The argument for environmental protection and sustainability often centers on the oil that powers our cars and heats our homes. Routinely left out of the discussion is the oil that sizzles our french fries.
In restaurants across Arizona, something of a cooking revolution is occurring as new technology replaces the vats of oil that have been used in restaurant kitchens ever since people began dining out for pleasure.
Restaurants such as McDonald’s, Oregano’s, Ra Sushi and Golden Corral have switched to a system that saves oil, reduces waste, promotes recycling and increases worker safety. Instead of requiring workers to cart in jugs of oil and dump them into french fry vats and tempura cookers, the restaurants have hired a company to pump out all of the used oil and pipe in new oil whenever necessary.
In what has been dubbed an “oil management system,” Restaurant Technologies Inc. installs two tanks in a customer’s kitchen, one for fresh and one for waste oil, which in turn are connected to kitchen fryers. The tanks are linked to an outdoor fill box, which is serviced periodically. The used oil is then recycled as biodiesel or animal feed.
Wiley Arnett, director of purchasing with Oregano’s, says his company is using the Restaurant Technologies system in seven Arizona locations, and is looking to expand to other sites.
“We’re able to buy bulk (oil) without all the packaging,” he says. “And we’ve managed to reduce our trash by one pickup a week.”
Restaurant Technologies Inc. sells its used grease to companies producing livestock feed, as well as those tapping into the growing market for fuel alternatives such as biodiesel, an alternative energy source utilizing animal fat and vegetable oil. By avoiding the discarding of excess oil, the company estimates that it saves as much as 10 million cubic feet of landfill space annually.
The company, founded in 1999 and based in Minnesota, has used its product along with savvy marketing to tap into a national growing demand for cleaner and more natural fuels and food. It has more than 15,000 clients in dozens of cities across the country Jeff Kiesel, CEO of Restaurant Technologies, says the company’s patented system automates the delivery of fresh cooking oil to restaurants and cuts costs for them by using an online data measurement system to monitor oil usage.
“We’re giving owners the tools to better manage their restaurants,” he says. “There are multiple values to the customer.” And, it appears, to the larger environment.
While it might be expected that a towering fast food giant such as McDonald’s would be interested in a more efficient grease management system – in 2005, the chain awarded RTI a Supplier Innovation Award – other types of restaurants are buying into the product, as well.
Four years ago, Ra Sushi adopted the RTI product. Today, the company has tied the service into 25 locations.
“It resolves a number of safety issues for us,” says Bryan Vincentini, director of operations for Ra Sushi. “We’re increasing cleanliness, and putting the waste oil to good use.”
Jeffrey Schaufel, director of operations with Golden Corral restaurants located in Tucson and San Antonio, says he’s been using the system for nearly five years. He calls the service groundbreaking.
“There are major advantages to using this system,” he says. “It’s been a really good business decision.”