Moes aims to be greenest restaurant in Vermont (10/15/09)

Oct. 15, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

When Moe’s Southwest Grill opens Thursday in Taft Corners, customers might notice something beyond the Tex-Mex food being served and the signature “Welcome to Moe’s!” greeting. The establishment hopes to become the most energy efficient, or “green,” restaurant in Vermont.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Ian Pomerville, general manager of Moe's Southwest Grill in Taft Corners, shows off the new restaurant last week. Pomerville has worked toward making the eatery the 'greenest' of its kind in Vermont. The Williston location's grand opening is on Thursday.

“We want to set an example that this can be done,” said Ian Pomerville, the general manager of the Williston Moe’s.

And not only an example to restaurants around the state, but also to other Moe’s franchises around the country. Pomerville said Williston will act as a “guinea pig” for the entire company in energy efficiency.

“We’re definitely looking forward to seeing some of the results from their store,” said Lauren McGowen, public relations manager for FOCUS Brands, the company that runs the Moe’s franchises.

The Moe’s in Taft Corners, located east of PetSmart along Trader Lane, will be the second of its kind in Vermont. There is another location on Route 2 in South Burlington and, according to McGowan, it’s one of the top 10 revenue-producing Moe’s franchises in the country. The chain has more than 400 restaurants, mostly located on the East Coast and the Midwest, McGowan said.

Shelburne restaurateurs Philip and Sueayn Wood own both Vermont locations.

The restaurant, which offers a “fast casual” cafeteria dining experience, serves burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, tacos and nachos, among other southwestern foods. Prices for most menu items are less than $10.

Pomerville said the Woods have always wanted the Vermont Moe’s locations to have a connection with the state. Becoming an energy-efficient restaurant made sense in Vermont, a nationwide leader in green energy, he said.

“It’s easy to do something like this here because everything is developed locally,” Pomerville said. “The cutting edge stuff is all in Vermont.”

Pomerville said the idea to become more energy efficient came to the Woods several years ago when they realized how much energy was being wasted in the South Burlington location. Pomerville, then that store’s assistant manager, began looking to cut costs. The restaurant replaced its fluorescent light bulbs with lower-emitting LED bulbs, started to use more biodegradable products and replaced outdated equipment with more energy-efficient models, among other things.

When planning for the Williston Moe’s began in 2006, it was immediately decided to create a green restaurant, Pomerville said. Everything from the paint on the walls to the tiles on the floor uses environmentally sound products, he said. The restaurant’s HVAC unit uses outside air in the winter to cool the refrigerator and the grill’s hood uses one-third less energy than a normal restaurant’s. The dining room is lit by only 200 watts, using the sun and large windows to light much of the room.

“Basically everything you see when you walk in is designed to be energy efficient,” Pomerville said.

Moe’s is also working with the Chittenden Solid Waste District to create an in-house composting system. Pomerville hopes customers will be able to compost more than what will be tossed in a landfill, including biodegradable plasticware.

With all the green work put into the Moe’s, Pomerville hopes the restaurant will earn a LEED Certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national standard for “green” and sustainable building construction. Projects that work toward LEED certification must adhere to a list of environmentally oriented construction designs to receive certification.

Pomerville said the restaurant’s staff worked with DEW Construction, Efficiency Vermont and Vermont Gas Systems to ensure Moe’s could earn LEED certification. He expects the U.S. Green Building Council will give the restaurant a silver LEED certification sometime next year, after Moe’s has been operating for several months.

Becoming LEED certified does not come cheaply, Pomerville said.

“There’s definitely a premium to it,” he said.

But in the long run, Pomerville expects Moe’s to save money on energy bills and reduce waste to a fraction of what other restaurants produce. He plans to track the savings and eventually make a presentation to the company’s corporate headquarters on green restaurant feasibility. McGowan said the company is excited to see how the Williston Moe’s will perform.

“Hopefully we can take some of the practices from this store and spread it to other locations,” McGowan said.