Taking on the EcoChallenge: Running a restaurant by bike
In November, Tapalaya, a tapas — or small-plates — restaurant serving Cajun/Creole cuisine, will celebrate four years of business.
From day one, sustainability has been a part of our business model and our ethos. We were the first restaurant on our block to request on-site composting from the city. Every Wednesday, we offer an all-night happy hour for anyone who travels to the restaurant by bike. We use fresh, local ingredients as much as possible. And this year from October 1-15, I decided to lock up my car keys and run the restaurant entirely by bicycle, as part of the Northwest Earth Institute’s annual EcoChallenge.
Here’s how the EcoChallenge works: each October, participants choose one habit to change for two weeks, to make their life (or business) a little more sustainable. Although I’m an avid bicyclist in my off-hours, a commitment to local ingredients means daily trips to vendors all over town, and that means a lot of time in the car.
The EcoChallenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to push the restaurant and myself a little further in sustainability, although I wasn’t really sure whether I’d be able to pull it off. Ten days in, I can report that this has definitely been a learning experience — but one of the best lessons is that it’s easier than I thought it would be.
Last Thursday, I found a great bike route to Hayden Island and actually enjoyed towing a bike trailer full of ice and crab back to the restaurant. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity bike to Guam (well, to Guam Street) to pick up a will-call order for vanilla beans from Provvista. In all, each day I’ve probably spent about two hours on the bike. It has required a little extra planning but has also meant a lot of great outdoor-time — a rarity in the restaurant business — making the most of this beautiful autumn weather.
I admit that there have been a few lowlights, too. Locking the bike and the trailer can be a little unwieldy, and I did get cursed at by a driver because I was too close to the car lane with my crab-laden trailer in tow.
But the hands down highlight has been the enthusiasm of Tapalaya’s customers. Many of them ask me about my daily bike adventures, and — perhaps lured by the $20 gift certificate I offered to anyone who joined the EcoChallenge team — 23 of them are taking on their own EcoChallenges. Some of them are biking, too, while others are going vegan, using reusable coffee cups and joining a local car share program. I love reading their daily blogs on the EcoChallenge website and hearing about their “A-ha!” moments along the way.
The EcoChallenge has definitely changed the way I run the restaurant. While I can’t say I’ll continue doing all of those pick-ups by bike, the experience has helped drive home for me that a business can be a vehicle for change, as well as a way to make a living. And I’m already thinking about what next year’s EcoChallenge will be.