Restaurants have the ability to influence their customers with what they serve and how they serve it; restaurants near the ocean have the added ability to support and aid the waters they reside above.
Jacqueline Coulon unlocks the door to Little Lion Café on Sunset Boulevard before it opens to the public at 8 a.m. A giant wave mural greets guests as they walk up to the French bistro-style café. Small and quaint, little lion fits the atmosphere. A healthy menu including breakfast and lunch options is available.
“My sisters and I come from an Ocean Beach restaurant family, so we wanted to carry out the tradition of serving quality food in our favorite neighborhood,” co-owner and general manager of Little Lion Café Jacqueline Coulon said.
A blue and white sticker with a spoon and fork enclosed by a wave proudly sticks to the café’s door with the words “We Are An Ocean Friendly Restaurant.” The “Ocean Friendly Restaurants” program through Surfrider offers restaurants an easy way to show their commitment to making sustainable choices for our ocean.
“One of our regulars volunteered for Surfrider and noticed that we were making efforts to be environmentally conscious, so he asked to take a look around, and we were awarded the privilege of being one of their ocean-friendly establishments,” Coulon said.
Restaurants participating must follow these four criteria: no expanded polystyrene use (Styrofoam), proper recycling practices are followed, only reusable tableware is used for onsite dining, disposable utensils for takeout food are provided only upon request and no plastic bags offered for takeout or to-go orders. A few other criteria, including that plastic straws are only provided by request, are options as well.
In February 2018, San Diego launched their “Plastic Straws Suck” campaign in response to increased plastic waste on beaches and in oceans. According to the San Diego Surfrider website, 500 million straws are used every day in the U.S which is enough straws to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times every day. The campaign begins on February 1, 2018, and will officially end on Earth Day, April 22, 2018. Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics & Ocean Friendly Restaurants program will continue the policy campaign until either a “Straws Upon Request” ordinance or a “Plastic Straw Ban” are passed in the City of San Diego.
“We don’t offer straws automatically, but we do have straws in our shop,” Banana Dang owner Thanh-Thanh Dang said. “The customer makes their own decision on if they want to take a straw or not. Unfortunately, most people do take a straw unless they brought in their own cup, which we give a discount to.”
In a statement released from the 2017 Ocean Conference, the U.N. reported that 80 percent of the ocean’s pollution comes from activities on land: “Plastic waste alone kills up to one million seabirds, a hundred thousand sea mammals and countless fish each year.” A specific environmental impact from straws is that petroleum plastics last forever and plastic byproducts do not degrade naturally, but instead break up into indefinitely smaller pieces, which can fill ocean gyres.
“We currently do not ban straws,” Coulon said. “We try to help the environment in many other ways: no plastic bottles, forks, no Styrofoam, we recycle and we compost a large portion of our food waste. It is hard as a business owner to take a stand against something that most customers find practical and necessary. Of course, if the ban passes as a law, we would be in full support and then the dialogue with the customer as to why we don’t provide them would be much easier! We did try for a brief time to have paper straws, but they fall apart too easily.”
Once opening the stickered door into Little Lion Cafe, the smiling faces of the three Coulon sisters are often there to greet guests who take a seat and converse with friends or simply pop by with their dogs for a midday snack. Surfrider encourages customers to order drinks without straws and support restaurants who take the pledge.
“I always appreciate it greatly when a customer requests no straw when they order their drink!” Coulon said.
Many other San Diego restaurants have taken the pledge including: Beach Plum Kitchen, Herringbone, Solace, The Red House Kitchen, Banana Dang, The Nest, Tender Greens, The Lazy Hummingbird and Wheat & Water.
“For the pledge we have recyclable to-go packaging made from 20 percent recycled heat-resistant plastic,” Tender Greens said. “We also use recyclable paper bags as part of Tender Greens’ commitment to the environment and 360 degree sustainability.”
Participating ocean-friendly restaurants are told to expect a variety of benefits including a positive financial impact. Diverting waste away from landfills to compost bins and other mediums means cutting down on waste-management costs. Surfrider also offers restaurants several incentives for their ocean-friendly practices such as “promotion to more than 30,000 San Diego County consumers through social media, [their] website, email blasts and community events and beach cleanups.”
“We didn’t have to make any changes to get on the list because we were already following good practices because those are our ideals,” Coulon said. “Surfrider has since sent volunteers in to make suggestions on furthering our efforts which we have worked together on to be even better. I would recommend it to other businesses. Customers have acknowledged their appreciation when they see the sticker on the door.”
As locals choose outdoor seating at Little Lion Café under the teal umbrellas to enjoy the sun and their superfood bowl, they can ask the staff about the sticker on the door, which can lead to them saying “no” to a straw in their iced americano during their next visit. Anyone can register restaurants to be ocean friendly. In the meantime, businesses are getting creative with how they honor their “ocean friendly” title.
“We believe every business should take their environmental responsibility seriously,” Dang said. “It not only affects the environment to be as sustainable as possible, but we’ve seen a healthy savings by doing so. For instance, we do not have stir sticks for customer’s coffee. Instead, we use spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti works just as well as stir sticks!”