Asheville restaurants go green

Green market: Chef William Dissen with the solar panels that heat the hot water system at The Market Place. Photo by Bill Rhodes

The big idea for local restaurants this year is going green, and we’re not talking about collards and kale.

In an effort to achieve Green Certified Restaurant status through the national Green Restaurant Association, member businesses from Asheville Independent Restaurants are installing (or have already put into place) solar panels to heat water. Sound like a small step? According to ENERGY STAR, restaurants use about 2.5 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings. Heating water for cooking, washing dishes is a large part of that equation.

The rooftop solar panels mark the latest step in a grant project AIR launched last year in conjunction with the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute. A $258,000 grant, awarded from the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology’s Green Business Fund, will aid the restaurants’ efforts toward increased energy efficiency and conservation.

AIR-member Posana Café is one of only eight GRA-certified restaurants in North Carolina. Tupelo Honey Café (downtown and south) and The Green Sage (downtown) are also certified. Seventeen AIR restaurants will utilize funds from the grant, helping to make the Asheville dining scene — a tourist draw in its own right — one of the greenest in the nation.

Not all restaurants are stopping at solar panels (in fact, most of them aren't). The Market Place (an AIR-member restaurant that paid for its own solar panels out of pocket) installed a new concrete bar made with sand from the French Broad River as part of a recent renovation. The restaurant also boasts new recycled-bamboo floors, reused hardwood butcher-block table tops and high-efficiency refrigeration and lighting, says chef and owner William Dissen. The Market Place also recycles, uses local farm products and is working to coordinate with Danny's Dumpster to compost daily and uses green cleaning supplies.

Dissen was named one of "40 chefs under 40" by the Mother Nature Network for sustainable restaurant practices and was awarded as a "Seafood Watch Ambassador" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for his use of sustainable seafood.

And, he points out, he's married to an environmental engineer. If only our spouses could count toward grants.

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