In late 2017, the Whittemore House earned certification with the Green Dining Alliance, receiving a 5-star award for its “exemplary understanding and performance of sustainable practices.” In addition to recognizing restaurants for their sustainability efforts, the Green Dining Alliance (GDA) encourages and facilitates steady progress toward low-impact practices and efficient use of resources. Audits are conducted annually to assess operations, set ambitious goals for the upcoming year, and connect restaurant staff to useful resources.
Since then, the Whittemore House has continued to make improvements to its operations and menu, despite welcoming a new General Manager and Executive Chef. Sustainability leadership in these positions play a significant role in advancing sustainable practices as part of the culture of the business.
Joining as the General Manager in late 2018, St. Louisan Ryan Sluhan has over 10 years of experience working at the Hilton Embassy Suites downtown. Also from St. Louis, Jamey Tochtrop owned and operated a restaurant called Stellina for 9 years prior to joining the team as the Executive Chef. Manager Sluhan and Chef Tochtrop went through their first Green Dining Alliance audit last February, which concluded in a successful recertification with a slightly higher score than the previous year.
Since taking over the restaurant’s operations, the pair has already implemented a few changes, the most notable being the addition of an herb and vegetable garden. The main dining room overlooks the garden, offering guests a prime view on the hyper-local source of the food on their plate. This month, the garden is filled with basil, beans, hot peppers, tomatoes, Swiss chard, mint, rosemary, arugula, as well as less common varieties of veggies and herbs such as pattypan zucchini, shiso, and lemon cucumber. In fact, we were told that the garden is yielding so well that purchasing Swiss Chard and herbs is no longer necessary! This garden was made possible thanks to a partnership with the WashU Grounds Services and contractor Focal Pointe, who funded and installed the garden, as well as provided some gardening expert tips to the dining team.
Beyond the garden, the Whittemore House is sourcing up to 30% of its products from local farmers. “It’s important to have relationships with our vendors, which is why we value local sources,” says Tochtrop. Fresh, seasonal, and high-quality ingredients such as Ozark Forest mushrooms, Amish-raised chickens, and Missouri-grown basmati rice are key ingredients in Whittemore House dishes.
The new team has also recently introduced a few events that bring the taste of sustainability to its clientele. Wine tastings are now including samples from Honig, a family-owned vineyard and winery powered by solar panels and working with bees, birds, and sniffer dogs to ensure the best quality wine. Recently introduced family-style dinners reduce the risk of food waste and Green Monday specials are always a favorite. Finally, Chef Tochtrop will be hosting a cooking class to teach members how to make their own pastas.
On the waste side, Jamey and Ryan like to lead by example. They bring their reusable water bottle every day and ask their staff to do the same. Following a suggestion from the Green Dining Alliance, the Whittemore House has also reduced the size of the water glasses from 16oz to 12oz, resulting in visible water savings. The next step is to stop automatic refills, but that’s for later – change is incremental!
Looking ahead, Manager Sluhan will continue working with Facilities to conserve water and energy, and the team will explore alternative chemicals for environmentally safer cleaning options.