Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Lunchbox Miami Makes a #ZeroWaste Statement

The interior of the Lunchbox restaurant in the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami.
JWU North Miami alum Carlos Dorado has opened a new #zerowaste restaurant in Miami. Photo: Carlos Dorado

Between Dan Barber’s recent #WastedNY popup, the #UglyFruitVeg movement and the impact of the California drought, the food service industry is making big changes to reduce, avoid or otherwise reuse kitchen waste. (By composting, for example.)

We spoke to JWU North Miami alum Carlos Dorado '13 about his new restaurant The Lunchbox, which aims to bring #zerowaste to Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.

What inspired you to create a #zerowaste restaurant?  

People think I’m doing this as a marketing strategy. However, the reality is that I’ve always been aware of the difficult situation we have with global pollution. I grew up hearing about deforestation, ozone holes, plastic islands in the middle of the ocean, mass extinction of animals...

I am a huge nature and animal lover, which is why I want to do everything possible to try to work towards a better future for our planet. If consumers and small businesses do not take action, no one will.

Lunchbox is your first “brick and mortar” restaurant after the much-loved food truck Arepabox. What made you decide to expand?

After two years with the food truck, [my partners and I] came to the point that in order to keep growing the business, we had to decide between a second food truck or a brick-and-mortar place.

My partners were inclined towards the second food truck because we already had the know-how.

To me, the logical move was to switch to a fixed location in order to be able to offer clients a wider variety of items and dishes. In a food truck you are limited in storage and space, in a brick and mortar you do not have that problem.

This difference in ideas led us to split, and for me come into this new project on my own.

It’s estimated that Americans waste between a third and a half of all food produced in the US — mind-boggling numbers!” -Carlos Dorado
Lunchbox specials: Tortas, salads + sandwiches
Specials, l-r: Ceviche trio (mahi rocoto, shrimp limeño, mahi tropical) + salmon torta, Spanish tortilla, frisée salad and chorizo quesadilla (clockwise from top left).

What are some of the ways that you’re combatting waste? What do you see as the biggest benefits? 

You can always find an eco-friendly way of doing things.

One example: Our to-go containers for salads and sandwiches are made out of recycled material that is  biodegradable. They cost more, but for us it is money well spent

Figuring out how to package our soups to go was more difficult.

There are no containers to carry soup made out of recycled material that would hold the hot soups in a safe manner. After extensive research we decided to go with glass mason jars. When customers return their mason jars to us, we give them 50¢ off their next purchase.

Of course a mason jar is more expensive that those plastic soup containers everyone uses. But the way we see it, clients will either return the jar, or give it another use in their own house or office. Either way, the container is less likely to end up in a landfill, which is, ultimately, our main priority.

(As an aside, it’s estimated that Americans waste between a third and a half of all food produced in the US — mind-boggling numbers.)

You have a background in economics in addition to your JWU culinary training. What are some ways that cutting waste makes economic sense, especially to a small restaurant like yours?

Recycled, biodegradable or reusable materials are generally more expensive. Eco-friendly cleaning products cost more as well. We even have to pay extra money to Waste Management in order to have a Recycle dumpster. From a strictly cash flow point of view, being eco-friendly is not a good strategy for a restaurant.

There IS a bright side to this: I truly believe that there is a transformation in the way consumers think.” 

But there IS a bright side to this: I truly believe that there is a transformation in the way consumers think. Being environmentally responsible is like an addiction: once you start doing it, you just want to do more and more. Subsequently, people and businesses that are not environmentally conscious start to really bother you.

So why am I going to such an effort? Because I believe that everyone that cares about the environment will appreciate the effort, and would come and eat at The Lunchbox before going to another establishment that does not necessarily care about or prioritize our ecosystem.

There are no printed menus. You overcame this particular design/customer service challenge with some innovative ordering options. Tell us about them!

You can do a lot for the environment with just a small business adjustment.

Let’s focus on the printed menus for a little bit. The cheapest way to print menus now a days is online. Let’s say you find an online orinter that will print and mail you the menus for a good price — that single order is going to require:

  • paper that was produced by deforestation
  • ink produced with different chemicals and that generates chemical waste
  • packaging the menus for delivery (more waste)
  • transporting the order (pollution from the trucks that deliver)
  • Ultimately you have the menu itself, which becomes trash once is stained, damaged, becomes outdated, etc.

And all of this is for what? We have more than enough technology to avoid all of that pollution and trash.

We bought the most electric-efficient TVs on the market to display our menus. If we need to modify something, we do it in 5 minutes on a computer and have an up-to-date menu with no waste.

Our ordering app serves the same purpose [waste-free ordering]. Even though our clients are not using it as much as I would like to, it’s just a matter of time cause every aspect of our lives shifts towards smartphone usage.

You call the menu “neo-traditional.” Explain the concept around this, as well as how the menu  fits into the restaurant’s #zerowaste ethos.

I define “neo-traditional” as “traditional recipes inspired by modern thinking.” And by “modern thinking,” we incorporate eco-friendly and diet-conscious adaptations of familiar dishes.

Much of our packaging is designed to be reused, such as our glass jars. Buy a soup to go, enjoy the jar or bring it back for a 50¢ discount.”

One example is what we call “Broken Eggs.” This Spanish dish was originally made with French fries tossed with two sunny side up fried eggs, then finished with shredded Jamon. We make it with boiled potatoes instead of fries. We do it this way for two reasons:

  • The overall trans-fat of the dish goes down by approximately 400%. 
  • We do not have a fryer —  the environmental waste of changing the oil on a daily basis in order to give our clients something unhealthy is definitely not worthwhile.

Another example is our Kale Caesar Salad, which is made with locally grown kale (instead of romaine lettuce) to reduce the environmental impact. In addition, the dressing is made with non-fat yogurt instead of mayonnaise, which drastically reduces the calorie count.

Follow The Lunchbox on Twitter.

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Lunchbox chef-owner Carlos Dorado at work. Right: The Lunchbox ethos, from the restaurant’s website.
The Lunchbox’s Carlos Dorado at work. Right: A signature Lunchbox special.
Topics: Interviews Sustainability Alumni