DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Mario Del Pero’s Mendocino Farms, which has two Downtown locations, is best known for its award winning sandwiches. But Del Pero also focuses on buying from local farms and incorporating local ingredients. Del Pero talks sustainability in restaurants and saving the Drake Goat Farm.
Los Angeles Downtown News: Does your attention to environmental sustainability stem from personal values? Or is this a business strategy?
Mario Del Pero: It was all driven from personal values. If you came to the Del Pero home, we’re religiously recycling. If it was business, it would look different in our business. We’ve actually tried to keep a lot of it to ourselves because we don’t want people to think that’s why we’re doing it. That said, if we do it, then we go completely outrageously in your face. We literally changed one of our salad’s name to Save Drake’s Farm Salad. We’re trying to figure out how to buy enough goat cheese to keep their goat farm running.
Q: How do you manage your waste — the plastic-ware, to-go containers, soft-drink vessels?
A: Our wish would be that we could not use disposables. We’ve reduced our paper use by how we bag the sandwich by almost 20% over the last three years. But we’re probably our own worst critic. We’re looking at launching in Downtown locations an initiative to put sandwiches on trays rather than even give people a bag.
Q: What common practices in restaurants have you observed that are particularly detrimental to the environment?
A: Every single day when you’re getting 25 cases of field greens per store, there’s nothing worse than seeing that try to get recycled. We’ve been working with Scarborough Farms, who gives us a discount for not getting our greens in cardboard boxes. We have our Mendocino blend that they make for us. We have arugula literally from the farmer and because we put it in these plastic bins that they sanitize and re-use, they don’t use any cardboard boxes.
Q: Is organic always more sustainable?
A: No way. Perfect example: Drake Farms isn’t an organic farm because when one of their goats becomes sick, they’ll actually give it medicine. Will they then get milk from it? No, absolutely not. But because they treated that goat with an antibiotic that goat would literally make the farm no longer organic. Our farmer is a certified veterinarian. He says he’ll go to a farm where they want to maintain their certification and they’re letting these animals get sick. Then, from another point you’ll see organic farms where you don’t know the story behind them. It might be organic, but it could come from an organic farm in the Midwest. You’re far better off knowing where your food came from than necessarily just strictly saying, “I’m only eating organic.”
Q: What sustainable practice has been the most challenging to stick to?
A: I think to date that our, and they have to change, our recycle bins; it’s like you need a Ph.D to know which one to throw it in. I’ve watched people struggle and get frustrated. We need to make it easier for our guests.
Q: If you were the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a day and could implement one major policy change, what would it be?
A: I think the number one thing I would do is, working with the president or Michelle Obama, during summer time I’d give every kid the opportunity to eat an heirloom tomato. Until people have really tasted something the way it was really intended, they’re not going to buy in on any of the other stuff.
Mendocino Farms is at 300 S. Grand Ave. and 444 S. Flower St., mendocinofarms.com.
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
page 11, 4/18/2011
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