There has been a tide of change lately in the way businesses do things; many have become more aware of their impact on the environment. Overall, this is a benefit for everyone living today. A small business in the heart of Minneapolis began thinking outside the box years before it was the norm. At Common Roots in Uptown, you can find the most delicious soups, freshest salads, and an enticing cups of coffee to warm your hands and heart, and the best part is that it all is local and good for the environment. We spoke with owner Danny Schwartzman about the history of Common Roots and why it was so important to him to be environmentally and socially conscious with his shop.
Enerchange: Why did you want to start a restaurant that integrated being environmentally conscious in its business model?
Danny Schwartzman: For me, it’s what makes sense and the right thing to do. First, I think being environmentally responsible is important; people should expect that from any business. Second, based on a values level, but it’s also practical from an economic perspective. Anytime we can avoid wasting something, then we won’t have to spend money on other things to make up for it. This helps when we want to pay our staff well, and we will occasionally have expenses where we won’t need to save up for.
Enerchange: When you first came up with the concept for Common Roots, was it scary for you to think about opening up a place that may need more maintenance than a regular shop?
Danny Schwartzman: Yeah, when I first started it was scary. I asked a lot of questions, though, and I wasn’t afraid to push the contractors in different ways. If I didn’t ask, it would have gone a different way. It was a little bit overwhelming, but I think not being afraid to have people explain it to you is a good thing. I realized quickly that even though I had no experience in the restaurant business and restaurant design before, I was able to come up with good questions that restaurant designers hadn’t thought of.
If anyone sits down and thinks of how much energy things require and their environmental impact, it would make a huge change in their everyday life. The areas where I wanted to push the envelope on was our hood system. There’s a lot of regulations, and it’s really challenging to find a contractor that will look into that. It’s a lot less difficult now than it was when we opened up the shop seven years ago, so it’s come a long way. When I started, there was no one asking about energy efficient refrigeration systems; there was for residential refrigeration, but nothing for commercial refrigeration in a restaurant. If you had asked anyone what oven was more efficient or which cooler — if there was any — was more energy efficient, there wouldn’t really be any response. That’s gotten a lot better now.
Enerchange: That’s great that more businesses are thinking about that kind of thing; we’ve all become more conscious. What do you feel the shop does daily that an average restaurant wouldn’t do?
Danny Schwartzman: There are a lot of things. We do a lot of the basic essential things that are essential to a restaurant, but we source local food. There’s a significant savings there that we see on our bottom line, but it also helps use less energy overall and it’s an environmentally friendly thing to do. We compost everything that can be composted; that also saves energy.
More importantly, while we use a lot of equipment, it’s important in what we use and how we use them. Thus we have a high efficiency water heater, and we have a hood system that is designed to sense heat usage and speed up and slow down based on demand. We just did some tweaks to that system by learning how airflow in the hood system works better. We had a stainless steel person fabricate a piece to block the gap behind the ovens, which makes the system more efficient. It’s been about a 20% improvement.
Once you start staring at things enough, you begin to think what could be on and what could be off. If a system is designed to not be wasteful, then you can start thinking, “How can that work better?” That’s what we’ve done.
2558 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55405