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National Restaurant Association - Illinois Denny’s franchisee dishes up conservation

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Illinois Denny’s franchisee dishes up conservation

Joey Terrell's latest conservation idea may literally be his brightest. The Denny's franchisee has just replaced all the metal halogen lights in the parking lot of his Joliet, Ill., restaurant with 18 LED lamps, which produce considerably more illumination while burning only one-eighth of the electricity.

The new lights cost more than the older technology they replaced, but they'll likely pay for themselves quickly, in sales as well as savings, Terrell said.

"We wanted people to see our store standing out at night," noted Terrell, who's been on a conversation search-and-employ mission since 2003. The restaurant is situated along a strip of stores and restaurants, and, he said, "We're brighter than they are now."

The restaurateur's efforts have drawn the attention of just about everyone, he said. "We've actually had bus tours stop by, and we've hosted school trips - from third-graders to college students," he mused.

Green-minded customers, he added, have visited from as far away as California after learning of the restaurant through sustainability-related searches on Google.

To date, Terrell's sustainable efforts range from installing an insulated, white roof instead of the usual black one to using a flash-heating system in place of a traditional hot water heater and tank. The system basically heats water on demand, with a recirculating pump and reservoir replacing the usual 70 to 100-gallon holding tank. "We don't have to pay to heat 80 gallons of water, we don't have to pay to hold it at a certain temperature, and we don't have to pay for the space it would've taken up," he said. "Our system just bolts onto the wall."

Terrell's Joliet restaurant was one of the first in the country to use a fryer that monitors and equalizes the temperature of the grease, which eliminates the spikes and dips that needlessly burn energy. A piece of chicken doesn't have to stay immersed longer because it's in a cooler spot and slower to brown, he said.

Along those same lines, the restaurant sports an exhaust hood that monitors the temperature of the grill below it and adjusts its fans accordingly. When the grill is at a lower temperature and less air needs to be vented, the fans throttle back accordingly. When the temperature climbs, the fan speed increases. With air vented only when it has to be, the HVAC system isn't taxed as much.

Installed in the ceiling are six 4-foot-by-4-foot skylights enhanced with mirrors that direct light downward into the dining room and kitchen.

The Denny's also has "daylight harvesters," which Terrell described as dimpled, reflective surfaces that are installed around light fixtures to capture and reflect sunlight. When the sun is out, the full power of the electric lights might not be needed, he said.

"I'm well aware of how much I can conserve without doing too much," says Terrell. "You can really save some significant money."

He recounted how he advised a nearby pizzeria to replace all 400 of its incandescent floodlights with CFLs. "My friend there is now saving between $1,500 and $2,000 a month on his utility bills," he said.

An energy-efficient dishwasher has cut the restaurant's water use by 300,000 gallons a year. Terrell currently is paying $7 per thousand gallons of water, but expects the rate to jump by 85 percent in the future.

All told, the restaurant costs 20 percent less to run than Terrell's other operation, another Denny's restaurant in Mokena, Ill. He noted that he's looking to retrofit that older facility with some of the ideas he's implemented at the newer store.

"I'm always looking for ideas," said Terrell, who cited his 62 years as proof that you can teach an old dog some new tricks.

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