The printed announcement posted on the front door of Desperado's restaurant stunned customers: The Mexican food eatery was ending its 25-year service tradition of take-out food.
For owner Jim Funk, it blended a hardheaded business decision with his growing passion for adopting environmental "green" practices. Ending take-out service would stop the use of plastic foam containers that eventually end up in the Wood River Valley's garbage landfills.
Though savings on the containers would amount to about $30,000 a year, Funk said, ending take-out service would also affect a significant 30 percent of his business.
"Some people called me a crackpot," mused Funk. "Others said it's about time."
Despo's—the favored shorthand name adopted by locals—will resume take-out when packaging manufacturers come up with recyclable to-go containers, Funk explained.
Meanwhile, Funk said kitchen and dining room staffs would now have more time to concentrate on sit-down meals.
Despo's, which Funk opened in 1983, is pressing ahead with other "green" policies. He buys local meat and produce when possible—Idaho beans, Jerome cheese, Boise tortillas—and soon, range chickens. He encourages employees to ride bikes or take the bus. In January, he'll stop buying Mexican-bred shrimp that's shipped to China for processing, then reshipped back to the United States. Funk deplores the wasted transportation fuel.
Other valley restaurants also are into the "green" movement.
At Ciro's, owner Mark Caraluzzi buys organic whenever possible. He recycles glass and paper products. Caraluzzi also donates about 25 gallons of fry oil per month to a Community School teacher for use in a diesel vehicle.
The owner-chef of Ketchum Grille, Scott Mason, recycles, buys locally, uses no plastic foam containers, composts waste in the summer and grows his own herbs.
Mason has a unique take-out container: He buys old plates donated to the Gold Mine thrift shop and asks customers to return them for re-use. About half are returned while others, oddly, end up back at the Gold Mine.
Tom Nickel, owner of the Roosevelt Tavern and just-reopened Sawtooth Club, also is committed to local food purchases. He buys meats certified free of hormones and antibiotics. As old light bulbs burn out, Nickel is replacing them with low-energy bulbs.
Though he declined to discuss details, Nickel said he was working on a new program involving disposal of waste paper products.
Added to the "green" activity of restaurants, a year-old group, Idaho's Bounty, is helping farmers and ranchers in south-central Idaho sell and deliver their meats and produce to families and a few restaurants. The organization's Web site (www.idahosbounty.org) provides information on foods that can be ordered and delivered to pickup points in the Wood River Valley or to homes for a $15 charge.
All this pleases Craig Barry, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center in Ketchum.
"It's great," he said. "Responsible corporate citizens are helping relay it (environmental practices) to the general public. It makes good economic sense and good public relations."