From the time Justin Vrany opened the doors of Sandwich Me In in Chicago in May 2012, he set out to be different than any restaurant where he had previously worked. “I have always been passionate about the environment, and what my employers are doing with waste and where the food is coming from,” notes Vrany. “I never worked at a restaurant that practiced sustainable waste management, and this was always hard for me. At Sandwich Me In, our zero waste philosophy applies to everything.”
And when Vrany says everything, he means everything. In just over two years of being in business, Sandwich Me In has not sent anything to the landfill. “Everything that we use is compostable or recyclable,” he explains. “When customers eat in the restaurant, they get everything on a tray with real silverware, soup bowls and glasses, all of which we wash and reuse. We also do to-go and delivery orders. For these we use all compostable packaging, including plastic ware, cups and straws, to-go containers, paper bags, etc.” Receipts are given to customers only if they request one, and Vrany mentions this does not happen often.
Conscious procurement of both food and serviceware has been necessary for Sandwich Me In’s zero waste success. The restaurant where Vrany worked prior to opening Sandwich Me In sourced 75 percent of its food from local farms, and it is here that Vrany formed relationships with the farmers he utilizes today. “The number of farmers we source our food from is always changing, but I would say right now it is between 7 to 10 different regional farmers,” he says. “Sourcing everything locally on a continual basis from the same farmers allows us to keep reusing packaging and containers. When they bring food, they will bring it in cases, carts, or even plastic bags. We give everything right back to them, they reuse it, and the cycle continues.”