Tag Archives: Beth Ostdiek Smith

Reducing Food Waste

October 4, 2016 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

The night of the Jimmy Buffett concert could not have been more perfect, weather-wise: a calm, near-cloudless 70-degree evening. Packs of Hawaiian-shirted Parrotheads meandered the Old Market’s cobblestone streets in search of 5-o’clock somewhere, food, and drink.

Major shows at CenturyLink are routine for downtown Omaha, but for the city’s restaurants, event schedules are just part of the unscientific guessing game to determine how much food to prepare for the nightly dinner rush.

Sometimes the indicators to make more food—a concert, a beautiful night outside, and an upcoming holiday—are the same indicators for restaurateurs to make less. Restaurants deal with this guessing game all the time. Wasted food impacts their bottom line. Any unused food usually means lost revenue. Environmentally, repercussions stretch across the entire cycle of food production.

Three restaurant owners gave their estimates on what they threw out each night: Ahmad Nazar, owner of Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine, estimates his restaurant fills a 45-gallon garbage can for a standard dinner service. Clayton Chapman, chef and owner at The Grey Plume, says his restaurant fills an 18-gallon garbage can per night. David Mainelli, co-owner of Julio’s, says his restaurant fills an entire dumpster in a week.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in 2010. “The statistics are 40 percent of food that’s produced ends up in the landfill,” says Beth Ostdiek Smith, president and founder of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue.

Since its founding in 2013, Saving Grace has delivered more than one million pounds of food to local non-profits. The majority of the food comes from grocery stores, caterers, and convenience stores.

“When I started this, I thought that (restaurants) would be our top food donor. That’s not the case,” Smith says. “Our restaurants have learned to manage their food, and it’s more made to order, so there’s not as much waste from restaurants as maybe there once was.”

Different restaurants around town tackle the food waste problem with different strategies. At Ahmad’s, Nazar says his 26-plus years of experience have taught him about portion control. “I’ve learned how people want it, especially business people who travel. They don’t want too much food. It’s hard to judge, so I have a portion ready for everyone,” Nazar says.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in 2010.

Mainelli says Julio’s kitchen staff tries to minimize waste by boiling the parts of the chicken that do not reach a customer’s plate and making it into a stock. Onion skins are used for barbecue sauces. Still, Mainelli believes his restaurant could do better in managing food waste. For example, cooked rice IS an item that has a short lifespan, as it cannot be reheated for a restaurant-quality dish. “Sometimes, we’ll throw out an entire batch that could serve 50 people,” he says.

The Grey Plume is renowned for being one of the most environmentally friendly restaurants in the nation. In addition to using recycled materials for their drywall and steel framing, Clayton Chapman says the restaurant uses a three-step process to reduce food waste. The first step involves using as much of the ingredient as possible (when carrots get cut up, the remaining carrot pieces get pureed into a base).

“Not everything has a second life, but most things do,” Chapman says. The second step includes composting any leftover and eligible ingredients. The final step is to prepare everything to order so that reheating isn’t necessary.

Along with internal quality control, Ahmad’s, Julio’s, and The Grey Plume have donated food and resources to charitable organizations like Siena/Francis Homeless Shelter and Youth
Emergency Services.

In 2012, after recovering from an undiagnosed lymphatic illness that left him bedridden, Mainelli was inspired to start Feedback Omaha, an organization that works with local restaurants and nonprofits to feed those in need. In addition to donating food to the needy, Feedback Omaha organizers also perform a standard restaurant-style dinner service.

In July, the organization provided its first service for YES, which featured a taco bar for about 100 kids. In October, Feedback Omaha served about 250 people at the Lydia House with Mama’s Pizza and All Inclusive Catering providing food for the event.

The standard for what can be donated is a simple (but inflexible) rule: whatever is cooked, but does not go out to a customer, can be donated. For example, a cooked pizza in a restaurant kitchen is ripe for donating. However, if it goes out into the restaurant dining area, it’s no longer a candidate for donation.

“If it’s in the buffet, it cannot be rescued. If it’s in the back, we can still rescue it,” Smith says.

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org or facebook.com/feedbackomaha for more information.

Encounter

food-waste-illustration-copy

Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue

October 27, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Beth Ostdiek Smith was working at her old job and was amazed to hear about the amount of healthy meals and snacks that were being thrown out at the end of the day. She knew of an organization in Arizona called Waste Not, a perishable food rescue that was run by one of her sister’s friends. She thought Omaha could use something similar to address the city’s hunger problem.

Smith, who had been involved with local businessman Jerry Hoberman’s Winners Circle program and later in Partnership 4 Kids, both of which helped students in the Omaha Public Schools system, was looking for a new venture. Late in 2012, she met with members of the Hunger Free Heartland, which included the Food Bank, three of the city’s largest pantries, and some members of former Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s staff to explore the need for a perishable food rescue. She says all agreed this would fill a niche not being met in the community.

Smith traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., in February 2013 to meet with the head of Waste Not.

Smith gathered information about how the company picked up food donations from different restaurants, caterers, and other food purveyors, and then delivered them to local nonprofits that feed the needy. She came back to Omaha and went about raising funds and building partnerships to create what would become Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and Delivery.

“We do not have a food problem in Omaha but a food connection problem,” Smith, president and founder of Saving Grace, says. “Saving Grace’s perishable food pipeline addresses that issue.”

One of the first partners was Akin’s Natural Foods, which was just coming to Omaha. Company officials agreed to donate food. Now Saving Grace has 10 regularly scheduled donors, including Trader Joe’s, Greenberg Fruit, three Pizza Ranch locations, and Attitude on Food.

One of the biggest purchases that Saving Grace needed to get running was a refrigerated truck so workers could collect and deliver perishable food such as dairy, produce, meats, prepared foods, and grains. Saving Grace does not have a warehouse, and all pick-ups and donations are done on the same day, Smith says. A good truck, therefore, is a must.

Several years ago, Smith had met former Precision Industries CEO Dennis Circo (featured on the cover of this month’s issue of our sister publication, B2B magazine) through Omaha businessman Willie Thiessen, and decided to approach Circo about helping fund her new venture. Circo said he wasn’t sure it would work, but took a leap of faith and agreed to buy the refrigerated truck. He also donated office space to the nonprofit at his new Enterprise Center on 96th and L streets.

Saving Grace delivers food to 10 nonprofit groups, including the Bethlehem House, Heart Ministries, Hope Center for Kids, Open Door Mission and Siena/Francis House. Food rescue and delivery operations started last September.

Smith said the goal for Saving Grace was to deliver 300 pounds of food a day for the first three months, then add an additional 200 pounds of food a day every three months. After nine months of delivering, 152,842 pounds of food have been delivered to the needy. Smith said that besides the partnerships her group has made with donors and financial backers, Saving Grace has been successful because she and others have met with all the recipients to determine what their food needs are. The less those organizations must worry about where their food will be coming from, she says, the more time they will have to help meet the other needs of their clientele, like finding jobs and repairing broken lives.

“I see this as a movement, really,” Smith says. “People want to know where their food goes, and I think we’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg [of this venture’s potential].”

Smith hopes to purchase another truck and continue to grow the number of recipients, donors, and financial partners. Educating the public on how they can help feed the hungry while saving landfills by getting the word out on Saving Grace are also big priorities moving forward.

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org for more information on Saving Grace.

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