When Fort Greene wood-fired restaurant Metta closed this summer, the team behind the sustainability-minded restaurant hinted that a future project was in the works: “We will see you in September with what comes next,” read the message on its website.
What came next is owner Henry Rich’s strongest statement for sustainability and its impact on climate change yet: It’s called Rhodora, a zero-waste natural wine bar that Rich hopes will help further the conversation around sustainability at New York restaurants. The wine bar at 197 Adelphi Street, at Willoughby Avenue, opens tonight with pours from small-farm natural winemakers accompanied by tinned fish, oysters, cheese, and vegetable snacks. Beer, cocktails, and a nonalcoholic drink menu of teas and kombucha is also planned.
Rich, who also runs popular Brooklyn hangouts like June and Rucola under his company the Oberon Group, created a food menu inspired by the tapas bars of Portugal and Spain, where drinks are paired with conservas (canned seafood).
“We went to great lengths to avoid plastic and avoid waste,” he says. “How do we do the most basic kind of wine bar food without creating trash? That is the challenge for us.”
Part of that feat was finding suppliers willing to ditch single-use plastic and styrofoam packaging; Rhodora’s oyster vendor, for example, agreed to ship them in reusable containers that can be washed and returned.
Rhodora replaces the group’s prior restaurant Metta, which was converted to a carbon-neutral restaurant in 2017. Rich worked with nonprofit Zero Foodprint, founded by Mission Chinese Food co-founder Anthony Myint, which helps restaurants offset their greenhouse gas emissions by sourcing locally, buying renewable energy, and investing in carbon-negative initiatives.
“Talking to him, I came to understand what impact our industry was having on climate change. I hadn’t understood that food as a whole actually had a greater impact than transportation,” Rich says.
Last year, after hosting a pop-up with chef Doug McMaster, the man behind UK’s acclaimed zero-waste restaurant Silo, Rich says he learned about the effects that food waste has on the environment and felt the need to make Metta a zero-waste space.
Working backwards with Metta wasn’t doable, though, he says. “We realized we had to start from zero, no pun intended. Everything from our food program, beverage program, and staffing model has the zero-waste mission as its deciding factor,” he says.
Buying a composter, a dishwashing machine that electrocutes salt into soap, and a cardboard shredder are all investments the team made to get the wine bar open. Any food diners leave will be fed into that composter, and there aren’t any trash cans around the restaurant, including in the restrooms. Instead, there will be two boxes from a company called TerraCycle, which specifically deals with hard-to-recycle items.
Rhodora has a unique staffing model, too. The wine bar does away with the traditional hierarchy among front- and back-of-house staff and instead has every employee trained for every role. That means there’s no executive chef, sommelier, bar manager, host, or server, and every staff member shares a tip pool, plus owns a profit share in the restaurant.
Rich says he started with a wine bar because it’d be too difficult to open a zero-waste full-service restaurant in NYC at this time. Meanwhile, his team is working on converting his other restaurants into carbon-neutral establishments by the end of the year.
“Once you go zero-waste, you kind of just see waste everywhere,” he says. “We would like to continue opening zero-waste projects, but for now we really have our work cut for us with Rhodora.”
Rhodora is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sunday from 2 p.m. to midnight.