Astoria’s Food Waste Heroes: These Restaurants Are Leading the Way in Food Sustainability
According to the USDA, 40% of all edible food in the United States is wasted. Forty percent!
An alarmingly high and concerning statistic as 10% of Americans face food insecurity and greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb. While it may seem hopeless, individuals and corporations are trying to cut through the current food systems and shake them up for the better. A leading voice in the fight to reduce food waste is Danish company Too Good To Go.
Founded in 2015, the platform now operates in nearly 20 countries and has created a solution that offers affordability and profitability to both consumers and businesses. Local restaurants and grocery stores partner with the app to sell extra food at significantly reduced prices and here, businesses have the autonomy to sell what and when they want. Not only can they continue to make a profit, but they are diverting millions of pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to a landfill.
On the customer side, app users can see all participating businesses and opt to buy “mystery bags” which are typically $3.99 – $6.99, that can be picked up at dedicated timeframes. Truly, the bags are a mystery as they can be leftover bubble-tea ingredients, extra pizza slices, mis-made sandwiches or a combination.
Sarah Soteroff, Too Good To Go spokesperson, shared that in 2020, New York City was the first market the platform expanded to in the United States and was quick to adopt. “New York took it as something new, different and… also a product that does good while still eating great food.” Queens residents have saved nearly 400,000 meals over the last three years, a number that is quickly climbing. Astoria is proud to boast dozens of restaurants and local businesses that not only partner with the platform but are food waste heroes in their own right.
For the last 6 years, the Besi family runs and operates Mela Pizza on 31st Street and Mimi Besi shares that minimizing food waste is critical to keep top of mind as so many go hungry. Mimi also gets creative with other ways to distribute leftover food at the end of the night. “If I have a pie leftover, I’ll just walk in the street and see people walking by (and) if we have more than one pie left, I’ll send it to the bars across the street. Why not feed people who are having a good night?”
Across the street, Yaya’s Bakery, an iconic family-owned Astoria bakery for nearly 20 years, is proud to partner with the app. Lukas Buta, son of the owner and VP of the bakery, explains that they have always tried to minimize food waste by donating leftovers and giving samples to those at the store. The bakery joined the app about eight months ago and they see no signs of slowing down as it works well for both customers and their business.
While minimizing food waste is certainly impactful on business and environment, reducing waste in general is a core principle of some religions. Ahmed Hegazy, owner of Madame Sous Sous, a coffee shop and bakery on 33rd Street, believes in thinking through ways to reduce waste in multiple areas of his buzzy café. In regard to food waste, he shares that, “even before Too Good To Go, I take what is leftover and bring it to a church here, a mosque on 36th street or a local homeless shelter .” Relatedly, disposable cups and boxes leave a massive environmental impact as well. While it may seem more commonplace for bakeries and cafes to extend real mugs and plates for dine in service, Madame Sous Sous has been proudly serving coffee and treats on ceramic dishware for over 10 years.
Heading South to Broadway, Astoria Bier & Cheese has implemented an ‘odds, ends & butts’ section that customers can purchase. Daniel Castanho, Manager and Retail & Cheese Buyer, shared via email that in addition to partnering with Too Good To Go to help reduce bread waste, he implemented the unique section upon joining the team. “Whenever we have a cheese cut (or meat product) that fell short of the customers’ request, crumbles too easily or just a mistake, we’ll wrap it and put it in the box, so it doesn’t go to waste. They’re great if you’re making some soup, stock, pasta sauce, we even get people getting them as a pet treat!”
Shamsun Rimi, owner of Boishakhi, a local Bangladeshi restaurant on 36th Avenue, explains that they have to be as mindful in an effort to balance high food costs and maintaining affordability for the neighborhood. “I’m very careful about it. We don’t raise costs very much because it’s a community business.” Shamsun explains that her Too Good To Go customers love their mystery bags due to the variety of items they can receive and she’s received a lot of positive feedback. “Whatever I have leftover, I give them (to) eat and enjoy!”
On a final thought, Soteroff shared that while the effects of food waste are massive, tackling the issue “…doesn’t have to feel insurmountable. On a local and individual level, this is something we can do every day that feels very empowering.” Thank you, Astoria, for making sustainability driven efforts in all shapes and sizes. Now let’s keep it going!