Here at Rubicon®, we are firm believers in using our purchasing power to make conscious consumer decisions to help brick and mortar stores that are helping our planet.

In celebration of May’s Small Business Month 2021, we have curated a list of six environmentally sustainable restaurants that are churning out big flavors and big changes. After the restaurant industry was hit especially hard during the COVID-19 public health emergency, let’s celebrate and support these small businesses that are resilient, delicious, and doing right by the planet.

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik: Sister Bay, Wisconsin

Al Johnson’s signature grass roof is peppered with adorable animals for patrons to enjoy. A landmark in the area, the restaurant took what was originally a prank, and turned into a Sister Bay staple. More than just a gimmick, these goats have earned Al Johnson’s a certification in Wisconsin’s Travel Green Program for their special sod roof. The implementation of this silly yet sustainable practice has helped minimize the restaurant’s energy/water impact for over 50 years.

The sod roof is a more unusual way of boosting a restaurant’s sustainability. It may not be practical for most restaurants, but it works for them. Sod roofs absorb rainwater, provide natural insulation, and serve as a perfect grazing ground for the goats.

For almost seven decades, Al Johnson’s has been an important part of the Sister Bay community. They won Rubicon’s 2018 award for Best Small Business in America, and donated all of the $10,000 prize money to the Wisconsin Humane Society.

Pompieri Pizza: Durham, North Carolina

Some might argue that the secret to Pompieri Pizza’s perfect pie lies in their fish tanks, and they would be partially right. Durham, North Carolina, is lucky to have this pizza purveyor, not only for the great pizza they serve but also for their extensive sustainable efforts. Now back to the tanks.

Pompieri Pizza is making waves with their use of the worlds largest Aquaponics system which, according to The Aquaponic Source, is the “combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system.

While they say they might try some freshwater sardines someday, Pompieri uses this system to grow fresh basil and other pizza herbs. Picture an herb garden that is nourished and hydrated by water pumped into it from a fish tank below. The drainage from the garden goes back into the tank where this soil-cleaned water keeps the fish happy!

This is in addition to their broad selection of locally sourced ingredients acquired through partnerships with other sustainably-minded local businesses.

Uncommon Ground: Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s Uncommon Ground has broken ground on a lot of sustainable restaurant “firsts.” In 2007, the restaurant’s Edgewater neighborhood location launched the first Certified Organic Rooftop Farm in the U.S. The Lakeview neighborhood’s location proudly hosts Green Star Brewing, the first certified organic brewery in Illinois.

Uncommon Ground has a rooftop farm that is sustainable inside and out. The deck was built from post-consumer recycled materials, the farm uses organic soil, and it is home to organic plants that rotate seasonally. Plants include peppers, eggplants, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, beets, okra, spinach, fennel, mustard, and shallots.

The rooftop farm is also home to an herb garden—they grow rosemary, chives, tarragon, mint, basil, and beyond—and there are on-site beehives. The beehives provide pollination for plants in the garden and honey for the restaurant. That’s all pretty impressive—especially when you remember that Uncommon Ground is located in bustling Chicago.

Diners can enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of the rooftop farm’s labor in many dishes across the midwest.

Hey! Cafe & Coffee Roastery: New Orleans, Louisiana

A coffee shop with no garbage cans? Open for over half a decade, Hey! Cafe & Coffee Roastery is putting a whole new meaning on the term “made in-house.” This funky shop transitioned from roasting ethically sourced beans for its own use to selling them all over town.

The roastery team also has branched out into how java can be consumed, partnering with local breweries to create a coffee saison, as well as rocking a nitro cold-brew coffee on tap. In addition to having some seriously incredible coffee, this shop also has some seriously impressive zero-waste goals. The roastery composts, upcycles, and only produces 1-3 pounds of trash daily.

Sol Pie Pizza: North Canton, Ohio

It might have taken a “green audit” from the North Canton Chamber and Stark State Environmental Department of Ohio to put Sol Pie Pizza on the sustainable pizza path, but it’s one they’ve been on ever since. This Ohio pizza favorite is now actively part of the solution and their efforts are commendable.

Here are some of the ways Sol Pie Pizza is making pizza, and the world, better for everyone:

  • They only use recyclable and/or compostable packaging;
  • They recycle 80 percent of their in-store waste;
  • All of their lighting is energy efficient; and
  • They limit their printed marketing items.

In addition to their in-house sustainable efforts, Sol Pie Pizza is also creating a healthier community by working with local farmers, businesses, schools, and nonprofits.
They do this by sourcing ingredients locally while paying special attention to seasonal availability from farmers who engage in sustainable agriculture. They also purchase their animal products from farmers focused on sustainably and ethically raised animals.

Ancolie: New York, New York

Ancolie is known for its healthy, delicious meals served in reusable glass jars. Yes, jars. Customers can reuse their glass jars at home or return to Ancolie to reuse their jar and get $2 off each order.

A self-described “epicurean canteen,” Ancolie prepares savory and sweet jars with fresh, seasonal ingredients every day. Savory jars include locally-grown vegetables and sweet jars feature local milk, eggs, and apples.

Ancolie provides compostable utensils and all of their food waste is sent to a local community garden. Their sustainability accolades include a 4-star rating from the Green Restaurant Association, a 3-star rating from the SPE, and a carbon neutral certification from CO2 Logic.

Also, Ancolie partners with local farms, many of which are in New York State and are female-owned. You can get a jar of your own at Ancolie’s flagship Greenwich Village location or one of their satellite spots around New York City.

Are you a business owner interested in making your restaurant more sustainable? Learn how here.

Editor’s Note: References made to businesses/companies in this post are not meant to convey affiliation with or endorsement of Rubicon by those companies in any way.


Amy Koonin Taylor is Marketing Content and Media Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.