Eateries cash in on old oil through recycling program
Some Wheaton restaurant owners have found a small – if not creative — way to counter the sudden drop in business in recent months.
About five restaurants in downtown Wheaton are selling their used cooking grease to a company that processes it into biodiesel fuel. The restaurant used to pay to have companies haul their grease away. Now, the companies pay the restaurants for the used oil to create the clean-burning alternative fuel.
Janet Yu, the owner of Hollywood East Café on the Boulevard, 2621 University Blvd. West, and Hollywood East Café at 2310-14 Price Ave., said a representative from Behon Services, a Pennsylvania-based company, visited her store in August and offered her something she thought was long dead.
"A long time ago, they always paid for grease," she said, but most companies have since switched to charging businesses for picking it up.
"The more you use, the more you pay," Yu said of the former system.
Yu said she didn't mind reversing that. She mentioned the company to other restaurants that are part of Local First Wheaton, an alliance of Wheaton merchants who promote sustaining local businesses, and some of them picked up on it.
Compared to other restaurant expenses, paying for cooking grease pick-up is relatively inexpensive at $15 to $45 a month. But Hollywood East Café, El Pulgarcito del Callao, Sergio's Place, Pueblo Viejo Grill and Royal Mile Pub now earn anywhere from $10 to $30 a month for their grease.
In more prosperous times, that may have been an insignificant amount, but in this ailing economy "anything helps," said Ian Morse, the owner of Royal Mile Pub at 2407 Price Ave. "I was paying $45 a quarter and now that's inverted to, like, $15 a month of income."
Morse said that money goes directly to the costs that are "killing" him, such as health insurance for his employees and the rising costs of beer, food and wine.
"The costs have actually risen very fast," he said.
Selling cooking grease for biodiesel fuel does more than save restaurants money—it helps the environment, said Emily Adelman, the program manager for Local First Wheaton.
Adelman said Wheaton restaurants have created a marriage of being economically smart and good stewards to the planet, changing the common perception that Wheaton is a town of traditional stores and restaurants that aren't concerned about the environment.
"We have some forward thinking businesses here," she said.