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The Akron Zoo's restaurant gets 4 stars for its "green" practices
Komodo Kingdom Cafe is the first zoo restaurant in the U.S. to be honored by the Green Restaurant Association
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
Akron Zoo Chef Alan Strobel with one of his popular salads
Courtesy of Ed Duvall
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The Akron Zoo is peacock proud about its four-star rating from the Green Restaurant Association.  The zoo’s restaurant last month became the first in a U.S.  zoo and  only the second restaurant in Ohio to receive the honor for its energy-efficient and sustainable practices.  For today’s Quick Bite we visit the Komodo Kingdom Café.

Not just slush puppies anymore

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There’s a lot to do at the Akron Zoo. You can ride the carousel, hop on a train, watch a movie, feed rye crackers and cheese to the goats, marvel at the black-neck swan, gawk at the Galapagos tortoises … and sit down to a decent meal.

We join the zoo’s marketing director Dave Barnhardt at the Barnhardt Family Welcome Center  for a short walk to the Komodo Kingdom Café. Barnhardt’s dad was one of the zoo’s founders.

"When I was a little kid coming to the zoo, slush puppies were a mainstay. I could have that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Basically we had popcorn, a hot dog. Not a lot of options." 

Chef Alan Strobel impressed the Green Restaurant Association by changing that.

"We've increased our vegetarian and vegan foods, our salads, our nachos. You can just get a nacho with cheese sauce, but you can also get one with lettuce and tomato and sour cream, local ingredients.

He has cultivated relationships with local farmers.

“The one I spend the most time on the ground with is Boughton Farm in Copley. I get the opportunity to physically go out in the fields and pick what I want which is amazing in the summertime. And all of our meats are grown in Ohio and that is through Fligner's Markets in Lorain. They maintain their own farm and facility, and they are able to provide Ohio beef and pork at amazing prices."  

Strobel says zoo residents eat a lot of locally-produced food, too. And he says whether they’re lions, burrowing owls, or barking deer, they eat very well.

He says having visitors eat well, too, is part of a trend.

"Making the transition from the hot dog and pretzel concession stand to an active restaurant that can contribute to the health of the zoo is currently a trend that is going across zoos nationwide."

The Green Restaurant Association saluted the Akron Zoo for cutting down on throwaway cups and silverware, for recycling, for using environmentally friendly cleaning products, and for a composting program which now averages 50,000 pounds of compost a month. It combines animal bedding and animal waste with food scraps from both the animals and the humans.

But there’s not usually much left on the humans’ plates. Zoo employees and visitors alike seem to enjoy what Chef Strobel is cooking.

“Some of the biggest items we have, we have a vegan felafel burger. We also have a cranberry-apple chicken salad that we do both as a sandwich and a salad, and I think that's one of our most popular items. “

For kids?

“Well, instead of just offering the traditional hot dog -chicken tender routine, we also offer macaroni and cheese as an entree. They can also select a salad if they choose. In addition to that they can choose from 100 percent fruit juice. They can receive a fruit cup in lieu of having French fries. So the goal is to continue the educational process and the dining that they’re taught in school.”

The zoo’s education team sets up tables in the Komodo Kingdom Café, where children and their parents compete for prizes by helping to separate restaurant waste for recycling and composting.

Chef Strobel says the Green Restaurant Association noted the zoo’s education effort, too, in giving it the four-star rating.

It took a lot of work to win the green certification and Dave Barnhardt says every department at the zoo pitched in.

“It took a couple years to pull off but it's well worth the benefit. It's just at the heart of our mission. We really kind of walk the talk. We say we're in the conservation business but we're doing conservation, and people can see that."

The Akron Zoo, and its green restaurant, are open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day of the week until November, when the hours are 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

And that’s this week’s Quick Bite. Next week we meet a former art historian and a former computer programmer who now spend their days baking bread.

Related Links & Resources
Green Restaurant Association website

The Akron Zoo website

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