Edgar Pendley knew these animals back when they were alive.

Chef Edgar Pendley’s passion for meat is evident by his forearms – and onsight curing rooms.  Pendley loves his meat, and so do his customers, who now flock to Urban Grub, one of 12th South’s newest grub hubs gaining accolades for all-around sustainability.

Pendley boasts about his local sources of pigs, lamb, cows and even mushrooms. He is so close to his Dickson, TN suppliers that he not only knows which animal he is serving, he also knows what the animals have eaten.

Nashville’s Newest Sustainable Grub Hub

Much has been said and written about sustainability, appreciating the finiteness of our resources and understanding the potential our habits may be having on the climate. Even as some of our elected leaders still debate the science, corporate America is accepting some responsibility by making changes in sourcing, waste stream management and energy use. Our own public awareness has changed from reducing our dependence on foreign oil, common parlance 6 years ago,  to how can we reduce our daily dependence on carbon based fuels and recognizing that cutting emissions from our coal powered energy plants is probably a good health decision.

sustainable chef in Nashville

Edgar Pendley is chef and meat aficionado at Urban Grub in Nashville, Tenn.

The restaurant industry has partly embraced the many movements toward local food supply, and there are organizations which help restaurant owners manage their overall energy use and carbon footprint.

But Urban Grub does not rest on its ‘green’ laurels.  In fact, Urban Grub shows Nashville that it doesn’t need to pursue a sustainable certification to prove its place among eco conscious cuisine.   The restaurant sets an example of bringing local food to the Nashville dining scene and aligns itself only with the Nashville Originals, http://nashvilleoriginals.com/, a non profit restaurant association dedicated to fostering independent restaurant ownership in Nashville.

“Running a sustainable restaurant is good business and one that brings an outstanding quality result to the diners plate,” said Jay Pennington, the restaurant’s owner.

The restaurant is currently serving 15 hogs a week.  This newest incarnation of meat aficionados harkens back to a time when most of us got our roasts and shanks from a local butcher.

sustainably built business in Nashville

Sustainable materials were used to build the restaurant.

The sourcing of local produce is an advantage for Urban Grub and other restaurants in Nashville due to its proximity to so many local farming communities across Middle Tennessee.

What makes Urban Grub significant is that the single focus on a locally sourced meat and vegetables create a uniquely Tennessean dining experience. The revelations are that technology is driving the move to successful sustainability that supports local business, agriculture and industry.  It’s becoming more apparent that the ‘green’ certification associations can’t keep up

Each time a multi-state, ‘food born’ illness emerges from contamination compliments of our industrialized food complex, we slowly change our buying habits. Schools stop buying meat with ‘pink slime’ which forces large fast food chains to drop using what are band aids for problems with Food, Inc.

The Tennessee Hospitality Association,http://www.tnhta.net/,  whichs supports all hospitality and tourism related businesses, has a Green Certification program to help its members manage energy use and waste stream management economically. The National Restaurant Association has the ‘Conserve’ program, http://conserve.restaurant.org/,  that teaches its members how to conserve energy and reduce food waste.

Internationally the Sustainable Restaurant Association, http://www.thesra.org/,  creates Michelin type ratings for restaurants in the UK, Ireland and Europe and a few in the US have joined this organization. French Chef and fresh food pioneer Raymond Blanc drives the organization with a certification for member restaurants who achieve sustainability in 3 key areas; society, sourcing and the environment and fourteen focus areas that include paying fair wages to employees.

The international Sustainable Restaurant Association has identified five key areas of focus make up our Sourcing category.

  • Environmentally positive farming helps to protect the landscape, reduce pollution and combat biodiversity loss, and encompasses the organic movement and the LEAF marque system.
  • Local and seasonal food is essential to eating sustainably. Making use of what we produce ourselves throughout the year is better for the planet than importing out of season produce from far and wide.
  • Sustainable fish choices are important since stocks of some fish are seriously at risk.
  • Ethical meat and dairy form a cornerstone of responsible sourcing. If you buy free range or Freedom food at the supermarket or farm shop, you’ll want to know that your restaurant meal is high welfare too.
  • Fair trade or fairly traded, it’s important that we buy products from communities in the developing world that haven’t disadvantaged the producers. It’s about ensuring that market price is paid and that working conditions are of a decent standard.

UG’s ‘Green’ Building

urban-grub-ovenNashville restaurateur and owner, Jay Pennington (South Street, Loco Taco, Bound’ry) constructed the new building using repurposed (upcycled) materials from older structures.

The build out was a collaborative trade effort that involved joining two existing buildings to form a cozy set of dining environments – some outside, some inside with options for opening doors to take advantage of temperate nights and saving on unnecessary air conditioning costs.

But this ain’t no low-tech operation.  In the kitchen, you will find the latest commercial restaurant technology for energy management.  Urban Grub has a unique investor partnership with Billy Inman of Inman Food Services Group, Inc.  Inman has 30 years of experience in corporate, educational, and institutional kitchen design and supply services.

To reduce the loss of air conditioning in the restaurant from heat produced in the kitchen, Halton Capture Jet exhaust hoods run only when the ambient temperature beneath the hood rises above 85 degrees. These exhaust hoods use LED lighting and have been shown to reduce energy consumption by 30% for HVAC demands in commercial kitchens.

“The science of our kitchen equipment and energy saving methods in the dining room has allowed us to cut our energy costs by half the average,” said Pennington.

In addition to the equipment, the building itself uses recycled materials, and looks brand new.  Glass windows were saved from an old car wash structure that was originally on the site. Hickory planking for the interior design came from a local timber reclaiming shop, and the sliding doors are made by local artisan Michael Woodward. The bar is a composite of used wine and liquor bottles in stained portland cement making the cocktail experience a heady celebration of the distillers art.

Farm Fresh Foods, Served Daily

sustainable dining in Nashville

Urban Grub is one of Nashville’s newest sustainable restaurants.

Pendley purchases the restaurant’s fish through The Gulf Wild Consortium while it’s still on the boat, and it arrives in Nashville, unfrozen, three to five hours later for the most prized species.

The Gulf Wild Consortium has empowered fishing captains to engage directly with the consumer by showing them the catch, how it is stored and even the time and GPS location of the catch to assure the buyer (Pendley) that it is indeed a U.S. gulf-caught red snapper and not some fish-stick-grade white meat.

My Gulf Wild is a non-profit organization and a program of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, a commercial fishing trade organization. The Mission of Gulf Wild is to engage and empower the branding of seafood sustainability and fishery conservation in the Gulf of Mexico by inspiring positive change from the fishermen to the end consumer.

Mr Inman’s Dickson Farm is one of the main suppliers of produce to the restaurant. Edgar boasts that a significant amount of the vegetable waste is returned to the soil on the farm to be composted. This reduces the waste stream at the restaurant and one trip around the back of Urban Grub is a much different experience than it is with other restaurants where you wouldn’t dare travel without a small sidearm.

The supply of produce is soon to be complemented by a hydroponics venture increasing the variety vegetables with low carbon footprint.  The freelance engineering consultant behind execution of the hydroponic effort is Ken Moini who is automating the management in a system that will be fully operational on the restaurants virtual network.  The principle is not unlike the trend in Building Automation Systems that manage energy and HVAC in large commercial and industrial buildings. The system of hydroponic farming uses a plant feeding method called fertigation.  Like fertilization, the term fertigation is the application of water soluble fertilizers and minerals,  temperature control and aeration monitored potentially via a direct digital controller; in this case a raspberry pi module.

The system measures nutrients and water level via the control unit and records data. Absent any theft from pests, production can be predicted and even presold in larger hydroponic operations. The objective is to produce a steadier supply of tomatoes and herbs and target OMRI certification for the quality of produced vegetables. The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)  is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1997 that supports organic integrity by providing organic certifiers, growers, manufacturers, and suppliers an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production, handling, and processing.

restaurant grows fresh herbs

Outdoor patio of Urban Grub.

The first set of crops for the restaurant are tomatoes; Roma’s and San Marzano’s, so the danger of significant cross pollination does not create a Frankenstein type of fruit for the ‘Spag Bolognese’.

For ambiance, Urban Grub has planted an herb garden on the outdoor patio. Since these herbs are subject to all manner of customer abuse, they are not used for cooking.