Paul Damico is leading the way for his franchisees to learn more about sustainability and how to become eco-friendly restaurateurs. The president of Moe’s Southwest Grill , the 400-unit fastcasual Mexican chain owned by Atlanta-based Focus Brands, is in the process of overseeing the build-out of its first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified restaurant in Williston, Vt. The franchised restaurant currently is seeking silver certification from LEED.
Damico recently talked of his plans to turn Moe’s into a greener concern.
What are some of the green initiatives you’re working on at Moe’s?
The first big initiative is our new LEED-certified restaurant. We’re working in partnership with our franchisee in Williston on this, and have funded some of the projects involved with it. There are certain specs the building has had to go through while being constructed. We’ve funded $20,000 worth of LEED certification inspections, if you will. For example, when the foundation was poured, we had to make sure it was LEED certified. We had to make sure the roofing and HVAC systems and lighting were, too. They all had to go through the inspection process.
What is the benefit of becoming LEED certified?
There is an ROI on everything that LEED has to offer. We’ve just completed our energy audit, and already we are taking some of those [findings] and seeing how we can implement them. Just by using our water, air-conditioning and heating systems more efficiently at our four company-owned restaurants, we already have an ROI for the next two years. We also think it will reduce energy consumption by 20 percent. Most people think about the added cost, but there is a fairly quick return on this.
Do franchisees understand it is more expensive to become LEED certified?
I think we’ve already shared this information and they understand there is a 25-percent premium to this initiative in a freestanding building, but we’re thinking the return on it is two years. We have 197 franchisees in the system, and [eco-friendliness has] not been a tough sell. When we began our corporate initiative on LEED sustainability, I presented [the plan] to them and got some really great feedback. Everyone is encouraged by this and eager to get going on it.
How can you ensure these initiatives will be affordable?
We can cherry-pick the pieces of LEED we can impact. For example, we can do high-energy-efficiency cooking lines. We know we can install LED lighting throughout a restaurant and know what the capital is and what the up-front cost is. It’s the same with [installing] low-flow aerators on all sinks and low-flow toilets. Those are the kinds of things we’re focused on. As we get more sophisticated, we’ll do things like [more efficient] HVAC and air-conditioning systems. All of that will become options for us.
You’re also testing a new composting solution. How will that be deployed?
We have implemented it in our test kitchen to see what the benefits and costs are. It’s in our R&D center, and right now we’re sending nothing to the landfill.