Can one restaurant really make a difference?
With compostable cups in hand and locally sourced food on plates, ten sustainable Tucson restaurants prove that the answer is a whole-hearted yes.
These restaurants have made sustainability a focal point in their food, and in doing so, have proven their dedication to the Tucson community and to the planet.
Cup Cafe, situated inside the historic Hotel Congress, is an environmentalist paradise.
Dishwashers run on solar-heated water, waste from straws has been practically eliminated, to-go containers are compostable, produce is sourced locally where possible, food is composted at nearby San Xavier Coop farm, and business is booming.
The hotel itself won the TripAdvisor GreenLeader Gold Award for practices that include pillows made from recycled plastic bottle caps, environmentally friendly cleaning products, solar water heated showers, and repurposed leftover hotel soaps.
“There’s actually a return on investment,” said Rita Boutwell, director of training and development at Hotel Congress. “You just have to be economically savvy about how you roll it out — start by eliminating easy things like straws, use the money saved to invest in a green fund, then invest in higher cost initiatives like water conservation systems and compostable to-go containers.”
That’s the way they did it and in 2018, saved over 5,000 straws per week and 800,000 gallons of water from reducing waste.
For more information, call (520) 798-1618 or visit hotelcongress.com.
Brooklyn Pizza, along with its sister business Sky Bar, is the first and only restaurant in Tucson to be 100% powered by the sun. Its 323 high-efficiency solar panels provide all energy needs for the pizzeria and cafe and bar next door, including the electric oven to cook all of the food and an electric vehicle charging station for its pizza deliveries.
“When I saw my first solar array, at age 12, it was a no-brainer,” said Tony Vaccaro, owner of Brooklyn Pizza Company. “Free, clean energy every day the sun shines?”
The system generates over 160,000 kWh of electricity per year, saving about 178 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere and more than $488,000 in utility costs savings over the next 25 years. “In the end, 100% solar is by far the best for sustainability,” Vaccaro said.
In addition to solar, Brooklyn Pizza collects roof water for cleaning and irrigating plants, encourages customers to reuse cups, uses LED lights, has automated faucets for washing hands and automated blowers for drying hands, recycles, and uses evaporative coolers instead of AC. Warm, cheesy, sustainable goodness with every bite.
For more information, call (520) 622-6868 or visit brooklynpizzacompany.com.
Ever since 5 Points Market & Restaurant opened in 2014, owners Brian Haskins and Jasper Ludwig have been completely and unwaveringly committed to good, local food.
They source everything they can from nearby, but if that’s not possible they will source organic before resorting to conventional. This guiding philosophy drastically reduces the pollution associated with transportation and big agriculture, supports the local economy, and makes their food taste outstanding.
“Our local farmers and ranchers are the stewards of the land around us,” Haskins said. “Their ability to continue to nourish us and this landscape is of the utmost importance.” That’s why they hold a farmers market at their restaurant on the weekends and are starting their own micro farm to grow produce for the restaurant.
5 Points is also dedicated to reducing food and water waste.
They use grey water for their plants, provide compostable to-go containers and utensils, avoid the regular use of toxic cleaners, and send their kitchen scraps back to the earth. Upwards of 9,000 pounds of produce annually goes to Best Day Ever, a grassroots organization teaching youth to grow, harvest and sell produce in Tucson.
Additionally, 5 Points started their own micro farm and market garden, which produced 1,800 pounds of produce in their first year of growing. They are planning to expand the farm to a second location this fall, increasing their growing capacity significantly, and potentially starting their own Community Supported Agriculture for customers and employees.
“We just want to save the world,” Haskins said. “We’re doing what we can.”
For more information, call (520) 623-3888 or visit 5pointstucson.com.
Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink makes big, Earth-friendly moves with their menu. Their inspiration? “Sea turtles,” said Courtney Fenton, general manager at Reilly.
Courtney and her brother, executive chef Tyler Fenton, spend their summers in San Diego, where they noticed an alarming amount of plastic accumulating on the beaches and killing innocent marine animals. Especially straws.
And so, Reilly decided to only offer biodegradable straws, and only upon request.
They are also eliminating food waste by using the odds and ends of produce, bread, cheese and meats in a variety of dishes, as well as throwing their vegetable ends in the compost.
Odd pieces of bread are utilized in breadcrumbs for their Pork & Beef Meatballs, while Grana Padano rinds help flavor the Bolognese. Additionally, Reilly uses dehydrated fruit garnish for their drinks to reduce waste from having to throw out fresh fruit.
For more information, call (520) 882-5550 or visit reillypizza.com.
The Little One is well-known for its delicious Mexican food and the friendliest service around. Owners and sisters Sandra and Marcela Davila have a strict policy of hugs, cash-only, no phone, and BYOC (bring your own container). If you forget, they sell reusable Tupperware and Mason jars for to-go food, drinks and salsas.
They will also ask if you want the chips and salsa and rice and beans that are served with most dishes before bringing them to the table. “I just hate throwing s**t out,” Sandra said.
Additionally, they’ve also vastly reduced pollution associated with big agriculture and food transportation, as they refuse to buy from big companies. In fact, most of their produce is hand-picked from small shops in South Tucson and the prickly pears are personally delivered by a local forager.
“The whole point of the little restaurant is to give back to the community,” Marcela said. And they are doing just that — through economic empowerment, waste reduction, charitable donations, and good food.
Keep up with the Little One on Instagram.
On a busy stretch of Campbell Avenue, Blue Willow is a sustainable oasis with its lush patio humming with birds and fountains, a quirky gift shop, and a full menu. Blue Willow opened in 1978 and with over 40 years serving the community, they continue to provide house-made food “with the emphasis of fresh ingredients and home cooking.”
In 2012, Blue Willow made a decision to go green and hasn’t looked back since.
Many ingredients are sourced locally and much of their seafood meets Monterey Bay Seafood Watch standards. All of Blue Willow’s used cooking oil is recycled as bio-diesel fuel and hundreds of pounds of food waste is donated to a hog farm annually.
Napkins are made from 100% recycled paper while straws, to-go containers, cups, and cutlery are all compostable.
“It’s part of being wholesome and caring about what we put into the Earth and our bodies,” said Rebecca Ramey, co-owner at Blue Willow.
For more information, call (520) 327-7577 or visit bluewillowtucson.com.
Wild Garlic Grill has made big moves towards reducing its waste, especially plastic trash.
In an effort to begin to conquer an issue that can often seem overwhelming, Wild Garlic Grill only provides straws upon request, and these straws are eco-friendly and compostable, made not from petroleum but from plants.
“We are very proud to have made this switch and the reaction from our customers has been nothing but positive,” said Maudi Gourdin-Schultz, owner of Wild Garlic Grill.
In addition, Wild Garlic Grill recycles glass wine bottles and offers compostable carry-out containers rather than plastic ones.
For more information, call (520) 206-0017 or visit wildgarlicgrill.com.
Renee’s Organic Oven was built on a mission to do better for people, Tucson, and the planet.
Their menu is filled with organic and locally sourced ingredients, from the ice cream and the beer all the way to the gluten-free pizza and produce. No produce goes to waste — the little bits that aren’t used are fed to the chickens that provide fresh organic eggs to the restaurant.
In order to save water in the desert, water is only offered when requested, and leftover water goes to the plants.
There is no styrofoam to be found, and every bottle, can, piece of cardboard, paper, and foil is recycled. There are no toxic cleaners and all grease is dumped and recycled right behind their building. To top it all off, eco-friendly straws are available only upon request.
“From the beginning, we vowed to use as much organic that was available and to purchase from growers and businesses that care for the environment and the people who work for them,” said Renee Kreager, owner of Renee’s Organic Oven. “That process has led us to where we are now with a commitment to sustainability that we are very proud of.”
For more information, visit reneesorganicoven.com.
Scott Mencke and Doug “Fini” Finical met as summer lifeguards in 1987. Fast forward to 2012, they opened their beach-themed restaurant, Fini’s Landing.
Sustainability was a priority since day one; they initially didn’t include shrimp on the menu because they couldn’t track down a source they could verify as responsible. Now they have responsibly sourced shrimp and other seafood for conscious eaters to enjoy.
Fini’s also happens to be Tucson’s only local restaurant currently listed as a partner on the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch website. This means they don’t serve any food that falls under the red “Avoid” list.
Furthermore, all their to-go containers are fully compostable. The compostable straws, provided only upon request, are made out of hay or avocado. Coffee, tea grounds, and vegetable trimmings are composted, while servers are trained to water plants with leftover water cups from tables.
For more information, visit finislanding.com.
Charro del Rey also takes its sustainable seafood seriously. They don’t serve any seafood that falls under the red “Avoid” list for Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.
Furthermore, the shrimp they source is certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP). Additionally, Charro del Rey’s Hola Hemp tamales use hemp sourced from Canada, which is astringent with hemp industry standards and regulations.
For more information, visit charrodelrey.com.
Know of any other sustainable Tucson restaurants making great strides? Let us know below.
[This article was originally written on April 4, 2018, and updated on April 19, 2019.]