Out of this World
At first, one might think it is the succulent plates of fresh salmon and Lake Superior trout that draw people to the Angry Trout Café’s door in droves, but it’s not just a satisfied stomach that people leave with. It’s true, the food is out of this world, but customers also leave assured that they participated in something revolutionary.
Since it’s inception in 1987, owners George Wilkes and Barb LaVigne have made a number of interesting and thought-provoking changes to the way they do business in the little town of Grand Marais. Inspired by the book The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken, George and Barb decided to model their operations on the cycles of nature by reducing waste and developing local sources for production. “It dawned on us that this was a creative opportunity to link our environmental ideals with our business,” said Barb. The two found other benefits along the way. “Making good environmental choices has become an avenue to better business – it has a positive effect on my marketing, quality and cost,” George said.
Stating Their Business
In an effort to detail their environmental plans and business philosophy, Mary and George created an Angry Trout Environmental Business Statement. In their words, “By involving ourselves in our business’s effect on our community and environment, we are better informed as to what is truly valuable and good, and that helps us to identify what is most profitable now and especially into the future. A more sustainable Angry Trout Café is a more efficient, marketable and successful Angry Trout Café.”
This sentiment has not been lost on the Café’s increasing numbers of loyal customers. When the restaurant switched to organic chicken and vegetables, Barb found that some people came specifically because they could get organic vegetables. “They know it’s a business that’s trying to address some of these issues, and people appreciate that,” Barb adds. Simple, high-quality food is the key to this restaurant. Accordingly, 80 percent of the vegetables served are organic.
To keep quality high, the restaurant has chosen to serve no meat from factory farms. “It is no accident that environmentally-responsibly grown chicken tastes better and is better for you,” Wilkes explained. The chicken is organic free-range chicken raised by the Welsh family organic farm in Lansing, Iowa.
From Compost to Kegs
Mary and George are also continually trying to improve upon a series of waste reduction ideas that are designed to save money and conserve resources. Vegetable waste is composted by a local gardener and table scraps are delivered to a nearby friend’s sled dogs. They even switched from bottled beer to kegs to further reduce waste. “We were waist-deep in empty beer bottles that had to be recycled. It was a nightmare,” said George.
The restaurant has also made a few changes to reduce energy and water use, but would like to do more. They have installed compact fluorescent lighting, low-flow water faucet heads, and a super-efficient Sun Frost freezer, which uses half the electricity of a conventional freezer. The café also uses half-sized organic cotton napkins that reduce the water and energy needed for washing. “Some people laugh when they see our tiny napkins,” said Barb.
“One of the biggest things the restaurant fails at is energy use – because of all the cooking,” George said. He is collecting information about high-efficiency cooking equipment, and researching the possibility of incorporating wood-fired or bio-fuel cooking equipment in the kitchen. They have also explored the idea of installing a small-scale wind turbine to help cover some of the electricity needs.
Taking Sustainable Steps
George and Barb believe that another important step to sustainability is to connect with the local economy whenever possible. The restaurant has become a showcase for Northwoods artists. Lake Superior pebbles lie embedded in the floor. Tables are crafted by local carpenters out of 11 different native woods. The chairs, replete with fish ladderbacks, are made of local birch.
The timberframe addition was constructed by local builders using wood sawn at the local mill. The roof design includes shingles made of northern white cedar. A fish chandelier made by a local metal artist greets guests in the waiting area. The same artist recently finished fish sconce lighting and outdoor deck furniture. Dinnerware is handmade by Dick Cooter, a potter in Two Harbors. Local art graces the walls.
* Maple syrup,
* hand-harvested wild rice,
* fresh herbs and
come to the restaurant from the surrounding area.
The Angry Trout Cafe shows how a community’s unique resources can be used to build a business that grows towards sustainability and offers a customer-friendly atmosphere while improving profitability. And, these local resources, from sled dogs to master carpenters, help create unique solutions for people who are looking for a “creative opportunity” to link community, environmentand economy. In the words of their Environmental Statement; “Sustainability is rapidly becoming the competitive edge of the future