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Why This East End Eatery Wins Praise for 'Sustainability'

Dinette in East Liberty was recognized for actions that benefit the environment, its customers, employees, and the community.



The nonprofit organization Sustainable Pittsburgh last week announced that it now is awarding a “sustainable restaurants” designation to eateries in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Dinette in East Liberty is the first restaurant in the region to be recognized. “I was interested in the program because sustainability has always been a focus of Dinette,” says chef/owner Sonja J. Finn.

Program manager Rebecca Bykoski worked with a 23-member advisory committee — made up of Pittsburgh-area chefs (including Finn), growers, academics and public policy professionals — to create the guidelines for the program. They looked at the certification criteria suggested by the Green Restaurant Association and the Sustainable Restaurant Association, as well as to existing programs in other cities, for models of how to structure the program. The committee also decided to include a social justice component in the mix. “I thought that was important. Most other programs just focus on the environment,” says Bykoski.

To qualify for the designation, a restaurant owner must fill out a survey that’s divided into eight categories: general, waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency, people, employee actions, responsible sourcing and nutrition. Restaurants are awarded points for actions that include offering health insurance to employees; providing access to fresh, healthy food to underserved communities; and guaranteeing a minimum amount of working hours for hourly employees.

A restaurant then will be placed at one of five levels depending on the number of points earned via the 149-question survey. Dinette is a gold-plate restaurant, the second highest level.

Bykoski says Sustainable Pittsburgh will work with restaurant owners both to walk through the questionnaire and to suggest ways to implement sustainability measures. “Small changes can often add up to big savings,” she says.

Finn says that just by looking into the program, a restaurant owner might be encouraged to make a few easy changes to the way he or she does business. “There might be ideas on there that you’re not even thinking about,” she says.

Restaurants recognized by Sustainable Pittsburgh will be listed on the organization’s website. Consumers can click on individual restaurants to find out which questions the restaurant owners answered “yes” to. This transparency, Finn believes, is how early program participants might have the greatest impact. “It isn’t just about what we do at Dinette. It’s about wanting the whole food system to be better. Whatever impact you can have by being a good example might help other restaurants gain the designation as well,” she says.


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Hal B. Klein is Pittsburgh Magazine’s associate editor and restaurant critic. He is an award-winning food and drinks writer. In his spare time, Hal can be found in his kitchen, in his garden and exploring the wonders of Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter (@HalBKlein) and Instagram (@halbklein).


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