By Patti Larson, Executive Director of Food Finders
Wasting food is often a concern in the restaurant industry and until recently, it was up to the restaurant owner or manager to take initiative to recycle, donate or compost any overages. Now with recent state mandates to reduce organic waste, the decision carries more financial implications if they continue to dump what is considered servable food into bins. The options remain: Donate to feed people, compost for soil, convert to animal feed or turn it into energy via anaerobic digesters.
I sat down with Chef Pete Lehmar to learn what motivates Gladstone’s, popular seafood restaurant located in the Pike area of Long Beach, to be a waste-conscious business in an industry where liability often weighs in as a concern.
When did you first decided to donate your food overages?
I actually started donating at my children’s school at their annual Oktoberfest. I’d prepare food for hundreds of attendees, but initially would wind up with trays of unserved food. So, I’d donate it to a local shelter.
What led you to Food Finders?
I met your organization through a Dine LBC kick-off event and realized what a great resource the organization would be for our restaurant events and private party overages, particularly during holidays.
So on the food prep end, how do you reduce waste in the kitchen?
Particularly with fish, primarily what’s leftover is incorporated into our chowder. The largest amount of waste we see is at the consumer levels, like at buffets where people pile food on their plates, but often eat only a portion of the food.
Has liability ever been an issue when it came to donations, since that is often the first perceived barrier for restaurants joining our program?
Liability was never a concern — I never hesitated about donating food, since I know what’s safe to donate and how to ensure it’s been stored properly up to that point.
What other ways are you “green” conscious?
We recently started using paper straws rather than plastic to reduce environmental impact, in addition to eliminating plastic bags as part of local mandates. We’d also consider compostable to-go containers if we find one that’s economical and durable.
Would you be fine with people bringing their own reusable containers for leftovers?
Sure, as long as guests were packing their own leftovers at the table, since due to safety standards, we wouldn’t bring the containers into the restaurant kitchen.
What would you tell other restaurant chefs or managers considering a food donation program?
If you can feed homeless or other people in need, do it. In fact, I have some unused inventory to donate very soon.
Bring it on, Chef! And thanks for continuing to support our food insecure population.