After three years of research and nearly a year of implementation, my Greek restaurant Kellari Taverna in New York City now has a completely sustainable menu.

This means that all the products coming into the restaurant are purchased from sustainable sources. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program approves all of the seafood and shellfish we serve. This organization is the industry leader in promoting sustainable practices within the seafood industry. We have been members for a year now and they have been an instrumental resource during this transition. When we find a new fish that we want to serve, we go through their charts and talk to them about the best suppliers, locations to source from and other key factors.

This commitment has meant swapping out dishes like sardines, which is rated as unsustainable by Seafood Watch. For the same reason, we have removed Chilean sea bass from our offerings as well.

In their place, we’re focusing on completely sustainable options such as American snapper, wild shrimp and halibut. We are getting aquaculture branzino from European farmers that use sustainable practices and we’ve switched our supplier of octopus to one of the only sustainable procurers on the planet.

Stavros Aktipis

The decision to move to a 100 percent sustainable menu was originally more about developing a menu that servers would approach like a wine list, where you know where each of them is coming from, and the backstory of each product. I thought, “What if I could do this with food?”

As I looked into it more, I realized that by focusing on sustainability, we could make an impact on the ecological system and offer more organic and healthier options to our guests. This would create a menu that would be good for our customers; good for the restaurant, and something we could be proud of.

From the beginning, at Kellari we’ve always strived to serve the freshest items, so this doesn’t really affect the freshness of the food. We fly in a major portion of our seafood from Greece, where I personally know the fisherman, the vendor, and the exporter. I think it’s very important to have a connection with the entire supply chain. So even if it’s from Greece to me it’s a local fish. It’s caught and flown in overnight. I believe in supporting the smaller fishermen and the smaller companies.

Something I’ve realized during this process is the seafood doesn’t have to come from a farm to be sustainable. You can have wild-caught seafood that is sustainable, but at the same time, you have wild options that are not sustainable because they’re procured in a fashion that harms the ecosystem around them. We want to ensure that if it’s wild, it’s been procured in the right way that doesn’t affect any of the other fish populations around it. When it’s farmed, we make sure that it’s been fed the proper sustainable foods and that the fishery is taking care of the environment they’re in.

'You need to make the decision to commit to such a change.'Click To Tweet

As for cost, it hasn’t been an issue–definitely nothing prohibitive. It’s something that all restaurants could do fairly easily, as long as they do their research.

It just takes a little bit of work. You need to focus. You need to make the decision to commit to such a change, and you might have to drop some major sellers, like the Chilean sea bass. It’s a popular fish, but you cannot move forward if you’re not willing to make some tough decisions.

The feedback from guests has been positive. If people ask for something that we don’t serve anymore because of our changes on the menu, we explain the reasoning and they understand it, respect it, and proceed to choose something else, which we’ll sure they’ll enjoy.

The next step is moving on to implementing this system in all of our restaurants, first at Kellari’s sister restaurant in Washington, D.C., and then to our Italian and French restaurants in our group once we determine how best to accommodate each type of cuisine.

I believe we will be able to change the whole supply chain of foods. It’s going to become healthier all around and it will also help the oceans, the land and the environment as a whole. It’s endless, how far the effort can go, if it’s done properly.

The future of the restaurant industry is this focus on our social responsibility while still serving the highest quality cuisine.

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Stavros Aktipis, owner of Kellari restaurants in NYC and Washington, D.C., has been in the Greek food business for over 30 years. His journey to create an authentic, modern Greek restaurant began in Athens, Greece, and brought him to the United States. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016, Kellari Taverna, his flagship restaurant, continues to specialize in Mediterranean cuisine with an exceptional array of imported seafood—as part of a top-notch sustainable fish program—and prides itself in using only sustainable and the freshest ingredients.