New York’s Only ‘Zero-Waste’ Restaurant To Re-Open, But There’s A Catch

by Jane Underwood

18% of New York’s garbage is food waste, according to the Albany Times UnionRestaurants in the area are one of the biggest culprits of food waste due to the sheer number of people that they cater for. But one restaurant owner is hoping to change all that by relaunching New York’s only ‘zero-waste’ option.

The Mettā restaurant temporarily shut its doors in the summer, but after a rebrand, the newly-named Rhodora, which is located in Fort Greene, less than 7 miles from Roosevelt Island, is set to open any day now. But this time, diners won’t be catered for by a chef.

Zero waste

In its former existence, Mettā cooked all its food using locally sourced wood and fermented many of its vegetables. However, Rhodora is stepping up the company’s waste-free mission. All food and drink packaging will be compostable or recyclable, diners’ uneaten food will be composted, and all ingredients will be completely used up. Uneaten food is a leading cause of all waste produced by the restaurant industry, but it’s not necessary for food to be wasted.

For example, restaurants such as Rhodora can team up with local farmers to share food scraps with their livestock. Vegetable peelings are another common cause of food waste, but most vegetables don’t need to be peeled and those that do can be turned into stock and soup. While Rhodora hasn’t revealed exactly how it will use up food scraps and peelings, it has thought of plenty of other factors, including reusing bottle corks for shoe soles and refusing to dispose of any waste brought in by their customers.

The catch

They’ll be no perusing an intricate menu packed full of luxurious dishes at Rhodora as it will be chef-free. For a restaurant, having no dedicated chef in charge of the kitchen is a very risky move, but co-owner Henry Moynahan Rich isn’t worried. He says snacks and light meals will be available which the restaurant’s staff will prepare and serve them up themselves. It appears that good quality wine is at the top of Rich’s agenda as he’ll be shipping some of France’s finest in on a regular basis.

A promising future

With Rhodora going all out to be as waste-free as possible and receiving an impressive write up from Grub Street, it is hoped that over the coming months the restaurant will be a success and others in the area, including eateries in Roosevelt Island, will follow their lead. There’s clearly a need for it as the restaurant industry produces 11.4 million tonnes of food waste each year. What’s also good is that Rich knows there’s still more that he can do to cut waste in Rhodora.

Like all restaurants, Rhodora can’t escape from hard-to-recycle items such as cooking oils. A solution has been found in the form of a pickup service costing $800 per box, but as this will take a huge chunk out of the restaurant's profits, it likely won’t be long before Rich and his team come up with an innovative solution to deal with this waste in a more sustainable and affordable way.

While zero-waste restaurants are a relatively new phenomenon to the Roosevelt Island community and New Yorkers as a whole, it’s something that looks set to take off in the state. As such, diners should get used to the quirky and environmentally-friendly way that the state’s latest zero-waste restaurant offers.