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Eco-Friendly Restaurant in the Works

by and on February 05, 2015 6:30 AM

Have you ever been out to eat and had an amazing dish, but didn’t know where to get a recipe or the ingredients?

Have you wondered if what you were eating used local products?

RE Farm Café, a new restaurant in the works, will address those issues and more while promoting locally-sourced products and connecting patrons to their food.

Monica Gastiger and her husband, Duke, who own Spats Café and Speakeasy, have been developing the idea of a new restaurant for about two years and will draw on concepts of using locally grown products and educating diners about the dishes.

“What’s important to us with both restaurants is that we source locally and source responsibly,” she said. “We want quality items that are also good for people and good for the environment.”

To do this, Gastiger says they have partnered with J.L. Farm owner John LeClair. The restaurant will be built on LeClair’s farm on Shingletown Road in Ferguson Township.

LeClair says he’s currently putting in a cidery and might also have a winery in one of his buildings. Those products, he said, will be available for purchase at the restaurant.

LeClair will also provide the products that he grows on his farm to be used in the restaurant's dishes.

“This is such an incredible way for a farmer to diversify,” Gastiger says. “Agriculture diversification in this area is critical for the life of a small farmer to be able to make it. Here’s an opportunity to employ agricultural diversification that can benefit small farmers and the community.”

Gastiger says they have been also working with 7group, a design firm, to develop the restaurant’s building. Everything about the restaurant will be “green,” she adds, including the structure, which will be built with the intent of being entered into the Living Building Challenge.

“The Living Building Challenge is probably the most rigorous standard for green development in the world,” Gastiger says. “They look at everything from the ground up. Our building will be net-zero energy, net-zero water and net-zero waste.

“It’s not just a structure, but a piece of the environment,” she says. “It’s a living, breathing building.”

The building will have solar energy and the water will be run through wetlands and recycled. This will allow the structure itself to only draw the same amount of energy from the environment that a flower would if it were growing there, Gastiger says.

While there are hundreds of registered living building projects throughout the world, only five or six have received the full certification, according to 7group LEED fellow Marcus Sheffer.

The International Living Future Institute sets project performance goals called imperatives, Sheffer says, that a building must achieve to be certified. Buildings can also meet part of the challenge by achieving standards in five or six categories, as well.

“We’re going for it,” Gastiger says. “(We want to) look at the materials we use and have the building operate efficiently. Not just for a year or the day we open, (but) for 10 years down the road.”

Sheffer says 7group consults on how best to meet the requirements to receive Living Building Challenge certification.

“We want to encourage buildings that leave a light footprint on the environment,” he says.

In addition to having a building that epitomizes green standards, patrons will also have a unique dining experience, as well as receive educational opportunities at the restaurant.

“The restaurant is designed such that the kitchen is pretty centrally located and diners can choose to eat at a chef’s table … where they can learn how to cook the food and talk to the chefs directly,” Gastiger says. “They can go on field tours with the chefs and understand what’s being grown, what’s ripe right now, what’s coming ripe. Also, we’ll have an interactive map that will show some of the other farms in the area and where you can purchase what you’re eating for dinner.”

LeClair says that this might include seasonal visits to where the apples are pressed and cider is made.

While Ferguson Township has been supportive of the development, zoning restrictions have delayed construction. After presenting the township’s board of supervisors and planning commission with plans for the business last fall, Gastiger says they have been attempting to work the restaurant’s “farm café” concept into the current zoning ordinance, since amending the current ordinance or writing a new one is a long process.

Current zoning allows for agriculture at the site, and while the restaurant will incorporate agriculture principals, it’s still seen as a commercial venture.

The original goal was to begin construction in March with a soft opening in the fall. While waiting to hear about zoning and when construction can begin, Gastiger says they’re staying optimistic.

“We’re so excited about so many things,” she said. “There’s so much good to come.”

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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