By Jessica Dupuy
Photography by Aimee Wenske
The evening grind for the kitchen at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, South Congress Avenue's hip beer-and-burger joint, plays out as a rhythmic dance. Guests relax in the dining room—sipping artisanal beers or signature cocktails and noshing on big, juicy burgers—as the kitchen crew preps, cooks, plates and cleans in a precise and efficient manner. And while effort is made to ensure the food is prepared using responsible ingredients that are either sourced locally or produced without harmful additives, the waste left over from daily service is managed responsibly, as well.
Placed around the kitchen are large plastic bins where compostable materials are collected. The bins are picked up three times a week by local company Organics by Gosh and hauled off to a special composting facility 10 miles east of town.
Composting isn’t a new idea, of course, but few people may know that for more than 20 years, Organics by Gosh has been the leader in commercial composting in Central Texas—offering service to a variety of businesses and industries from hotels, schools and cafeterias to manufacturers and grocery stores. The company hauls just about anything that was once alive, including plants, trees, grass, shrubs and food. They collect it and place it in mound upon mound of composting earth. The finished product results in an entire retail selection of potting soils, fertilizer and decorative “stone,” much of which is sold to landscaping companies as well as area nurseries and large home-improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Owner Phil Gosh has been in the composting business most of his life—taking over his father’s Houston-area business in the 1970s and launching Organics by Gosh in Austin in 1995. For Gosh, the business is simply about managing our resources well. “We’ve created a program that allows us to take a product and create a higher value out of it,” says Gosh. “All of our composting material comes from within a 30-mile radius to keep our energy local. Instead of trash, it’s a resource…a treasure.”
Just this year, Gosh’s business became the first in Central Texas to receive the necessary permits to compost meats, fats and dairy products, and has since launched a food waste-diversion program to service restaurants and hotels. “This has put us into a much bigger arena,” says Gosh’s organic recycling coordinator Gina Spratt. “Food coming out of our waste stream is a big deal. It’s the next big step, besides single-stream recycling, and we’re excited to put that onto the plants of Austin instead of having these things going into our landfills.”
Making a difference in Austin is a primary goal for Gosh. The City of Austin has an official goal of diverting waste from landfills and incinerators by 75 percent by 2020, and 90 percent by 2040. Organics are believed to make up between 50 to 70 percent of our overall waste stream. Taking everything from backyard land debris to food waste out of the general waste-disposal stream would leave significantly less to pile up in landfills.
Back at Hopdoddy, Gosh’s commitment to changing the face of the city’s waste management makes all the difference to owner Chuck Smith. “We try to be responsible about the ways we source our food, which means we also need to be responsible about how we manage what goes out,” he says. “Financially it may not work for everybody, but we’re committed to being stewards of the earth. Hopefully other food-service businesses will follow.”
And follow they have. There are a number of other food-service providers working with Gosh, including the Hyatt Hotel on Lady Bird Lake. “Ever since we’ve used this service, we’ve been more aware of our surroundings and how we can be more responsible,” says Executive Chef Javier Ortiz. As the lead on the Hyatt’s Green Team program, Ortiz was eager to implement a plan throughout the hotel’s food program that would include all the hotel kitchens, the cafeteria and the coffee and snack outlets in the lobby. “It really takes a team to make this happen,” he says. “We’re more green, more responsible and we’ve taken our trash dumpster pulls from six times a week to three, which saves us money.” Interestingly, he notes that eight months after Organics by Gosh hauls away their waste, they buy it back for the hotel’s landscaping.
The Hyatt’s example of what it means to truly recycle is what Gosh and his employees like to see. “I come from a gardening family, and I just don’t understand why people would bury things rather than recycle them,” says Maureen Fitzgerald, compost consultant for the company. According to Fitzgerald, it takes about three trash cans to make one cubic yard of compostable material. “We can take one thousand cubic yards of material and probably get about two hundred cubic yards of compost to put back into the community.”
“We’ve made a business out of composting, but it’s really important to be good stewards of what we’ve been given,” says Gosh. “I want to be a part of leaving things even better than we found [them] for our future children.” By gosh but they are doing that, one compostable cubic yard at a time.