By: Clayton Chapman, Chef/ Owner of The Grey Plume –
Let me start by saying that it was never our intention to become the “Greenest Restaurant in America” when planning The Grey Plume. As with many great things they develop organically and when planning TGP we felt that in an effort to maintain our authenticity, the restaurant itself should also have the same philosophy as our food purchasing which was sourcing the most sustainable ingredients. Becoming the Greenest restaurant was the end result.
We had a great series of initiatives we intended to put into place; composting, recycling, vermiculture with our used menus, energy efficient equipment, re-used wine bottles for plates, reclaimed wood bread boards; these ideas all just seemed to be common sense. Then we partnered with the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a non-profit company based in Boston that specializes in consulting for food service operations aiding in creating more sustainable operations and business practices. We felt the GRA could assist us in achieving some of our goals and would act as a great source of accountability to ensure we were maintaining our efforts on an every day level. It offered the best of both worlds.
As we started addressing certain areas of the restaurant’s practices and building materials it seemed that one idea led to another naturally. We started asking the questions: If we are going to go the extra mile in regards to x, why wouldn’t we go the extra mile in regards to y etc?
The entire process also led to us creating a community of Collaboration Farmers who contribute to the fresh food we serve and they provide everything from meat and poultry to vinegars and goat dairy products. Everything is organic. Food should be fun. We try and create an experience for guests that remind them of something they may have enjoyed once upon a time but in much different format. We also try and create new experiences for guests that offer new memory sensations.
We also have Collaboration Artists who greatly contribute to our identity at The Grey Plume, just as the farmers/ranchers/growers do for the actual food items that make their way to the plate. The artists that we are fortunate to partner with assist in creating service pieces to plate our food. These service pieces are much part of the guest’s experience when dining with us. Omaha is lucky to have the “Hot Shops” in our downtown area. The “Hot Shops” are a collection of artists all under one roof ranging from pottery, glass blowing, metal work to more traditional paint and canvas. Having this in Omaha greatly allows us the ability to meet artists whom work in so many different mediums. Some of the other artists we work with have made their way to us by word of mouth. It has been a rewarding process working with all of the different individuals in their different fields.
I think the most valuable lesson I have learned in ownership is that a restaurant is only as good as its staff. This requires constant training, empathy and delegation. This also requires ownership to take care of its people and then the staff, will in fact, take care of its guests. There is also time management, time management and time management as there are only so many hours in the day. Running a restaurant takes a great amount of time, sacrifice and self discipline.
I would tell Chefs who are considering opening this style of restaurant to think “big picture” and in order to complete this goal view it as a labor of love. We spent a significant amount of time coordinating our efforts prior to opening and ensuring we were maximizing our efforts. This style of restaurant is also very rewarding in the sense that we can feel good about what we are doing everyday. I think having a “waste free restaurant” is absolutely worth the additional planning on the front side.
I have been fortunate to have been given many opportunities along the way and have always surrounded myself by people who will enhance my learning. There has been a fair amount of hard work involved and I have always accepted, even chased jobs that I felt would contribute to the end goal of opening my own restaurant which resulted in The Grey Plume.