If organics were a religion, GustOrganics would be its holy land. Located on 14th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, GustOrganics is New York’s first and only certified Organic restaurant. As I walked into G.O on an early Friday afternoon, before the rush of the conscientious diners expected later on in the night, I sat down at a table with founder and CEO Alberto Gonzales. Over a glass of “Pura Vida” -- made with all organic strawberries, bananas, orange juice and agave ice -- we discussed what G.O is all about.
One of the greenest restaurants in the world, G.O is America’s first restaurant to use 100 percent USDA organic ingredients. G.O serves a Latin-style cuisine that changes every day based on available fresh produce. The history of G.O dates back to 1999 when Gonzales traveled frequently to New York City and had a hard time finding “good and affordable food.”
As a New Yorker I was puzzled: how can it be so difficult to find good cheap food in a city like New York? It all made sense to me when Gonzales told me he was from Buenos Aries, Argentina.
“Everything seemed to me to be really processed, not fresh, and not organic. In [Argentina] most of the food is very fresh and very natural,” he said.
Gonzalez is absolutely right. In NYC we get our strawberries from California, our oranges from Florida, our corn from Iowa and so on. Not only did the lack of freshness and low-cost food strike a chord with Gonzales, but the amount of waste and packages left over from NYC restaurants at the end of the day also troubled him.
“I would walk by restaurants and see the waste being loaded in to the allies," he said. "We don’t use all this packaging in [Argentina] and everything works great!”
Gonzales took his life savings and moved to New York to open his restaurant. But before G.O opened, Gonzales took to the streets and wanted to hear what the people had to say about organics and he used that knowledge to open up G.O in January 2008.
“This [was] basically an idea developed by New Yorkers,” Gonzales says proudly. And New Yorkers love their idea! Every time I walk by G.O, it's usually packed, and on warmer days the outside dinning area is full as well.
Calling G.O just an “organic” restaurant would be an understatement. Every detail from the lighting powered by wind to the flower vases on each table made from cow horns that would have been otherwise discarded, the environment is taken into consideration.
The restaurants sustainable and green practices begin with:
• Recycling and composting.
• Using only wind energy.
• Use of solar lighting. With sky lights and floor to ceiling windows
• Energy efficient kitchen equipment.
• Water conservation equipment.
• Biodegradable take out containers, cups and flatware.
• Environmentally friendly packaging (Most is biodegradable).
• 100% recycled paper, bags and boxes.
• Printing with soy ink.
• Green cleaning practices including biodegradable products.
• Built the restaurant with recycled woods and eco friendly materials.
• The staff wears all organic uniforms.
• And the use of organic flowers.
No wonder G.O is one of the greenest restaurants in the world, and not to mention they have the only USDA certified organic bar on the planet. When I asked Gonzales what his vision was for G.O when he first started he told me “ it was to bring organics to the mainstream.” Which is why Gonzales is planning on opening more than 40 more organic restaurants in the NYC area and has thought of expanding across the country to Illinois and California. Unlike other restaurant owners Gonzales would welcome competitors because they would expand the organic food market making it closer and closer to the mainstream.
So the next time you’re in NYC be sure to stop by GustOrganics for a bite to eat. After ordering dinner from G.O I can tell you the food is amazing, not only will you feel good and full, your stomach won’t be the only one thanking you; the planet will as well.
Photos: Zak Sawyer