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Rox Diner aims to buy local and stay green

Posted by Your Town  December 27, 2011 08:27 AM

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“Ask your server about all of our sustainable business practices!” is printed toward the end of the menu hanging on the wall outside the entrance of the Rox Diner.

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For John Fortin (right) and Paul Louderback, owners of the Rox Diner, sustainability isn't about turning a profit; it's about buying local and staying green.

Earlier this year, the West Roxbury restaurant won the Sustainable Food Leadership Award from the city of Boston for its commitment to buying local food, including bread from Roslindale, muffins from West Roxbury, and produce from farmer’s markets. Its cooking oil is recycled through a local company that converts it to biofuel, and part of the profits are donated to local education.

From using cage-free eggs to environment-friendly floor cleaners, Fortin and Louderback are committed to staying as 'green' as they can.

“We are not green-washing our customers. These are not glamorous green solutions, but real life ways," said Fortin."Sustainable business practices are interwoven into all aspects of our mission."

The Rox Diner's commitment to local sourcing is not always easy because many area farms and bakeries don’t deliver on a set schedule.

“We review distributors to see who can bring us quality goods from as wide of an array of local sources as possible," Fortin explained. "We've also found that it's helpful to check in with some local farms directly, to see if they've built or are building a route that incorporates us. The details are constantly evolving. . . We are always reviewing if there are places closer to home."

Fortin and Louderback met while working at the same Watertown architectural firm. The Rox Diner was their first business venture. In November, they opened a second branch in Newtonville, where they employ the same sustainable business practices that have earned them recognition in Boston – from energy-efficient LED lighting to recycling. They have moved a step ahead and started composting in the new branch. They donate used cooking oil to the Association for Restaurant Owners for a Sustainable Earth – an organization that converts it into biodiesel – then donate some of the proceeds to local schools.

The pair knows the source of every product that goes into their offerings. Eggs come from New Hampshire, bread comes from Fornax Bread Company in Roslindale, muffins come from right across the street at Sugar, and coffee comes from Red Barn Coffee, a local roaster at Hopkinton. They get their maple syrup from Welch Mountain Maple, run by a husband and wife in Vermont. The meat comes from North Country Farm in New Hampshire.

“The word now is "local,' ” Fortin said.

They make sure that the restaurant staff is aware and supportive of Rox Diner's green mission. There is an ongoing contest to see who can use the least bags per shift, with winners rewarded at a holiday party. They have plans to ask their patrons to bring their own mugs to the restaurant.

Fortin and Louderback pride themselves on serving up not just local foods, but combining them into delicious meals. Neither has a background in cooking: Fortin had played bass in a touring band for eight years and later worked in IT and marketing. Louderback worked at an architectural firm for eight years after graduating with a civil engineering degree. Fortin got his first taste of running a diner when he managed his father-in-law’s diner. He thought about running his own diner someday.

"John found a little breakfast spot in West Roxbury for sale called Auntie B’s Place and asked me if I was interested in making a slight change in careers," Louderback recalled. "The rest is history."

Both men take satisfaction in knowing that their green steps, while small, are helping the larger community.

“It’s like the one-vote-matters thing,” said Louderback, who hopes Rox Diner's small steps might inspire other restaurateurs to go local.

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Mekhala Roy, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel , as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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