23 Jun 2022

We all have different food tastes, which means that our best spot for lunch or dinner is going to vary greatly. Whether you are into cheap fast food or want something more luxurious, all kinds of food have one thing in common – waste.

No matter what the food looked like when it was served, all food scraps look the same, and a lot of it is generated across the United States every day. According to the Green Restaurant Association, the average restaurant produces 150,000 pounds of garbage every year which contributes to millions of tons of food being thrown away over the same period across the country.

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This is an overwhelming issue to consider, but instead of throwing his head in the sand like many others, one restaurant owner in Chicago has decided to make a change.

Launching A Zero Waste Restaurant

Jason Vrany is passionate about the environment and has used this passion to launch one of the first zero-waste restaurants in Chicago.

Sandwich Me In was launched in 2012 and hit the papers two years later with its zero waste claims. In 2014, Vrany and his restaurant were recognized in media outlets across Chicago and the wider United States due to his claims of not taking out the trash in two years.

This is because Vrany works to recycle 99.9% of all waste from the restaurant and has inspired a whole industry to consider its environmental efforts.

Sandwich Me In was established as a zero-waste restaurant which means everything they do is for the benefit of the environment. The menu is designed with overlapping ingredients to ensure nothing is wasted, and that food does not go to waste.

Leftovers are regularly used in meals, such as the vegetables from today’s salads will be used in tomorrow’s burgers, and chicken scraps, such as chicken bones, are used to make chicken broth from scratch. Sandwich Me In uses fresh produce but puts care into where the food goes so they can reduce food waste.

By reusing items and keeping leftovers from recipes to be put into other foods, Vrany ensures that all items on the menu are zero-waste in some way.

Reducing Waste Starts At The Top

The zero-waste efforts do not just start and end within the doors of Sandwich Me In, as Vrany has made sure that all steps of the restaurant process can become zero waste in some way.

Instead of buying ingredients from distributors, which is something most restaurants do, Sandwich Me In relies on local companies, which not only reduces transport costs but also the packaging used for the items. 

Relying on local companies for organic ingredients, as well as the reusing of ingredients across the menu, has been incredibly successful for Sandwich Me In. It is these efforts that led to the incredible claims in 2014, two years after establishment, that Vrany has only taken out one single bag of trash from the restaurant since the opening day.

This is an incredible accomplishment that took the restaurant industry by storm in 2014 and continues to inspire brands across Chicago to be better with their environmental efforts. 

With some careful steps, such as a reduced menu with reused ingredients, Sandwich Me In, generated just a single bag of trash in over two years and continues to produce less waste than any other restaurant in the state today. Vrany focuses on repurposing as many ingredients and materials as possible in Sandwich Me In, which is why they generate less waste than any other name in the business.

Vrany repurposes items that any other restaurant would simply throw away, which not only saves money but has a great benefit for the environment. 

Not only are ingredients reused across the menu, but other food scraps are sent out to farmers to be reused. Vrany has a contract with the farmers that provide Sandwich Me In with eggs and meat, where he sends them food scraps. Similarly, fry oil is reused in various dishes across the menu.

Setting An Example For The Industry

With all of the zero waste efforts taking place within Sandwich Me In, the main source of waste in the restaurant is customers.

The only real waste that is generated by Sandwich Me In comes from the customers, with takeaway coffee cups being the main culprit. However, even accounting for all of this trash coming from customers, Sandwich Me In was still able to report generating the same amount of trash in two years as other restaurants produce in one hour.

This is an incredible feat and one that Vrany hopes will continue to inspire the restaurant industry across Chicago and the greater United States. 

While zero waste seems like a difficult subject and something that requires a lot of work, Sandwich Me In is a quick-service restaurant that has managed to hold onto this label since its establishment. Chef Vrany and the team at Sandwich Me In hope that their efforts will continue to inspire the restaurant industry, and they will continue to make zero waste approachable for all.

If such a small, independent restaurant can make such a difference in the world of food waste, then surely the large chains we all rely on can do the same? 

Sandwich Me In is located at 3037 North Clark St, Chicago, and continues to be a leader in zero waste food.