Hello everyone! Today, we talked to Salar Melli, the Chef and co-owner of Vintage Fork. The restaurant is located in the historical Rutherford House, right on U of A’s campus. Open Tuesday to Sunday, they offer breakfast and lunch on weekdays, brunch and afternoon tea on weekends, and a selection of pastries, coffees, and teas all week! They also take private group dinner reservations and host a live music night on the first Thursday of every month.
The Rutherford House where the restaurant is located
So as a chef and restaurant co-owner, what role do you think sustainability plays in the restaurant business?
I think you can be sustainable economically and environmentally at the same time and they actually complete each other in a way. For example, less waste is environmental and also economical. Eliminating waste as much as possible is important. So particularly with food waste, it’s one of those things that we really try to minimize.
Chef Salar (left) and Billie Zizi (right) getting ready for Live from the Library, the live music night hosted at the restaurant.
And what are some ways you have been doing that at the restaurant?
Considering the kind of concept we have at Vintage Fork, we kind of prepare food just for the amount of people coming in pretty much. By changing the menu often, we don’t handcuff ourselves to a menu where we have to have all of these items available all of the time. Sometimes people don’t want them, so they get stale and are thrown away. That is one of the ways I feel like we’ve done that. Another way is how you shop. For example, buying things that are in season rather than off season and imported. I try to source as locally as possible. Unfortunately, in a place like Alberta because with the agriculture there is such a short season of fresh produce available from local farmers, it’s really tough to be 100% local. Restaurants have tried it in the past, and the market and consumers are sometimes willing to give up something like chocolate or coffee completely because it’s not grown in Alberta. But we can all agree that some people want products that aren’t always available locally, and by not offering that as a business owner, it starts to hurt business. That’s when environmental sustainability gets in the way of economic sustainability. To balance both, sometimes we have to make sacrifices. We still try to source locally, and you could get imported coffee but from a local roaster, supporting another business as much as possible. We are working with a local business for our coffee and they import coffee from Italy. I think there are different levels where you can still support the local economy.
Some of the restaurant’s brunch items from their 4-course brunch that changes every weekend such as the waffle benny and french toast.
The restaurant is a bit smaller than most bigger chain restaurants. Do you think the stuff you’re doing here can be transferred over to bigger restaurants and still not hurt their business?
I think some of the big chains have that approach already. For example, some of the big chains have purchasers. In each city, there is a guy who goes around and purchases stuff for all of their restaurant locations, and they sometimes try to source locally. I had this idea myself for a long time and this is exactly connected to the sustainability approach.
Let’s say instead of having 1 restaurant that is exactly the same everywhere, you create multiple restaurants in 1 city that each do a different thing. They can benefit from each other if they serve things that other restaurants can provide. If I can create a restaurant environment or ecosystem that all support each other in a way that they all benefit by having really artisanal, fresh products, they can sell some of their products not only to their guests but to other restaurants and generate some more revenue that way.
So each section would specialize in something?
Yes, and do that thing really well. They can also have other restaurants as clients who buy from them. I don’t know if that’s been done, but that’s a concept I’ve envisioned.
The restaurant’s sun porch, 1 of 2 main dining areas available
Well, thank you Chef Salar for your insights on sustainability in the restaurant industry. It just goes to show that you can have a healthy business while still finding ways to be sustainable.
*this interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jin Seo Kim
Sustain SU Ambassador