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National Restaurant Association - Going green saves green at Croc’s restaurant

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Going green saves green at Croc’s restaurant

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For Laura Habr, ecological and economical conservation have combined to become center-of-the-plate at Croc's 19th Street Bistro, the restaurant she owns and operates with her husband, Kal, in Virginia Beach, Va.

In business for 19 years, Croc's is, possibly, more relevant now than when it first opened its doors. Today the 125-seat eco-friendly bistro is its state's first restaurant to be certified "Virginia Green," a designation signifying it implements green business practices into its operations. Those include recycling, reduction of disposables, grease recycling, elimination of Styrofoam, water efficiency and energy conservation.

Habr's interest in operating a green restaurant is manifold, but primarily it reflects her love for the community and makes good business sense, too.

"This is our 19th year and that, in and of itself, is about reinvention and staying attuned to things," she said. "We have to recycle, renew and reuse ourselves. It's all about looking at what you have and improving on it."

To that end, Habr says she has been diligent about celebrating the agricultural beauty surrounding Croc's location by ensuring its menu reflects the area's sustainable, organic and locally grown foods when it can. Coastal casual cuisine, plus organic and sustainable coffee, wine and spirits is the order of the day. Even the seafood served is approved on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list. There's also has an herb garden in back of the restaurant and the couple keeps bees that produce the honey used in its menu items.

"Just growing up on the coast here has a lot to do with my interest in [sustainability]," she said. "We're located just off the ocean, have a large agricultural area and we're on the cusp of the Chesapeake Bay. Add to that that if you're in the restaurant industry, you have to be frugal and smart. Really, it's a no-brainer."

And speaking of being frugal and smart, Habr already has outfitted Croc's with recycled carpet tiles, nontoxic paints, energy efficient lighting and water conserving toilets and dishwashers. Most recently she installed a solar-powered hot-water system that heats the water for the restaurant's bathrooms and dishwashers. The project, which began in 2011, cost $18,000 and was made affordable through a state grant.

"The grant paid for about 75 percent of it," she said. "We predict the system will pay for itself within two years."

She also applied for a grant two years ago to help pay for an Energy Star-rated HVAC system.

"It was available through a program the state of Virginia offered to businesses," she said.

Habr added that those grants are no longer available, but urges operators to research similar assistance that could help them become more sustainable.

"It takes time and research," she said. "For me, it's important to stay on top of things so I know what direction to go in. It is a challenge, a struggle dealing with costs. I couldn't do it without the grants. They really do help."

In addition to saving on heating costs, Habr also noted that her recycling program lowered Croc's operating expenses, too.

"Recycling has saved between $200 and $300 a month," she said. Not only that, it also attracts new clientele into the restaurant - customers who are interested in eco-friendly establishments, she added.

"They're choosing us because of our efforts," she said. "It doesn't hurt that we're located right by the convention center and six blocks from the beach. But we're also seeing people who, when they travel, look to support green or local restaurants."

Habr also noted that participating in the National Restaurant Association's Conserve Sustainability Education Program SM has increased her knowledge of sustainability. After meeting Chris Moyer, Conserve's subject matter expert, Habr said she was committed to joining the program and implementing some of the business practices recommended.

"Joining Conserve really engaged me," she said. "I got to see other successes that were happening and was able to see many other opportunities I hadn't thought of, like getting to zero waste. It was wonderful to have that national connection. For example, I really admire what Vaughan [Lazar] has done at Pizza Fusion; he's really very innovative. And I got the opportunity to meet with Ted Turner and his partner, George McKerrow Jr., at an NRA show. They were great. They talked about starting with what you can and that made complete sense to me. It was good to hear that. They got me to thinking outside the box and helped me improve my own menu."

Habr echoed Turner and McKerrow's sentiments, advising others to do what they can.

"Start with a couple of basic, core activities and build from that," she said. "It can be recycling or making sure your light bulbs are energy efficient and your faucets aren't leaking. Those aren't expensive to do and can make all the difference in the world."

 

Pictured, top right: Croc's 19th Street Bistro in Virginia Beach, Va.

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