When Lokal Burgers & Beer opened just before Christmas 2011, Matt Kuscher had a vision of serving "clean" proteins and produce sourced from local purveyors.
Now, nearly two years later, Kuscher's restaurant is one of the most popular in Coconut Grove, with a loyal clientele that comes for a good burger and craft beer.
But what really goes into the restaurant and how local and eco-friendly is Lokal? We spoke with "Kusch" as he's affectionately called, and were surprised to discover the depth of his commitment is to keeping things earth-conscious.
Kuscher tells us that first and foremost, he wasn't always eco-friendly and started getting into environmental issues just to score extra credit in High School. "My sister was president of the environmental club and I needed an elective for college, so I joined. I just made jokes and waited for her to give me a ride home."
Fast forward ten years or so, and Kuscher had an epiphany. "I had a friend in Seattle and he was very much into eco-awareness. We went to a ball game, and they're composting at the baseball stadium. And when I traveled, all these countries had strong recycling programs. It started to make sense to me."
But, when Kuscher settled in Miami Beach, he was in for a rude awakening. "I moved to South Beach and I couldn't even get my building to recycle. I started to get angry and decided I needed to do something proactive. I was planning to open a burger restaurant and there were so many. How could I stand out? I turned being locally conscious and eco-friendly into my business plan."
Kuscher said that one of his biggest challenges was finding local sources of produce and proteins -- especially beef. "Finding locally sourced beef was the biggest problem. I essentially made a handshake deal with my farmer and he kept his word and that was the beginning of it. Now, everything I do revolves around it." In addition to beef, Kuscher says that his seafood, chicken, turkey, and alligator is sourced locally.
The restaurant also maintains a small garden in the back where much of the basil, mint, and arugula used is grown. The garden is maintained by Cristy Talero, a server at the restaurant who also plans urban gardens.
In addition to locally sourced ingredients, Kuscher is into recycling. Everything. "Basically, the entire restaurant is upcycled and made out of trash. I make pen holders out of beer cans. We drop off out checks on used corks. Our receipts are stored in ketchup boxes and the artwork in the men's room is made from beer caps. Even our tables are made from recycled wood chips and all the chairs are from restaurants that were going to throw them away. We fix them up and use them. It's cheaper and it's good for the environment."
Maybe the most interesting thing we learned is that Lokal has no account with FPL. Instead, the restaurant uses Pear Energy, a company that harnesses wind and solar energy and supplies it to homes and businesses. "We are the first and maybe the only restaurant in Miami to be using Pear Energy," Kuscher says, adding that right now the service actually costs more "because I don't have the solar panels, and there are no tax breaks". So why use alternative energy sources? "I do it because I believe in it."
Lokal's green efforts have not gone unnoticed. Lokal, along with Choices Vegan Café, Essensia at the Palms Hotel, and Green Gables Café, are finalists in the Nature Conservancy's second annual Nature's Plate contest. Miami is one of 18 cities seeking out the most eco-friendly restaurant in their midst.
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The winning restaurant is chosen through an online vote, with a restaurant in each city gaining recognition by the Nature Conservancy in their digital and medial channels -- and getting a plaque (we're assuming made from recycled materials).
Voting is open now through October 15 at nature.org, with a winner announced October 17.