Every day more people are joining the ranks of those fretting over the shape of the world we are leaving behind for future generations. Consumers want to know that businesses they patronize are not operating purely for profit, but are also taking care of their community. When they choose which restaurants to dine in, they want to know those establishments are eco-friendly. Phil Sciortino, Jr., knows that, and he and his partner have built an incredibly eco-friendly restaurant with that in mind. Here’s how.
Sciortino has been surfing most of his life, and during a vacation to Hawaii in 2006 he noticed that the north shore of Oahu had its fair share of “shave ice” places. He thought the concept might work well at the surfing beach in Long Branch, NJ. He recruited his best friend, Lance Redaelli, and they opened a battery-operated, shaved ice pushcart on the beach in front of Long Branch Pier in May, 2007. They rolled their cart up and down the beach every day that summer. Their business, Shaka (“shaka” is the familiar “hang loose” hand gesture Hawaiians give when paddling out on their surf boards), was born.
Sciortino realized early on he didn’t want to get out of the water from surfing and see his business's cups and spoons littering the beach. And if there was litter, he wanted to make sure it was eco-friendly. He and Redaelli used only cups, spoons and straws that were made from corn and were biodegradable.
“They would sometimes melt away in the hot sun, so we knew it was the right thing to do,” Sciortino says. “Our costs were higher because of that, but we said we cared about the environment, and we were proving it. In fact, many of our customers tell us this is exactly why they first visited us, and they came back for the same reason, as well as our great service and food. They care that we care.”
In fact, those customers came back in droves, and when a well-known local restaurateur saw the pair with their Hawaiian flag flying and their Shaka banner waving and the line down the street, he suggested they start a restaurant around their eco-friendly “aloha” theme. They agreed.
Shaka Big Island Burrito & Hawaiian Shaved Ice opened at Pier Village on the beach in Long Branch in 2009. Here are a few of the creative products Phil and Lance use to live up to their eco-friendly theme:
• Shaka’s interior is mostly bamboo. “Chop down a tree and it takes 50 years to regenerate. Bamboo grows back in six months,” Sciortino explains. Bamboo plywood, paneling, poles, etc. are sourced from Cali Bamboo.
• Outdoor dining tables and chairs are all made from recycled plastic bottles, from Seaside Casual.
• Web-based staff scheduling and communication from Schedulefly means no paper schedules, memos, etc.
• Bio-Pak takeout boxes are 100 percent recycled, unbleached paperboard lined with PLA Biopolymer and are biodegradable.
• Shaka uses compostable salad boxes from Be Green Packaging made from unbleached pulp.
• Rice bowls and shaved ice cups—In International Paper ECOTAINERs—are compostable and made from renewable resources.
• Fabri-Kal Greenware portion cups for salsa and sides and cold drink cups for fountain service are made entirely from plants, petroleum-free and totally compostable.
• The biodegradable forks, knives and spoons are from the WNA Comet EcoSense line.
And when they can’t find an eco-friendly product to buy, Sciortino and Redaelli come up with their own creative solutions, such as:
• Reclaimed church pews as bench seats. A local church was getting new pews and throwing the old ones out.
• Recycled washers and dryers for trash cans and recyclables. These were taking up "loads" of cubic feet in a landfill.
• Recycled stainless tabletops. Recycled ash, glass and seashell counter tops. (The ash is a waste product from steel manufacturing.)
• Reclaimed wood from local construction sites was the material used to create surfboard bar tables.
• Solar-powered faucets, water-saving water saving toilets, waterless urinals, no paper towels and energy-saving lighting are used throughout
• There’s no dishwasher. Reusable trays are wiped down.
When Hurricane Sandy made her way up the Atlantic coast this October, I worried about Sciortino and Shaka. Would bamboo hold up to hurricane force winds? But not long after I emailed him to ask if he and Shaka were okay, I received a note assuring me that the restaurant was fine. While Mother Nature may have damaged herself with a destructive storm, Sciortino and Redaelli and their eco-friendly restaurant are taking great care of the world around them, and making lots of customers proud to eat at their establishment along the way.
Wil Brawley is a partner at Schedulefly. His company provides restaurants with a web-based staff scheduling and communication application. Brawley recently interviewed 20 successful restaurant owners from all over the U.S., and published those interviews in his book, Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success.