News : For 900 Degrees, green makes the margins

Oct 17, 2013

Published in the Portsmouth Herald October 18, 2013. Originally published on the Green Alliance's Seacoast Online Blog October 16, 2013.

By: Jim Cavan

There are many reasons for why three in five restaurants fail within five years of throwing open the doors: overly ambitious business plans, tough competition, lack of a coherent marketing strategy. The list goes on.

More often than not, however, it’s the daily margins – how much you’re making on every burger, salad, or sundae – that prove the impossible puzzle. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that going green out of the gate is seen by many a restaurateur as a dangerous luxury, a way to all but guarantee a quick-ticking clock to broke and belly up.

Priscilla Lane-Rondeau never bought into that false equivalency, and her business – the famed 900 Degrees Neopolitan Pizzaria – is about to go to the next level because of it.

“So often when we do events – through the Chamber, Groupon, or whatever – we continually get ‘We’ve never been involved with a more successful green business,’” Lane-Rondeau says. “And the same applies to events. When 900 Degrees is there, people respond.”

To read the full article on Seacoast Online, click here. To read about it on the Seacoast Online Green Alliance blog, click here

Located in one of Manchester’s many well-worn mills, 900 Degrees was opened in 2007 with the simple goal of creating pizzas as they were originally conceived in Naples, Italy hundreds of years ago. The process is both simple and timeless: using a wood-fired brick oven – fired up to as high as 300 degrees past the restaurant’s namesake – the crew uses authentic, daily-made dough, fresh ingredients, and a cacophony of flavors local and exotic alike to create these circular works of art.

Soups, salads, pastas, appetizers, desserts: There’s scarce a locally flavored leaf that 900 Degrees has left unturned. Indeed, “food snob” might sound like a pejorative term to most, but for Lane-Rondeau, it’s nothing short of a badge of honor.

“It’s not like I’m alone on this – customers really do want it,” Lane-Rondeau exclaims. “People go out of their way to tell us how supportive they are of our practices. I even had one woman call me and ask whether any of our ingredients used GMOs. I appreciate that. People are coming here because it’s a green restaurant – because it’s the right thing to do.”

Lane-Rondeau credits growing up on a small “Gentleman’s” farm – replete with carefully tended gardens, beloved livestock, and a distinctly do-it-yourself ethos – for her steadfast commitment to quality food, homespun comfort, and an ever-growing green ethos. It was here that waste was aggressively eschewed; where making the best meant making the most, and where conservation was less a movement than an intergenerational fact of life.

Embracing the goal of consistently reducing the restaurant’s environmental footprint, Lane-Rondeau’s green efforts – LED lighting and motion sensors throughout the restaurant, locally-sourced ingredients, a comprehensive recycling program, low-VOC paints and seals, and water conservation, just to name a few – have served as a beaming beacon to restaurants throughout the region.

In fact, 900 Degrees was the first restaurant in the New Hampshire Sustainable Lodging and Restaurant Program to be named an Environmental Champion. All the while Lane-Rondeau’s has concerned herself less with pats on the back than making sure the customers were there to follow.

“All of this was a no-brainer for me. It wasn’t hard; it was natural,” Lane-Rondeau says. “It’s simple: the lest waste you have, the better you do. Add in the local and green components, and you have a program that works, and the customers are starting to be more conscious of that.”

Now, with a brand new 900 Degrees set to open in Epping later this month, Lane-Rondeau is hoping to strike similar sparks closer to the Seacoast. Even for a business that’s enjoyed enviable success since day one, it’s no accident that Lane-Rondeau waited until now – one year past the point where most restaurants are forced to call it quits.

“We knew we didn’t want to rush opening a second location,” Lane-Rondeau reflects. “We wanted to be on solid footing, because we knew that way too many businesses grow to quickly. But we knew it was time. People have been asking for it, and we’re ready.”

Of course, all the green bells and whistles will be sounded just as surely as the pies will fly and the crowds – clamoring as they have for more – will file through the doors. And though Epping might be a full 20 miles from the restaurant’s Queen City flagship, Lane-Rondeau is all but certain that it won’t take long for her newest charge to become an intimate part of the community.

“I think that’s a hidden reason why a restaurant succeeds or fails – being involved in the community,” Lane-Rondeau says. “Whether it’s working with the schools, finding local vendors, those things resonate with people. We were very involved when we were in Manchester, and we’re going to do the same thing here, being closer to the Seacoast.”

The recipes. The techniques. The commitment to conservation and community. All are, in their own way, practices rooted in the centuries. But combining them in a way that can weather the challenges of running a restaurant in 2013? Lane-Rondeau sees that as her restaurant’s time-testing template.

900 Degrees is a Business Partner of Green Alliance, a Portsmouth-based organization that connects green-minded consumers with the businesses doing their part to reduce their environmental footprint.

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