Each Chowgirls department is responsible for specific actions to uphold our commitment to sustainability. Because Chowgirls is a unified system, the way a department operates affects the rest of the business. As such, it's important for all staff to understand our practices.
First and foremost, the kitchen demonstrates our commitment to sustainability by prioritizing the use of local, organic, and seasonal ingredients.
In making food purchase decisions, we prioritize use of regionally produced food. Buying local helps us to know our farmers and food sources, encourages a strong local economy, and reduces the waste of environmental resources needed to transport food.
Organic food is grown without the use of pesticides and is less harmful to humans and the environment. Local and organic is preferred, although sometimes Chowgirls will opt for food that is local and not certified organic if it is grown with organic standards and fair labor practices.
We strive to prepare and sell food that is appropriate for the season in which an event is held. To support our local economy, we love to highlight our local farmers’ unique offerings at peak of season, expressing the unique flavors of our region.
In addition to using local, organic, and seasonal ingredients, there are several other ways the kitchen practices sustainability.
- We purchase animal products from farmers using humane practices (i.e. grass-fed and free-range). Our eggs and chicken come from Larry Schultz’s Organic Family Farm and our beef and pork from Peterson Craftsman Meats family farms.
- Chowgirls sources ingredients from suppliers who work eco- systematically (i.e. using byproducts of one process as nutrients in another process). For example, our mushroom vendor, Mississippi Mushrooms, uses recycled waste like sawdust and spent brewer’s grain, eliminating chemicals in the growing process.
- Our chefs purchase fair trade ingredients.
- We procure from vendors that minimize product packaging to avoid the use of excess plastic and styrofoam. We switched over to sourcing salmon from Skuna Bay because they are the only one in the industry that packages salmon using only 100% recyclable materials.
- We recycle and compost waste as much as possible.
- Chowgirls develops and maintains relationships with partners and suppliers who share our values and are consciously moving toward sustainability. We source fish from The Fish Guys because they are making efforts to influence their purveyors to use better packaging protocol.
- We participate in food rescue programs with Hennepin County and Second Harvest Heartland to repurpose leftovers by donating them to homeless shelters. By working with the county, Chowgirls has played an integral role in changing regulations that affect food waste in our community.
We strive to make Chowgirls a place where people are proud to work. It’s important to us that our employees feel supported and that their voices are heard. For these reasons, we have many programs to make Chowgirls a fun, healthy, and fulfilling place to work.
- To give back to the community, we offer fun and engaging volunteer opportunities with focus on programs that support women, children, arts, hunger relief, and, of course, sustainability.
- To encourage team building and physical activity outside of work, we offer yoga classes and a local gym membership at Northeast Fitness through the Chowgirls Movement program.
- When employment opportunities arise, we look for ways to keep the money within our Chowgirls community. For example, when we transitioned to our new headquarters, we didn’t hire a team of movers but instead reached out to our many wonderful servers and kitchen staff to offer them off-season work. It turned out to be an amazing team-building experience across all departments.
- Over Chowgirls’ life span, we’ve built and maintained strong roots in Northeast Minneapolis. Connections with other neighboring businesses and artists, along with the fact that many of our employees live in the neighborhood, makes Northeast Minneapolis a priority for us.
- Recognizing that our on-site staff’s feedback is invaluable to our success, we have site managers prepare a Site Manager Report at the end of each event. These documents are reviewed weekly by all managers to gauge performance, troubleshoot problems, and find areas where we can improve.
- We have a strong commitment to empowering women. Not only are we women owned, women fill more than 85% of our leadership positions at Chowgirls.
- Most days our chefs make a family meal for all the employees in house, using leftover food or ingredients that couldn’t be used for events. This helps reduce waste and strengthens our work community.
- Since 2011, our chefs have organized a staff clothing swap, encouraging wardrobe recycling. Any unwanted clothing is donated to Tubman, an organization that offers support services to families in crisis and transition.
- To recognize outstanding work on our team, our staff nominates peers for a monthly Chowstar award.
Like our culinary team, the equipment department has many roles integral to our sustainability. A key function of this team is the maintenance of our existing supplies, keeping them functional and preserving inventory. In addition, it is critical that new equipment we purchase is sustainable, and that we do our best to keep it in great shape. Here are the ways our equipment department maintains our sustainability standards.
- Chowgirls chooses equipment made of sustainable materials (i.e., no petroleum based products) that meets our aesthetic needs.
- We buy sturdy commercial grade wares.
- Our equipment team follows the Chowgirls Equipment Style Guide to maintain consistency in appearance and avoid purchases that do not serve our long-term needs.
- We determine what packing equipment will be needed to transport equipment back safely, properly packed, and organized.
- We avoid over-packing in containers to prevent breakage.
- Our equipment team labels all equipment with “PROPERTY OF CHOWGIRLS” to ensure that wares left behind will be returned to us.
- We source equipment made in the USA as often as possible.
- We use disposable supplies like straws, picks, skewers, and cups made out of all compostable materials such as vegetable resin, bamboo, fallen leaves, or paper and offer straws and cocktail napkins at bars only upon request to reduce waste.
On-site is where we have the opportunity to showcase our commitment to sustainability and educate our clients and the community on these practices.
- Upon arrival, we set up waste stations for composting, recycling, and waste.
- We provide clear and consistent signage to inform guests on proper waste disposal.
- Our on-site staff collects all food scraps and returns them to the kitchen to be composted if on-site composting is not available.
- We recycle all cans, bottles, and plastics on site.
- At large events, we often designate a server to help at waste stations, advising guests on proper disposal.
- To avoid plastic water bottles, we offer tureens of seasonal fruit water with compostable cups or glass-bottled water as requested.
- Our Sustainable Delivery system uses real patters and serving materials vs. disposable wares.
Following our kitchen’s example, our bar and beverage program prioritizes high standards in sourcing and packaging. Some of the ways our bar service practices our values include:
- We source the majority of our beers and ciders from local breweries.
- We select product from wineries that practice eco friendly farming techniques.
- Chowgirls features Minnesota-made spirits from local distilleries and prioritizes partnering with women-owned wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
- We use local and organic ingredients to prepare our house made cocktail mixers.
Our office team can also set an example for the rest of the company on how to maintain sustainable standards in daily work. Some simple ways to ensure the office is practicing sustainability include:
- We provide each office with nearby compost, recycle, and waste bins.
- We make it easy to compost and recycle by offering multiple centrally located waste stations throughout the office.
- We source recycled, uncoated stock for our marketing print materials when possible.
- To relay messages within our company, we reduce printed materials as much as possible by using different online forms of communication.
It’s very important that our sales team consistently communicates Chowgirls’ sustainability commitment to our clients and partners. Below are some of the everyday steps our Event Specialists take to ensure this.
- Our Event Specialists plan events with seasonal menu items and educate clients as to why we don’t offer certain ingredients during certain seasons.
- We educate clients on our composting and recycling practices.
- We plan events to serve clients’ needs while meeting our own sustainability standards.
- Our sales team works with local vendors such as equipment rental companies to lessen fuel consumption and keep money in the local economy.
- Event Specialists recommend other vendors who have similar values to ours.
We recognize the importance of supporting our staff through our human resources department. By offering a variety of programs, a benefits package, and extensive training to new and current employees, we strive to ensure that every member of the Chowgirls family has the tools they need to succeed. We are committed to going above and beyond the minimum requirements for benefits in the state of Minnesota. These small gestures demonstrate to our employees that we are here to support them and care about their well-being.
- All staff are eligible for a 20% discount on catering for personal events.
- All staff can order bulk wholesale ingredients through our kitchen and have the cost deducted from their paycheck. Additionally, salaried or full-time equivalent employees are eligible to receive a wholesale stipend or a catering stipend to spend on catering for a personal event.
- We provide ongoing staff training.
- Members of our leadership team regularly check in on events to ensure staff is supported.
- Chowgirls does not discriminate on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender, or ability.
- We offer medical and dental benefits for salary and full-time-equivalent employees.
- We offer a sliding scale of paid time off for salary and full-time-equivalent employees.
- Chowgirls offers sick and safe leave for all employees.
- We have an Employee Massage Program where we reimburse all salaried and full-time-equivalent employees for two massages per year.
- In the event of a birth or adoption of a child, Chowgirls offers four weeks paid parental leave for salary and full-time-equivalent employees.
- Chowgirls Retirement Plan is available for all employees who have been with the company for at least a year and have worked at least 1,000 hours a year.
Building & Operations
In 2017, Chowgirls moved into a beautiful new space in the Midtown Industrial Corridor, which has really allowed us to grow our business and tap into our full potential. In remodeling the space, special attention was given to sustainability during construction, including but not limited to the following:
- We reused materials from the original construction including insulation and wood.
- We ensured that all finishes have a low VOC (volatile organic compound) content.
- We sourced local building materials.
- We installed carpet made from 100% recycled materials.
- The office space was designed with natural ventilation and windows for natural light.
- Low-flow plumbing fixtures were installed.
- We increased insulation values in the building.
- The building was designed with waste heat recovery system for cooler compressors.
- We replaced all HVAC systems and increased efficiency from 60% to 98%.
- The building has all LED lighting.
- Occupancy and light sensors turn off lighting when not in use.
- Our roofing system is designed to reflect heat.
- We choose chemical and cleaning agents with a reduced impact on environment.
- We limited construction waste by recycling 75% of waste from the building project.
- We furnished the space with re-used and restored desks, tables, and chairs.
Keeping these decisions in mind, we are constantly seeking out new ways to operate sustainably. We are proud of the way we built our new headquarters, and we won’t stop there. As we continue to expand our business, we are excited to discover new ways that we can put our commitment to sustainability into action.