Green Gastronomy: Cafe Gratitude
Molly Keith (left), owner of Palette
Interior of Cafe Gratitude (left), chocolate strawberry muffins (top right), vegan nachos (botton right)
A few weeks ago, I decided to eat lunch at Café Gratitude, a high-end vegan restaurant that now has four locations throughout the LA area. Although it can be a bit pricey, the restaurant has delicious food and a peaceful atmosphere, which makes it the perfect place for a special occasion or when you just feel like treating yourself.
While I waited to order, I observed the people sitting around me and noticed that all of their drinks had straws. I found it hard to believe that they had all asked for them; one man even removed his straw before drinking. When my waiter came to take my order, I asked what the restaurant’s policy was on straws, and she informed me that they serve straws automatically unless otherwise specified. I ordered a juice with my lunch, making sure to say, “No straw, please.” However, when my juice arrived, I was disappointed to see a paper straw sticking out from my drink.
Although I may have gotten a little frustrated in the moment, it was truly an honest mistake on the part of the waiter. The real issue is Café Gratitude’s policy, which trains waiters to serve straws automatically, thus making this mistake inevitable. Co-owner Ryland Engelhart explained to me how years ago, the restaurant only served straws on request, but so many people would ask for them that they decided it would be easier to just serve them to everyone. When the restaurant switched to paper straws, Engelhart felt that he’d “solved that it’s not plastic, so [he was] okay with that.” Paper straws may be the lesser of two evils, but it's still super wasteful to serve them when they're not necessary, and it's important to remember that paper isn’t without its own environmental costs.
Although Café Gratitude clearly sees sustainability as an important factor in how the restaurant operates, it’s not necessarily at the top of their agenda. When asked how important sustainability was to him on a scale of one to ten, Engelhart said seven, which, though I appreciated his honesty, is surprisingly low compared to the emphatic ten I’ve received from most restaurants I’ve interviewed. Café Gratitude’s focus is really on veganism, and although a plant-based menu is a big step towards being more sustainable, it certainly doesn’t cover all the bases.
That’s not to say that the restaurant doesn’t make a concerted effort in other areas of sustainability; most of their to-go containers are cardboard, which is compostable. They compost and recycle in five out of their seven locations, and even participate in a program that turns cooking grease into biofuel, a practice that’s become popular among many restaurants recently. Not all of their ingredients are local or organic, but they try to get those whenever possible, and they source a good amount of their produce from regenerative farms.
Engelhart explained that he would love for Café Gratitude to become zero waste but didn’t explain how they would go about doing that or provide any concrete plans for the near future. However, when I asked again, at the end of our interview, if he’d be willing to try serving straws on request, he said he definitely would. Café Gratitude is certainly on its way to becoming more sustainable, but it may need an extra push from its customer base to solidify those changes.