It’s a truth universally acknowledged that restaurants throw out a ton of food.
“It’s endless amounts of waste and it’s really depressing,” said Safa Batniji, who has spent years working in food service both in front and back of the house. Every day, she sees food from people’s plates — unused ingredients, wrong orders — all tossed. Especially at larger businesses that serve up to thousands of meals per week, “It really, really adds up.”
As Batniji operates her own small catering company, Marwas, and envisions opening an eatery in the future, tackling food waste is at the forefront of her mind. Some tactics: using excess vegetable parts to make stock, starting to compost scraps and finding ingredients with multiple uses. “If I’m going to get one item,” she asks herself, “how can I use it in five different ways?”
At a time when food costs are out of control, cutting down on what gets trashed is more important than ever. This week, I’ll check out some ways Baltimore business owners are reducing food waste, helping both the planet and their bottom lines.
Mark Hollak, who grew up on a farm in the Netherlands, is not squeamish about refuse. During a recent interview to show me how his business works, he stuck his hand in the blue bin at the Daily Grind in Fells Point to inspect the contents, noting ruefully that there was still food on a plastic cup, which makes it harder to recycle. “I’ve dumpster dived,” he said.
On his phone, he laughed, are pictures of his kids, and lots of pictures of trash.
Trash is Hollak’s bread and butter, so to speak. His business, Mundea, connects local eateries to compost and recycling services, helping divert materials from landfills. Hollak estimates that he works with around half of the businesses in the Fells Point neighborhood where he lives.
Not everyone composts, but Hollak meets his clients where they are. Some restaurants, such as Penny Black, are great about recycling, and the Horse You Came In On Saloon has “the best cardboard folders I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Others have gone compost crazy. Clavel, one of Hollak’s clients in Remington, composts about a ton of food waste per week. Restaurants typically donate the compost to area farms or gardens.
Oftentimes, composting is much less of a commitment than owners think. One easy fix for restaurants is to replace their prep station trash cans with a compost bin, where they can save everything from coffee grinds to tomato stems. Places that serve tons of oysters can separate out the shells. “Everyone can take it as far as they want,” he said.
When food is salvageable — think leftover bread at a bakery — Hollak also arranges for it to be donated to the Maryland Food Bank. Dealing with other perishable foods can be more of a challenge, though, such as leftover pasta that needs to be refrigerated. “You don’t want to send bad stuff,” he said.
What’s good for the planet can also help a business’ cashflow. Hollak said restaurants that participate in Mundea’s programs save money on trash collection and can even get tax credits for food or oyster shell donations.
Moving forward, Hollak is working on setting up his own automated processing center to separate glass, cans, plastic and other materials, modeled after some in his native Netherlands.
The company has already spread to Washington and Philadelphia. But he wants to be in 50 cities “by yesterday,” he said. “Otherwise you’re never going to solve the problem.”
Too Good To Go
Another innovative idea to address the problem of food waste comes to Baltimore by way of Denmark.
Too Good To Go is an app that lets customers buy bags of food from restaurants and bakeries which might otherwise get tossed. It started operating in Baltimore in November 2021 and is partnered today with 110 businesses in the area and “more are added every day,” spokeswoman Sarah Soteroff wrote in an email.
Baltimore publicist Diane Macklin said she’s used the app to pick up “magic bags” from Rosendorff’s Bakery in Pikesville, which contain challah and other goodies that can’t be sold.
After talking with Macklin, I used Too Good To Go to reserve a bag from Rosendorff’s. I paid $5.29 and got a bag containing six challah rolls, a loaf of banana bread and two mini challahs. Although some of the rolls were set to expire in a few days, they still tasted fresh.
In addition to helping businesses make money off food that would otherwise not sell, the app can also offer exposure. While Rosendorff’s challah is sold at grocery stores like Eddie’s of Roland Park as well as Costco, before using the app, “a lot of people didn’t realize we had a storefront,” said manager Alexis Byington.
Rosalyn Vera, owner of Cocina Luchadoras in Fells Point, has used the app to offload specials, leftover tamales and other items that didn’t sell for whatever reason. Customers paid $5 for a “surprise bag” and Vera’s business received about $3 from each sale, she said. Ultimately, though, Vera stopped using the app because she said Too Good To Go took too long getting her restaurant paid.
Soteroff said the company “completely understand[s]” Vera’s issue and “are sensitive to the repayment schedule.” While Too Good To Go aims to offer “a viable, and profitable, way to rescue food from waste,” Soteroff said, for restaurants and other businesses that produce less waste, “this may not be the solution for them.”
Now, Vera donates leftovers to unhoused people in the neighborhood who she said are “always thankful to take it.”
New and coming attractions
Fells Point taqueria Cocina Luchadoras is opening a second location, this time in Mount Vernon, on North Charles Street between Dooby’s and the Helmand in mid-March. Vera, the owner, set up a GoFundMe late last year to help raise some money for her business, and said she’s now in a better financial position. The new space, which has both indoor and outdoor seating, is “super small, but this is just the beginning,” she said.
Shoyou Sushi is adding a location in Fells Point at 1634 Aliceanna St., according to an application submitted to Baltimore’s Board of Liquor License Commissioners. The space was previously Friends and Family, and Sticky Rice before that. Shoyou Sushi’s Riverside location will remain open.
All-day brunch spot Eggspectation in Ellicott City has shut down and will rebrand as Jam Eateries in mid-March with the tagline: “Your neighborhood brunch spot.”
Wild Heart Bistro, a plant-based restaurant, opens its stall at North Baltimore’s Belvedere Square March 1. A limited menu to start includes salads, bean burgers, vegan deli sandwiches and plant-based ice cream.
Washington, D.C.’s Spice Kitchen West African Grill is holding a pop-up at Remington food hall R. House through March 31. Check out their jollof rice and specials like suya-spiced lamb chops.
Dessert shop Krazy Sweet Café has its grand opening March 4 at 407 North Charles St.