Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ethos Vegan Kitchen Has a Winning Recipe!

Some restaurants have great food and some have great atmosphere, but VERY few have both. Today I discovered Ethos Vegan Kitchen, a neighborhood charm in across the street from Gaston Edwards Park in Orlando. Well, I didn't exactly "discover" it by accident, I found it after I did a search for vegetarian-friendly outdoor dining in Orlando. Ethos had some of the highest online ratings on various restaurant search engines such as my VegOut iPhone app where they hold a Five Star rating with 56 reviews! On Urbanspoon 90% of 372 people like it! According to Ethos customers, owners Laina and Kelly Shockley know how to please!

From the online photos and the view from the road, I wasn't so sure about the restaurant. But as soon as I stepped inside, I felt at home in this inviting atmosphere. The warm yellow and red tones on the walls are accented with brick and wood. The floors are partial tile and partial rough concrete. It works very well for this down-to-earth locally-owned restaurant. The lighting is just right--not too high or low. And the music is a mix of sensual tunes like Midnight In A Perfect World by DJ Shadow and Brown Skin Lady on Black Star, an album assembled by emcees Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

While I was in line, a talkative birthday girl celebrating her 40th randomly introduced herself to me. I told her it was my first time to this restaurant and she raved about the food telling me that everything on the menu is fantastic. She was talking among lots of her yogi friends in line telling them all about the fabulous food.

It was quick and easy to place an order. You order at the front register and then they bring the food to your table. The two tables near the front windows are great seating with a view of the park and lake. It's also a nice spot to sit if you're waiting for a friend to arrive before you place your order. The front windows are bright and beautiful in the daytime! And if you're inside, you can access free WiFi.

Near the back of the restaurant, there's a great area with not only tables, but also a couch and some chairs. It's a comfortable place to congregate and that's just where the 40th birthday girl was schmoozing with her friends.

No business is complete without local art! If the number of pieces were a measure of their commitment to local artists, then I would say that Ethos is very committed to the well-being of the local community--not only in providing tasteful vegan delights, but also in supporting local artists. In fact, when I asked about the art, one of the employees told me that they recently had an art show put together by their resident artist, Scott White.

"Resident artist?"

How many businesses can boast of their resident artist?

Apparently Scott recently coordinated an art show displaying collaborative art among local artists. How much more can one restaurant help create camaraderie among local artists and customers? Check out this creative concoction between Scott White and El Shanebo. Priced at only $60, this piece is sure to be adopted by a customer very soon! I like how they used both images and words in this work entitled "Go Robot."  Learn more about Scott at his website GhostsOfScottWhite.

After you've had a chance to check out some local art, be sure to check out the scenery. If you're near the front of the restaurant either inside or out, you can look across the street and through the park to see the lake. I saved the best for last. Not only can you get great healthy food here, but you can also sit outside and enjoy the your meal in a covered area. Rain or shine you can enjoy the fresh air, well at least as fresh as it can be alongside a street with occasional cars going by. And you can also enjoy the green plants in the eating area.

But that's not all that's right about this restaurant. They have three restrooms with signs on the door that say "bathroom." That makes so much sense! Other less efficient restaurants can learn from this. If the ladies room is locked at Chipotle or another restaurant where they label the doors "men" and "women," I often use the men's room because it's not an efficient use of any woman's time to wait for the women's room if the men's room is free! Yet so many obedient female customers do just this--they wait and wait and wait, and don't never complain to management! If you want to learn more about my restroom philosophy, check out my "Gotta Go" video on YouTube:

When I was planning my trip to Orlando, I thought about contacting owners Kelly or Laina in advance to see if I could interview them, but I didn't want my first experience to be swayed by people who have a vested interest in the business. I'm not even sure if they were in the restaurant for the majority of my time here, but I'm pretty sure they weren't there most of the time because I didn't see anyone who looked like them walking around the restaurant. 

That's even more points for this successful business--for their willingness to show their faces on the About page on their website and one more point for the fact that the customer experience is fabulous whether they're here or not.! I saw lots of happy customers coming and going and I didn't notice even one complaint or go-back! All the staff was friendly and you can learn more about them on the same About page. It's clear that the owners value their employees.

At most restaurants I have to search for ways to say more positive things than negative, but the opposite is true here. If I were to offer a few suggestions for improvement and potential for increasing profitability, here's what I'd say in order of priority: 
  • Collaborate with a sustainable local greenscaper to improve the outdoor seating area by adding an enveloping, rejuvenating greenspace, perhaps even including some edibles.
  • Offer consulting services to other locally owned healthful restaurants in Florida. You obviously have a tremendous scope of talents that other like-minded restaurant owners need.
  • Open a second Ethos closer to a place with higher foot traffic, like St. Augustine please : )
  • Set a goal to continuously increase your 50% organic food to higher percentages over time.
  • Add more character and context to your restroom. When people are sitting around or standing in place for a minute or two, you have time to give them a message. Don't lose this opportunity.
  • As it got dark, the track lighting on the ceiling felt a bit harsh--replace purple/redish bulbs with something less harsh. It distorted the color of the artwork after sunset. 
  • Add free WiFi to the outdoor seating area.
Next time you're in Orlando, I highly recommend that you stop by here for at least one meal. I'm sure I'll be coming back!

Ethos Vegan Kitchen  on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 6, 2011

Downtown Disney Designed to Roast Tourists

Downtown Disney was designed to scorch its daytime visitors. On this sunny afternoon in June, I was just as hot as all the other tourists walking on this hard surface pathway. Disney knows how to do greenscaping, but I guess the greenscape design person was on vacation when they drew up the plans for this "downtown."

This could be a beautiful shaded walk zone where people could enjoy a stroll in the park along the water, but instead, it's more like a frying pan. And designs like this in Florida trigger people to say things like, "it's hotter than hell here," and "let's go get ice cream." Downtown Disney was designed to get people to go into the air conditioned stores to shop and into the restaurants for overpriced cold drinks.

On the Environment and Conservation page of their website, Disney states that they're taking action to protect the planet. I sure hope that they add Downtown Disney to their list of initiatives soon! They really need to tear up some of the stone walkway and add some trees for shade! It's nice that they make statements about how they're helping the planet, but it's even more important for them to first act local and set an example by greening their own properties.

One thing that they did do right here at Downtown Disney was to include a ferryboat where you can go to and from four different resorts. This helps reduce the use of cars and buses and it's also safer as vacationers go out for dinner and a few drinks--at least they have a safe way to get back to their resort. In the future, it would be great if Disney could connect more of its waterways so visitors could go between and among more of the properties via water taxis.

Because I'm staying at the Dolphin Hotel, I didn't have the option to travel to Downtown Disney by ferry. I need to fess up that I drove my own vehicle to get to Downtown Disney because the bellhop told me that it would take much longer if I took a Disney bus to get there. Not only would I have to wait on both ends for the bus, but the ride itself would take longer because of the frequent stops at various resorts.

One of the main issues with public transportation in the U.S. is that it generally takes longer to ride a bus than use your own car. Until we plan for the opposite, people will continue to choose to pay a higher price with their own transportation to save the time.

Got any other suggestions to help make Downtown Disney a bit more sustainable? Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stir It Up at St. Augustine Beach

“I’ll do a Get up Stand up with a Nutty Mother,” says a barefoot young lady wearing a hot pink bikini, as she adjusts her dark sunglasses and green visor.

“And I’ll take The Boss with Good Karma,” says her friend in navy swim trunks as he shakes his foot sporting a white ankle bracelet. 

This is what you’re likely to see and hear if you’re in line at Stir It Up. You’ll find this Florida eatery on “A” Street just a few doors back from the St. Augustine Beach front. Locals regularly line up in tank tops, shorts and flip flops for their favorite “Veggie Heaven” menu items. Tourists find Stir It Up on their way to the beach or through the fantastic online reviews. “If all vegetarian food was this good I would consider becoming a vegetarian,” says one reviewer on TripAdvisor.

Look for a white house with blue trim and a line of customers on the front steps. Although this lunch spot has the right location, location, location, it also has the right burritos, quesadillas and salads made primarily from organic ingredients. Whether you’re looking for a turkey sandwich (Smokin’ Turkey), a vegetarian hummus burrito (burRita Marley), or a chicken quesadilla (Cheesy Chick), you’re in the right place. If you want vegan, be sure to ask. And a healthy beach lunch wouldn’t be complete without a fresh fruit “Natural Mystic” smoothie made with thirst-quenching tropical fruits such as bananas, mangos, pineapple and coconut.

This isn’t a typical restaurant where you walk through the front door to be greeted by a hostess. Here you walk up to the front door and look through a screen window to place your order. Nothing goes through the front door except your order and your cash. No credit cards. While waiting you can play with toy dinosaurs or leaf through magazines. If you’re here to stay a while, check out the community bulletin board to find a yoga class, concert, or apartment for rent. When your name is called, you pick up your food from the window next to the front door. 

You’ll see customers sipping smoothies at barstools pulled up to the front porch railings. From here you can read lyrics to Bob Marley’sStir It Up tune such as: “cool me down when I’m hot,” and “quench me when I’m thirsty,” which are painted in bright colors on the inside of the porch trim.

Yelp appropriately categorizes the ambiance as “hipster, dive-y and casual.”  In this 100% open air restaurant, you’ll feel like a welcome guest hanging out on a surfer’s porch which wraps across the front of the house and opens up to a large side deck extending to the entrance of the Pit Surf Shop.

You’re likely to see ladies in sun dresses eating at a black wrought iron table on the deck, and a group of surfer dudes under a thatch roof gazebo at the corner of the deck. You could see a family at the picnic table under palms in the front yard and a couple sitting at purple or white Adirondack chairs by the mailboxes. Wherever you sit, you’ll get to enjoy the beach breeze.

You might hear music coming from the kitchen, but what you’ll surely hear is “yums” and “ahs” in conversations among companions as they enjoy “positive food in a positive place.” This isn’t just a slogan at Stir It Up, it’s exactly what you’ll experience when you eat at the best lunch spot at St. Augustine Beach. Bob Marley says it best: “Your recipe is, darlin’, is so tasty.”

Stir It Up on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Porch Furniture Doubles as Drying Rack

It's a beautiful day in St. Johns, FL! If you have similar patio furniture, consider giving your dryer a little vacation and dry your clothes outdoors.

This is an example of something even better than repurposing. I've double-purposed our outdoor furniture. Not only can our family and friends enjoy an afternoon on the back porch, our clothes can also enjoy hanging out by the water every now and then.

Got another good idea on how to double-purpose your outdoor furniture or save money drying your clothes? Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Go for Green Hair in a Sunlit Chair

How can you tell if your hair salon is green and the staff cares about the health of their employees, their customers and their community?

Here are just a few things you can look for next time you head to the salon:

Management Commitment

The owner is committed to creating a sustainable and healthful business. Lisa Thomas, Owner of Verde Eco-Salon, believes in providing a safe, nontoxic, environment for her customers.

From the time you step in the door, you can see that she has designed her salon using repurposed furnishings. Check out the beautiful antique wood pieces that she uses for storage near the reception desk. And this is just the beginning!

Safe Products

If you have your hair colored every four to six weeks, it's important to know what your body might be absorbing through your skin and lungs. Next time you're at the salon, ask about the products that are being massaged into your scalp. Ask for the brand names and then look them up on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website to check on their safety rating. You might be surprised at what you discover.

At Verde Eco-Salon, they're using Organic Colour Systems, a paraben-free, ammonia-free, formaldehyde-free, thioglycolate-free, cruelty-free, organic, environmentally friendly, fair trade product. I'm very pleased to do business with a company like this, even if it's indirectly.

In case you aren't familiar with the effects of ingredients that may be in your hair products, check out some of the recent and potentially fatal health concerns linked to formaldehyde.

When a business chooses to use or sell a product from another company, they're supporting their supplier's principles and ingredients. They're partnering with the beliefs and values of their suppliers. That's why health-conscious customers who have their hair done here at Verde Eco-Salon are more likely to head to Whole Foods or Native Sun instead of Food Lion on their way home. They want to do business with companies who screen their suppliers.

Media, Music & More

Over the years, I've been to a lot of salons that had TVs, but you won't find this distraction at Verde Eco-Salon. It's just one more thing I like about the atmosphere. TVs discourage conversation and it's impossible to find shows that all your employees and customers will like.

Verde plays nice music and it's at just the right volume for holding a conversation with your stylist. To me, it's most important that my stylist gives me the right cut & color, but after that, conversation is equally important. I like my stylist here at Verde. We never run out of things to talk about.

Several years ago, I stopped going to a very experienced professional who did a great job on my hair. I didn't stop going because of what he did to my hair. I stopped going because of what he did to my ears! He did all the talking and never cared to ask about what was going on in my life. He was too concerned about telling me stories about how great he was to his family and friends. But based on how he treated me, I wasn't so convinced about his mercies toward people when he was off the clock.

At Verde, they offer some basic hair magazines, which makes good sense for a salon. The magazines are displayed on a beautiful ShabbyChic-like magazine side table between two chairs with hair dryers. I noticed other magazines appropriate for a sustainable business like Renovation Style. On this particular day at the salon, I also noticed that they had magazines that don't necessarily support healthful living. It's a small detail perhaps, but something they might want to think about as subscription renewals come up or as they're cleaning up at the end of each day.

Sustainable Local Art

MacTruque pieces have been displayed in Verde Eco-Salon ever since I started going there. I thoroughly enjoy seeing his art when I'm there. The mix of color, texture and sheen pops off the sky blue-grey walls in the salon.

But today I learned even one more good thing about these round pieces. They're painted on old tabletops that might otherwise have ended up in a dumpster! What a great way to repurpose these rounds that were formally used in a restaurant!

You can find more of MacTruque's fantastic pieces at Avondale Artworks or Stellars Gallery.

MacTruque says his dad used to let him draw on the walls in their house. And now his art can hang on the walls of homes and businesses anywhere in the world!

It's especially nice that Verde has chosen to support a local artist. Selling local art at a salon is a win-win-win partnership. Artists get more local exposure; stylists get to see some variety in the art on the wall, and customers have the opportunity to browse as if they're in a gallery and the option to buy if they just can resist.

Interior Design

In Verde, all the stylists have doors to their stations, but the doors are always wide open. Doors re-purposed from a prior life are just part of the chic uniqueness of this one-of-a-kind salon in Jacksonville. The doors serve as separators between the stations.

Open carts on wheels display the tools of the trade: hair dryers, brushes and clips. It's all out in the open, and I like this. I never did like seeing a stylist pull a brush from a drawer that also stored their lunch container or a water-stained hair magazine dated several years back.

But what I like best about this salon is the fact that it smells fresh and clean, unlike many salons where the odor of strong products gives me a headache.

Because they planned well and installed a washer and dryer in the back, they wash their towels and capes on-site. This helps reduce the cost and save energy they would otherwise incur if they sent their stuff out to be washed at some off-site location. It's a good business practice since the stylists have time to manage loads between customers.

Natural Light

So few businesses take advantage of natural light, but it's especially advantageous in a salon where customers might want to check on hair color or highlights under natural light--our beloved Florida sunshine!

Verde Eco-Salon has taken advantage of their large windows draping them with light translucent window treatments. They invite the sunshine to come inside to cheer up everyone inside.

Here I am with Jessica Gould, a great stylist from New York. She loves sunshine and butterflies. Verde offers up the sunshine, but they don't have a butterfly garden yet.

The further back you go in the salon, the more you'll notice that they also have other electric-dependent lighting. But don't look up for too long. It's a dated drop-down ceiling that would probably look better if it were removed to reveal whatever might be above it. Lots of businesses achieve a great industrial look by exposing and painting all the stuff that's up on their ceiling.

Customer Experience

Next door to Verde Eco-Salon there's a cafe with tables on the sidewalk. I sure would like to go to a salon that offered outdoor seating. If you know of a licensed outdoor salon, or one that at has a courtyard or some type of outdoor space, please leave a comment with the name and location. I'd love to check it out!

For more ideas on how to help your salon go green, check out GoGreenSalon, a Toronto-based association dedicated to helping salons & spas join the green movement.

The next time you go to your salon, look around and pay attention to what's really going on. Give it the sniff test. If it doesn't pass, then start asking questions about what they're doing to continuously improve their services. If they aren't sure what you're talking about, you might want to start shopping around for another salon.

But do me a favor on your way out: encourage them to contact me at www.DrLorraine.net so I can help them begin their journey toward a safer, more eco-friendly salon.

A few small changes each week or month add up to big improvements over time! I'm committed to green hair, are you?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Free Water: How to Get Some

Check out this great video on how to build a rain barrel. It was produced by Greg Nagel & Roger Linville through St. Johns Riverkeeper, an organization whose mission is to work on behalf of the community for clean and healthy waters in the St. Johns River, its tributaries and its wetlands, through citizen-based advocacy.

Got a rain barrel tip or story you want to share? Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Make It Easier to Save the Trees

When I see signs like this asking me to be green in one way or another, I'm very willing to comply.

So when I saw the sign I looked all around the restroom, but didn't see any hand dryers except for the paper dispenser in front of my face.

I didn't see anything near the water faucets or on the other walls in the room, so I pulled out a few paper towels and dried my hands. I put the paper towels in the garbage along with all the others, and then when I headed out of the restroom, I saw the hand dryers in the hallway. I didn't notice them on the way in because that wasn't the main thing on my mind at the time.

Are you with me here?

One of the first rules of good design is to keep things where they're going to be used most, and this is especially important in public places. I didn't even see the hand dryer until after I dried my hands. I wonder whose idea it was to install them around the corner in the hallway? McCarran needs to hire new restroom designers who understand the needs of travelers.

I was pulling luggage on wheels. The last thing I wanted to do was to grab my luggage with wet hands and start looking around for hand dryers. If this had been several years ago, I might have sent one of my kids off for this game of hide & seek.

The partially bubbled bumper sticker on the paper towel dispenser is a clue that the hand dryers were probably an afterthought, installed after management at the airport decided to take efforts to be more green. The bubbles in the bumper sticker also whisper out a lack of concern for quality by the person who installed it.

I suppose it's better to have the hand dryers in the hallway than not to have them at all. Maybe the employees know about them and use them. But they're sort of in the way in the hallway. Although there wasn't a line when I used the restroom, I'm sure the dryers are inconveniently placed if people are entering and exiting the restroom with luggage while some people are standing around drying their hands. This seems like it's designed to create a traffic jam.

If McCarran wanted to encourage people to use the hand dryers, they'd be the choice closest to the sinks. I just checked out the McCarran website and I didn't see anything on their "GREEN Initiatives." Since they screamed out "GREEN" on their bumper sticker, I thought they'd have a quick link to "GREEN Initiatives" on their website, but if it's there, I couldn't find it.

On a green design scale of 1-10, I give them a 3: one point for the bubbled bumper sticker, one point for installing the hand dryers and one more point for good luck next time I'm in Vegas.

If you're a member of the American Restroom Association or the World Toilet Organization can you please spread the word that McCarran might have a few underused hand dryers that they can donate to a good cause?

Interested in flying through greener airports? Plan your next trip around a long layover at one of the World's Ten Greenest Airports.

Got an airport story you want to share? Please leave a comment.