Wooden Boat Food Company
Food & Beverage
Sustainable practices implemented from resourcefulness and creativity can enable lower-cost practices. A vision focused on sustainability and community service, rather than food service, fosters opportunities for greater positive impact. Use social media, videos, and other online resources for self-directed learning without local industry mentors. Finally, ask for forgiveness, not permission, when trying new sustainable practices.
Wooden Boat is a small Vietnamese take-out restaurant specializing in cooking with locally sourced sustainable products. It is housed inside a local brewery and is a 99% saran wrap/aluminum foil and parchment-free kitchen, where BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) is encouraged, and biodegradable utensils and takeout containers are a must. Sustainability is a driving force behind the operations of the restaurant. Executive Chef and Owner Thompson Tran applied lessons about the use of local proteins from his time working at other restaurants in Vancouver and began to focus on local products, suppliers, and farmers. The Chef sits on the Board of Directors for the CTA (Culinary Tourism Alliance) and is an advisor for the Food System Roundtable of Waterloo Region. He strives to promote equitable access to food the sustainability in food systems and considers food literacy, food education, and food security as central to his work.
From the beginning of his business, he first approached sustainability to increase financial gains. First, he was motivated to reduce waste and increase financial gains. He began working with his sous-chef, who was interested in and knowledgeable about fermentation, and they began saving peelings and other food scraps to reuse. Instead of throwing away scraps, he reused them for other purposes. For example, bones that were used for broth were then smoked and sold as dog treats: his decision to be sustainable was both based on financials and waste reduction. Additionally, he began incrementally phasing out unsustainable packaging, saran wrap, tinfoil, then no parchment paper. Thompson uses his business’ sustainability practices both as a cost-reduction mechanism and as an advertising method, using sustainable storytelling to invite consumers and suppliers to the business.
Many of Thompson’s sustainability practices come from his own research and initiative. For example, he heard about a technology called CoolBot on his own, purchased it, and used it to build his own walk-in cooler, which saved him money. Thompson credits his Sous-Chef with helping him start the business’ sustainability story, as his Sous-Chef was involved with fermentation processes and brought those into the kitchen.
Practices began as ‘chit-chat’ between the two and, eventually, they began fermenting food waste to use in recipes. Thompson also uses Youtube and Instagram to research sustainability and zero waste methods. Financially, Thompson uses his own capital to invest in sustainable resources, as well as grants from three of the Green Spaces programs and the Waterloo Region Tourism Adaptation and Recovery Program (TARP 2) grant. Thompson also used his partnerships with Fescon, the Culinary Tourism Alliance, Explore Region Waterloo, and Ocean Wise to bolster his sustainability practices.
He also uses his community connections with consumers to support free sustainability practices, for example, he received mulch for free and customers helped shovel it into his compost beds. In addition, to procure high quality local proteins, Thompson reached out to a friend who is an organic farmer for supplier recommendations. Once Thompson advertised that he was selling a specific farmer’s meat, other local, high quality farmers began to reach out for him to use their meat.
Thompson has hosted a chef-to-chef talk called “Sustainability in Every Kitchen” and provided sustainability information to the Chase Hospitality Group, which owns around ten restaurants. Their Executive Chef reached out to Thompson and Thompson provided information of his sustainability practices, which he believes were implemented in some restaurants. Thompson also uses social media to educate consumers and competitors on sustainability initiatives and to support local programs and other businesses. Thompson doesn’t consider his business to be just a sustainable restaurant, but a business of food education, food literacy, and sustainability in business.
Wooden Boat Food Company Practices
|Reduce Waste||Source local and sustainable produce||Employee wellbeing||Community partnerships|
|Track waste output from restaurants after diverting all food waste and recyclables. Share supplier contact data with other food businesses who inquire how to copy waste reduction activities. Prevent waste water overuse by using just-in-time cleaning protocol; reduce wastewater and chemicals for cleaning by 85% versus industry standard.||The company sources its protein from 100% pasture-raised sustainable or regenerative proteins. They have developed local sustainable alternatives to unsustainably-sourced ingredients by working with local farmers to supply proteins, planting organic produce and herbs on site.||Pay staff wages above local living wage level and employ for fewer hours than industry, plus extra to assist staff with required uniform purchases on case-to-case basis Provide free nutritious meals and snacks to staff members Hire LGBTQI+ staff and maintain gender-parity on staff or better; establish a respectful and equitable workplace for staff of all gender orientations and identities.||Member of various local food alliances and third-party validation groups Leader on sustainable proteins council, promoting and encouraging membership Fundraise for local food literacy program for children Educate clients about suppliers and benefits of local ingredients while dining and on social media.|
Key Actors in Ecosystem
Local farmers: Provide regular supplies and alternatives on the ingredients locally produced, which support the restaurant’s goal of local sustainable farm to table products.
Food certification alliance: Helps inform the restaurant on the types of validations necessary to establish sustainable food standards. It has a strict membership base which is important for networking and learning about practices in the region.
National sustainable protein association:
Enabling Factors for Practices
|Internal to the organization||External to the organization|
|Vision: Business vision of sustainability and food literacy, rather than food-service.||Grant: Apply for and win grant from internationally recognized non-profit organization to hire youth for sustainability-oriented skills-building jobs; Hire two youth with stipulation that they return to tertiary studies|
|Cooperation: Share supplier contact data with other food businesses who inquire how to copy waste reduction activities. This strengthens business reputation and provides incentive to continue being a local leader in sustainability among food circuits.||Groups: Member of various local food alliances and third-party sustainability validation groups that assist in knowledge sharing, best practices and provide technical support.|
Arresting Factors for Practices
|Internal to the organization||External to the organization|
|Regulation: Public health standards restrict use of garden-grown produce|
|Financial Managers of Large Restaurants: chefs in large restaurants require too much investment to implement new practices|