Urth Caffé in Santa Monica, Calif., looks pretty much as one would expect of a high-end, European-style coffee-house beloved by local celebrities.
But many customers may not realize when they walk in for an organic honey-vanilla latte and an all-natural pecan sticky bun that the cafe is considered a model for green building design and is just the beginning for founder Shallom Berkman, who has even bigger plans for the greening of his coffee-roasting and cafe company.
For example, the Santa Monica Urth Caffé, the chain’s third location, has two solar-power systems: one that provides about 10 percent of the unit’s electricity, with enough left over to sell back to the state, and another that heats water for the bathrooms.
The building was constructed in 2005 with all-natural and recycled materials—no plastic laminates or other potentially toxic plasticizers. The paints are also nontoxic. The restaurant uses recycled-paper products and cold cups made from nonplastic biodegradable cornstarch. About 60 percent of the cafe’s waste is recycled.
The green coffeehouse was a labor of love for Berkman, who is committed to being an environmental leader. But it didn’t come cheap.
Overall, Berkman estimates, the Santa Monica location cost about 20 percent more to build than his original Urth Caffé in West Hollywood, Calif., which opened in 1998, and the second in neighboring Beverly Hills, which opened in 2003.
“At this point, it’s more costly [to be green],” Berkman says.“It’s not something that saves us money or is easy to do. It’s a sacrifice.”
To some degree, the additional cost is passed on to consumers, but the company takes less profit, he says.
Don’t try to convince Berkman that customers will come to Urth Caffé for a portobello mushroom panini just because of the solar panels on the roof.
“I truly don’t believe we get much business because people think we do things that are good for the environment,” Berkman says. “People come here because we have a high-quality product. We take care of our workers and our guests. I think the environment is last in the decision-making process for consumers.”
So is it worth it to go green?
Absolutely, Berkman says.
Next year, the company is scheduled to open a new coffee-roasting factory in downtown Los Angeles that will include a cafe. The facility will attempt to meet the certification standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, which is seen as the gold standard for eco-friendly buildings.
In addition to more solar panels and nontoxic building materials, the facility also will have waterless urinals, for example, and Berkman will attempt to preserve the original architecture of the 100-year-old building.
He plans to offer tours of the factory, not only to showcase the coffee-roasting process and his commitment to supporting farmers who are committed to sustainable, chemical-free and rainforest-respecting growing methods, but also to showcase Urth Caffé’s planet-nurturing ways.
“I think everyone should do their part,” Berkman says. “If a business can do this and show that it can be profitable, it sends a very strong message.”