local pub is going green.

What’s your ‘green’ mission?
From day one, we have been committed to providing great quality food while looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact.

What steps have you taken?
We have started recycling cardboard and have made the cardboard bin available to other community businesses. We also recycle our liquor and wine bottles. We started changing to biodegradable take out options.

What step have you taken that you really felt made and impact?
We hosted the Milltown Olympics and made it a green event. We used silverware and compostable plates and cups and then partnered with GreenCo Environmental. Georgia’s only permitted food waste composter to compost all of the food and paper waste.

What’s your dirty little plastic secret?
Well, we are still using the plastic bags but we are working on that!

Randy Adler of Bab’s on Juniper Street had a simple goal when opening his Midtown restaurant – to create a place in the neighborhood for people to gather for casual food.

What are some of the initiatives you have taken to make Bab’s more environmentally friendly?
We do not have bottled water, Styrofoam or plastic stirrers – only bamboo. We recycle and we also encourage our clients to use a silver service when doing catering instead of disposable items.

You are a full time consultant for Affairs to Remember. Why manage Bab’s and work for Affairs?
Affairs to Remember is a great company to work with. They were the first zero waste zone caterer in Georgia! They provide 100 percent compostable box lunches to their clients.

How do you incorporate the social side of sustainability into what you do?
We engage everyone with our “community empowerment” program to be proactive about the community. One program that has gone well is our trading with a number of homeless people. In exchange for cleaning the parking lot, we give them a meal. Everybody wins.

What’s one of your mottos that you live by?
Invoke, inspire and involve your community.


Owner Cindy Shera opened The Shed just last year. It’s already a favorite local eatery.

Why did you open the Shed?
Well, after 15 years in the business, I wanted a place where I could do things right. I wanted to reduce restaurant waste, produce great food, and make a difference. Consumers today feel better when they learn a restaurant serves biodynamic and organic foods.

Why Glenwood Park?
It’s my neighborhood and I wanted to get more involved. Glenwood Park is attractive because it incorporated sustainability into the development.

How is The Shed green?
We grow herbs and vegetables. We buy direct from local, organic farmers. Our chef has a composting system we use to process the prep food, coffee grounds, filters and paper from old menus. We grind the compost to accelerate its breakdown. We have just found a local drop-off for glass bottles.

And your take-out?
Our to-go boxes are recyclable paperboard. We ask if customers need cutlery, and most say no. Our to-go bags are paper and not dyed.

What’s your dirty little plastic secret?
We still use plastic straws and stir straws! But our olive skewers are now wood.

Marc Sommers, owner, and Scott Sutton, chef of Parseley’s Catering and The Gardens at Kennesaw have created two of the most green food service organizations in the state. Sommers talked about their practices.

How are you making a difference?
As a catering company, we were sending all of our products out in plastic. Now however, we rarely use it and only if a customer asks for it. If they do ask for it, we use it as an opportunity to talk about the issues.

What made you get greener?
I lived in Asheville and Oregon and saw how committed the towns were to sustainability. It helped me realize there was a lot we could do and that there were actually financial benefits to making the changes.

What’s the biggest impact you’re making?
We are moving into a low impact special events facility. People will be able to rent a facility that has energy and water efficient components including solar panels. We are also really excited about the chef’s garden that we are growing on site.

Got a dirty plastic secret?
It’s the platters! We still use reusable but disposable platters.

Kara Nygren and Raina Newell are co-operators of the Blue-Eyed Daisy Bakeshop at Serenbe, the sustainable community in South Fulton County. Nygren talked about the green efforts at Blue-Eyed Daisy.

What are some of your green initiatives?
We’re actually the smallest LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified building in the country. All of our brick and flooring is reclaimed and we use a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Is all of your food locally grown?
When in season, we get about 90 percent of our food from Farmer Paige at our local farm here in Serenbe. Out of season, we have to go through restaurant suppliers, but we’re very careful in selecting our products to make sure they have very little environmental impact.

What kind of dine-in and take out containers do you use?
We’re currently using biodegradable take-out plates and corn-based cups, but we’re encouraging our customers to dine-in so we can move more toward washable/reusable dishes.

What’s your dirty little plastic secret?
We’re still using individually packaged condiments, even for dine-in guests. Within the coming days we’ll be transitioning to large pump bottles to reduce waste.


Husband and wife team Gaurav Malhotra and Naruna Rangel just opened Nectar, a juice bar in the Oakhurst community. ?Malhotra said from day one Nectar has been committed to reducing its environmental impact.

What steps have you taken to go green?
We buy as much organically and locally grown produce as we can find. It helps us provide the quality we believe. We use a tankless hot water heater now and plan to switch to solar. We partner with the Oakhurst Community Garden, to turn smoothie waste into compost.

What about plastics?
Actually, we are using PET [Plastic Number 1] for our smoothies now. We started with corn-based PLA cups (made of corn-based resin) but have decided not to use those until the kinks of composting/recycling get worked out. We use mostly paper for our take out.

What’s your dirty little plastic secret?
We use plastic straws.


Brodie Lang, Director of Purchasing with Concentrics Restaurants, is helping pilot the group’s green goals at Parish, a flavorful nod to New Orleans right in Inman Park.

Why start with Parish?
When opening Parish’s market and coffee bar we decided to be as green as possible. Our first priority was to avoid large amounts of plastic waste. We chose take-out materials made from corn, sugar cane, and paper that are either recycled or biodegradable and compostable.

What’s the response?
It’s great! Our staff has been really excited about our commitment to these products. They can talk about the alternatives and they are the ones telling the story.

Noticed any barriers?
Plastic alternatives are a little more expensive and can require a lot of legwork to find the right products, materials, and sizes. We have two great suppliers that are working hard to get us what we need. Also, some of the Corn products melt when heated.

Any green plans?
We are very excited about starting to use two local, organic farmers. We can offer fresher foods and reduce our green house gas impact, while supporting Georgia’s economy. We are also starting recycling and looking at composting options.

Got a dirty plastic secret?
Yes, we are still selling plastic bottled water in the market, but are looking for alternatives.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.