Thinking inside the box

One of Nagomi’s sustainable takeaway boxes.

One of Nagomi’s sustainable takeaway boxes.

It’s not always easy being green, but one Brisbane restaurateur has found it very rewarding nonetheless

William Liu must be one of the first restaurateurs to design his business around a takeaway container. Well, it’s a bit of an oversimplification to say that, but not inaccurate. Like many restaurateurs, Liu was keen to run a business that was as environmentally friendly as possible. He saw an opportunity for a takeaway on Eagle Pier, Brisbane. “And in terms of takeaway, most food businesses want to save money on their takeaway containers, and the cheap containers become the most environmentally-unfriendly part of their businesses. So one of the major things was right from the start we decided to design our own completely biodegradable sugar-cane containers,” he recalls.

That’s not the only aspect of Nagomi—the restaurant he has just opened, offering gourmet Japanese cuisine at affordable prices—that is environmentally friendly. Nagomi’s ‘eat green, be green’ philosophy means their energy-efficient kitchen ensures food is prepared to the highest standards in cooking but also that the food is touched as little as possible thus retaining a ‘hand-made’ authenticity. But Liu has found the experience difficult, if ultimately rewarding.

Take his bento boxes, for example. “They are much more expensive than normal takeaway containers,” Liu explains. “Not only the cost of producing it, but also what we spent on R&D. A year ago we started working on the concept of Nagomi, and we started with the need to design the container—once we’ve done that, we decide what we’re going to sell in it. So the container is the first part of the restaurant.

“We talked to companies in America, China and Singapore, but we couldn’t find one that offered that balance between cost and environmental friendliness. So we came back to Australia, and got a quote to design one here in Australia, and it was about $4 per container. That’s crazy. We only sell things for $12.90, so we were nearly going to drop the idea.”

The answer, he discovered, was back in his home country of China. “Because I’m Chinese—born in China, studied in Australia and doing a Japanese restaurant—it gives me a lot more choices and different ways of thinking,” he explains. “I thought, ‘We can’t afford to go green, but maybe we can by going direct to manufacturers.’ To afford these things you need to go to the root. Because my family has a Chinese background we know the right channels.”

So he went to China, sourced a factory that could design and manufacture the boxes, and got to work. “We have patented our design, and they produce this for us, so at the end of the day we can push the cost down to around 50 cents,” he says. “Which is still two or three times more expensive, but we’re getting good quality and a green product.”

Liu is one of many restaurateurs pro-actively looking for ways they can run more efficient businesses. One way to help achieve this aim is with Green Table Australia, an education and certification program that supports and recognises Australian restaurants, cafes and catering businesses that are doing what they can to reduce their impact on the environment.

The Green Table Australia scheme requires businesses to meet minimum requirements in the areas of water and energy saving, waste management and supplies.

By making simple changes to the way they think and operate, participating businesses can become more profitable and more sustainable. Reducing the impact foodservice businesses have on the environment will save money, but also have a dramatic overall impact. Most of your waste is potentially recyclable, reusable or compostable. Consumers are also looking for ways they can help through their choices and behaviour.

Liu is hoping consumers will embrace the biodegradable bento boxes, but of course, that’s not all he’s done to green Nagomi. “We have energy efficient gas stoves,” he explains. “When you take the pans away, the stove automatically stops. It’s a safety device but it’s also energy efficient. All the lights are LED lighting. The deep fryer  and all the equipment we got from Europe, Japan and America are energy efficient. We have all things adjusted to Australian standards—that’s a very big commitment too. But we have tried to make long-term commitment

, and we also do it to reduce energy bills so we can provide more affordability. Two major parts, of energy efficiency and commitment, are really green and I’m very proud of it.”

To find out more about Green Table, call R&C on 1300 722 878 or go to the website at www.greentable.com.au

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