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Taste Your Oregon: Bamboo Sushi - Kristofor Lofgren

Kristofor Lofogren describes why he supports OEC and why sustainability is integral to his Portland restaurant, Bamboo Sushi.

Bamboo Sushi owner and OEC Emerging Leaders Board member Kristofor Lofgren is committed to holding his restaurant to the highest sustainability standards to protect the Oregon he loves. Here's why.

Why did you decide to create a certified-sustainable sushi restaurant?

I care tremendously about sustainability—and the more I learned about sushi and consequences for our oceans, the worse it looked.

When I moved to Portland to study environmental law at Lewis & Clark, I ate at a sushi restaurant that my mom liked, and they asked me to invest in a new place they were opening. I had some money saved up so I did it, even though I didn’t know anything about restaurants. I cared tremendously about sustainability—I was going to be devoting my life to it—and the more I learned about sushi and its consequences for our oceans, the worse it looked.

I went to my business partners and said I wanted to make the restaurant sustainable; they thought it was a really dumb idea. But I had a sense that I was right. I wasn’t saying, “We’re going to be making sustainable sushi and it’ll taste terrible.” I was saying, “It’ll be better than the sushi we’re serving now—and we can guarantee where it comes from so people can feel good about it.” That seemed like a win-win, and I had a feeling that Portlanders would get behind the first certified sushi restaurant in the world.

I thought, why don’t we have a restaurant that says, “If it’s not sustainable, we don’t serve it. Period."

Why was certification important to you?

Every restaurant in Portland—and basically every city in the country—at that time had that tagline on the bottom of menus: "Whenever possible, we try to source sustainable, local, and organic produce, meats, and fish." That means nothing, but the consumer sees that and thinks, "Oh, everything on this menu is pretty sustainable." It could mean that 1% of the things on the menu are sustainable, or one item, right? There’s this huge disconnect. So I thought, Why don’t we have a restaurant that says, “If it’s not sustainable, we don’t serve it. Period."

SushiHow is your fish certified?

We are audited and certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Blue Ocean Institute—and that’s what sets us apart. Because seafood is one of the most difficult things to source. You have to look at who caught it, where it was caught, how it was caught, the conditions and time of year it was caught, and the waters it was swimming in. And if you’re looking at a farm-raised product, you have to look at the feed conversion ratio, hormones, antibiotics, not using dyes, wastewater runoff, where it’s being raised, if it’s in its natural habitat, blah, blah, blah. It’s a very extensive and lengthy process that makes our restaurant far more complicated than any other type of restaurant.

Anything else the restaurant does to be sustainable?

BamboosIt’s kind of a long list. Sustainability to us is multifaceted; Our kitchen is by-and-large based on organic, local standards, but we don’t stop at the food. We are certified by the Green Restaurant Association, meaning that all of our products and operations are audited: how much electricity we use; the fact that we are completely powered by wind power; the fact that all of our chopsticks are sustainable, hardwood teak and reusable; the fact that all the soaps and detergents used in the restaurant are biodegradable; all of our paper products are 100% recycled, minimum post-consumer content of 50 to 80%; all of our appliances and electronics have to be Energy Star certified; we recycle all of our food waste; we serve tap water.

It’s been off-the-charts incredible. People come and in and say, “I’d given up eating sushi for years because of the issues surrounding it.”

Do you feel like there was a payoff for the commitment to sustainability?

It’s been off-the-charts incredible. We get five or 10 people a night who come and in and say, “I’d given up eating sushi for years because of the issues surrounding it,” or, “I’d stopped eating sushi because of the mercury.”

What makes you support Oregon Environmental Council?

The fact that OEC is trying to change policy. Business and policy and government are the crux of change in any direction. If you have good policy in place, good things happen for people and for the environment. I know that it’s my duty as a citizen to do my job as a business owner to make sure that we clean up our little corner of the earth. But I need to support as many other people as I can in the community I live in to try to improve policies that directly affect me on a daily basis.

Portland is the place, I think, more than any other place I’ve seen in the world, that has the most potential to become a kind of utopia. It’s our job as citizens and people who live here to fix it, and make it that way. I think OEC tries to be a big part of making that happen.

Bamboo Sushi donated all proceeds from business on October 12, 2010 to OEC.

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