This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Green event planner aims to take Chicago events to next level

For years, Shannon Downey has aimed to change the way people celebrate and experience events in Chicago. Now, she’s putting her talents behind the upcoming TEDxWindyCity conference, which she hopes will spread the green message well beyond Chicago.

Ms. Downey, 32, launched Pivotal Production LLC, a green-minded event-planning and marketing firm, four years ago. Starting with $2,000 and a one-year contract with the Museum of Science and Industry, Ms. Downey began blending sustainable principles into experiential marketing events.

Ms. Downey’s intent to fold green practices into every aspect of her business stems from an early life spent mostly outdoors, where she nurtured a passion for the environment and learned from her parents to “leave no trace.”

Shannon Downey

Ms. Downey runs a lean shop. She has no full-time staff and assembles a new team each time she’s hired to create an event. Last year, she reported $105,000 in revenue, and she projects about the same for this year. And, she says, her business is profitable. 

About a year ago, Ms. Downey was awarded a coveted TEDx license from TED, the California-based non-profit that organizes the elite TED gatherings twice a year. Ms. Downey intends to combine her green event-planning expertise with other partners to produce similar local gatherings using her TEDxWindyCity license.

In fact, Pivotal and a few big-name partners are staging the next multimedia TEDx event Oct. 6 at the Museum of Science and Industry, which quickly sold out of its 400 tickets. The audience will hear experts and representatives from local food organizations discuss the topic: “Challenges, Innovations and the Future of our Food Supply.”

Crain’s recently met up with Ms. Downey, and she described how her green events go beyond minimizing trash that’s produced (she does that, too).

Crain’s: How did you identify a need to establish a green event-planning and marketing company in Chicago?

Ms. Downey: I actually didn’t start Pivotal with the intention of going after the green niche, but green is how I live so it was always going to be that kind of business. When I was freelancing for other large marketing companies and saw the waste that was happening, I thought there had to be a different way.

When I started meeting with clients, I had to educate them about the way I approach an event. I give them the aesthetic, the goals and deliverables of what they’re looking for. But then I add a whole other layer that goes into it, which is to find the most sustainable production elements that I can bring into it, including processes and vendors.

Crain’s: What are some details that go into planning a green event that might not otherwise be on the client’s radar? How do vendors respond to your tough requirements?

Ms. Downey: One example is lighting and sound for audio/visual support. I always want to use LEDs, which are much more energy-efficient than regular cans for lighting. They’re also triple the cost. I’ve sat down with vendors and worked out how they’re going to pack their truck and what’s the most fuel-efficient route to get to where we’re going. I even put idling limits in my contracts.

I have to make sure the people I’m partnering with approach an event the same way I do. It took a long time to find people who were willing to play the game with me. I would sit in meetings and see lots of eye-rolling, but once people figured out I was for real and that I was going to be successful, then they wanted to work on the events I was working on.

Now these companies are realizing they’re saving money when they work with me, and they’re willing to make changes.

Crain’s: Can you describe one of the greenest events you produced and how it expressed what you’re trying to achieve?

Ms. Downey: Last fall, we did a product launch party for Colori Eco Paint Boutique, a super cool paint store on North Avenue (in Wicker Park/Bucktown). The product was Mythic Paint, a non-toxic low (volatile organic compound) paint manufacturer, and Colori was going to be its new exclusive seller in Chicago. We had 400 people, a hip DJ, and we hired brand ambassadors who were local artists who did a group mural during the event. We even had the artists licking the paintbrushes to show how safe the product is. Out of the whole event, we produced one bag of trash and four bags of recyclables, and I took a bag of compost home and dumped it in my yard. I have a really fertile back yard.

A lot of people think about green events in terms of trash and recycling, but there’s much more than that. I take this holistic approach about supporting the local community, the local arts and musicians. If it’s a corporate event, I think about how I can fold in a non-profit or support small and local businesses. That’s really important to me and I feel what differentiates this company. I don’t just think about the “stuff.”

Crain’s: What types of clients are drawn to the events you create?

Ms. Downey: The clients I have are in three markets. The first is art-based, which is a result of my network and what I love. They are mainly non-profits and small companies, such as Woman Made Gallery and the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. I do innovation-based projects, which included work for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the British Council in a partnership program, and events using my TEDxWindyCity license I got a year ago. I also have green clients who come to me because of the way I handle events, including Colori and Baum Realty.

Crain’s: You say that getting the TEDxWindyCity license from TED and producing those local events aren’t cash-cow kinds of ventures. So what’s in it for you?

Ms. Downey: It’s the relationship-building that comes out of these events that’s so valuable to me. I get the opportunity to work with companies and organizations that normally wouldn’t pay attention to me. Like Google. They’re one of the partners in this upcoming event on Oct. 6. They’re lending their network to us.

I’m not getting paid for it. These are labors of love, but also investments in PR and brand recognition. The intangibles have been invaluable in opening doors and creating relationships that are important for me. I hope it’s a way of bringing in new clients down the road, but it’s not the primary motivator.

Crain’s: You say these TEDx events are a great way to practice and model what you think the next generation of green events should be. What do you mean by that statement?

Ms. Downey: It’s moving beyond the stuff (like lighting and recycling) and the processes to the content. I think we should be using events to showcase collaboration. I love the idea that TEDx the brand creates an opportunity for little Pivotal and Google and the Museum of Science and Industry to work on something together because the topic is so awesome. And in addition, we’re going to use the event as a platform for all these up-and-coming businesses and projects and non-profits that are participating and help them garner support through this event.

That’s more sustainable than green. The recycling and composting for events need to happen in conjunction with the idea of community and collaboration so we can all sustain our businesses and programs, and in turn, sustain Chicago.

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In other green news around town:

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has won the prestigious Urban Land Institute J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, the Institute announced Thursday. Mr. Daley, the 2010 laureate, is only the second mayor to receive the prize in its 11-year history. The announcement is being made Thursday at a celebratory luncheon in Chicago. Read more on the Institute’s Web site.

Will County is breaking ground this week on a renewable energy facility that will convert trash into cash and clean energy. The plant, in a partnership with Waste Management Inc., will recover and convert methane gas into energy from the Prairie View Landfill. The facility, which is expected to be completed by December 2011, could provide as much as $1 million annually for the county in energy sales to local homes. No local taxes are being used for construction, according to the Will County Board.

The International Interior Design Association and InterfaceFLOR launched their eighth annual IIDA Student Sustainable Design Competition. The competition was created to encourage sustainable design and thinking and award individuals who demonstrate consistent, creative incorporation and the understanding of sustainable principles. For more information, check the competition website: http://ssdc.strutta.com/. The grand prize winner will receive $2,000. Entries will be accepted online from Oct. 18 through Nov. 8.

Applications are now being accepted for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s GreenWorks Awards 2010. The awards will be given to business owners, entrepreneurs, activists or employees that demonstrate they are part of what’s transforming Chicago into a more environmentally, socially and economically robust city. The application deadline is Oct. 5. For more information: http://www.greenworksawards.org/Eligibility-instructions.html.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Aussie biotech specialist picks Naperville for new HQ

Rod Vautier must have been inspired by famed Chicago architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham’s well-worn phrase “make no little plans” when he and his partners decided to move their green biotech company’s global headquarters to Chicago recently from Australia.

Biowish Technologies Inc. manufactures a line of about 20 consumer, animal agricultural and industrial waste-water products derived from a novel biodegradable technology. 

Rod Vautier

The company intends to ramp up sales dramatically using Naperville as its new base of operations, says Mr. Vautier, president and one of the company’s three founding shareholders.

The other two founders are Vince Wise, Mr. Vautier’s long-time business partner and fellow Aussie, and Wisuit Chantawichayasuit, a scientist from Thailand who developed the green, organic technology and was already selling some formulated products in Asia before Biowish’s formation.

Indeed, the privately held company is projecting revenue growth from $15 million this year to an estimated $300 million in about three years. The 4-year-old company has just begun to commercialize its technology, and even though they’re already selling products in 13 countries, they expect sales to take off once they’ve penetrated the U.S. market more fully, says Mr. Vautier, 39. It’s also launching its products in countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. The products are manufactured in Thailand.

Biowish’s technology breaks down dirt, solid matter and other biological reactions at an accelerated speed and efficiency. The products include solutions that assist in quickly reducing noxious odors of industrial waste water that is often high in ammonia and other organic compounds. Other applications: solutions used for environmental treatment of manure lagoons in animal agriculture companies, and consumer sprays and solutions that sanitize homeowners’ septic tanks and deodorize their garbage bins.

Some products can also reduce energy costs for waste-water treatment because the accelerated process enables companies to use less air in their water purification. Energy is required to add air to that process.  

Biowish is moving the last of its key executives to the Midwest this month and will have a staff of 10 in its Naperville headquarters. Crain’s spoke with Mr. Vautier about why he and his partners picked Chicago as its new global hub and how they intend to catapult sales over the next few years.

Crain’s: Chicago’s a long way from your original base in Sydney, Australia. What led to the decision to move your global headquarters thousands of miles away?

Mr. Vautier: Based on the products’ successes in Australia through 2009, we gained the confidence and thought it would be appropriate to move our headquarters to the U.S. because of the limited market size of Australia and because we were a long way from our other major markets around the world. It’s only this year we began to focus on sales in the U.S., and Chicago is central to the population center we’re trying to reach here.

We found some corporate head offices we dealt with were nearby, such as Ace Hardware and Menards, and we liked being close to them. We also found good logistics companies to work with here. Chicago has excellent air transport access to Canada, Central and South America, to Europe and within the U.S. I know the winters will be much colder than Australia, but at least there are great restaurants here.

Crain’s: What market sector of your products is responsible for the majority of Biowish’s current sales, and who is buying them in the U.S.?

Mr. Vautier: Our current revenues are approximately even across agriculture, waste-water and consumer products. Over time, we expect agriculture to grow at a much faster rate, followed by waste-water.

We’ve been quite successful in industrial waste-water processes in the U.S. already, many of them based along the East Coast. One client is Twin Rivers Technologies, a (Quincy, Mass.) chemical processing company. Our growth has been quite good with respect to the large retail groups (for consumer products), and we expect to get into the big-box stores in the near term, too. We’re also currently working with animal agriculture companies across the dairy, poultry and swine sectors. These companies include distributors such as Wilbur-Ellis, Nutra Blend, Westway Feed Products, and Foster Farms.

Crain’s: You have tremendous growth projections in the next few years. How do you intend to reach those targets?

Mr. Vautier: Our strategy is to use the presence in the U.S. and Australia to do the work of validating the technology and proving its worth to our target market. Once we have a strong position within the U.S. in particular, which is respected globally in terms of technology and regulatory matters, we believe entry to all other markets will be much easier. When we are properly successful here, we expect to work with the No. 1 or 2 biggest distributors in every market around the world.

Crain’s: What are your views on the amount of industrial and agricultural waste that’s flushed into the environment and what impact can your company have in helping corporations reduce these potential environmental hazards?

Mr. Vautier: We get a unique perspective on that because we see it from the U.S. and Australian context, and we also get to see it in India and southeast Asia. All countries can do better in reducing harmful waste. But when you visit some of the more developing countries, you see what a massive challenge the planet faces in terms of some of these environmental issues. Technologies like Biowish have a role to play because we provide a low capital-cost, environmentally friendly way to deal with some of the waste that’s being produced on a massive scale.

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In other green news:

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has set aside $5 million in funds through 2011 for its Green Infrastructure Grant Program for stormwater management projects. Municipalities, non-profits, universities, land management agencies, soil and water conservation districts that want to apply can get more info here: http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/financial-assistance/igig.html

The Biodiversity Project, a Chicago-based non-profit environmental organization, expanded its board of directors this week with the addition of two new members: Kari Lydersen, a freelance journalist and author who covers environmental and scientific issues, and Rey Phillips Santos, assistant corporate counsel at the City of Chicago Department of Law. For more info: www.biodiversityproject.org

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Wind turbine maker blows into town with focus on rooftops

Some of the next crop of wind turbines hoisted onto buildings around Chicago may come from a small manufacturing plant on the city’s North Side intent on making a big name for itself in the wind-energy business.

Andre DeRosa, 34, started a company licensing specialized wind turbines for building rooftops to manufacturers in Korea and India about seven years ago. He moved to Chicago in 2008 and started Balanced Wind LLC (www.balancedwind.com), among the first small-scale wind turbine producers to sell them in the U.S.

A Balanced Wind rooftop turbine

Mr. DeRosa was initially going to import the turbines from Asia, but he applied to get a piece of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to open a factory in Chicago and manufacture them on his own. To his delight, Mr. DeRosa was awarded $250,000 earlier this year. The money just started rolling in over the summer and will help pay for some computerized equipment that will speed up production at his plant, which is tucked away in a small building just off Irving Park Road.

Next month Balanced Wind will deliver its first two turbines locally to an Arlington Heights company that will mount them on its rooftop. A total of 18 turbines have been sold to clients elsewhere, including in Vermont, Hawaii, Holland and Estonia, but 12 of them are on back order.

The potential for growth is significant. There are already about 300 wind turbines fixed on top of Chicago-area buildings. Last year, Mr. DeRosa convinced 82 building owners around Chicago and northern Illinois to place wind meters atop their buildings to gather data that will determine how much energy they can potentially harness from wind currents blowing around their rooftops. He’s hoping they’ll consider the merits of buying one from Balanced Wind down the road. Mr. DeRosa expects to be producing 20 turbines a month by November and plans to boost his workforce to 45 from 17 by 2011.

Mr. DeRosa isn’t your typical renewable-energy business owner. He has a divinity degree from the Moody Bible Institute but pursued his entrepreneurial interests in wind energy and connected with engineers that had the know-how to make turbines. Still, he’s found a way to fold his commitment to social justice into his business plan: He was awarded grants from two Illinois state programs to train disadvantaged individuals who’ve had barriers to the workplace to build his wind turbines and he intends on hiring them when the 12-week training period ends this fall. 

Crain’s caught up with Mr. DeRosa at his manufacturing site last week to learn why he believes his type of wind turbines will take the urban landscape by storm and how he plans to help some companies pay for his equipment.

Crain’s: How are your wind turbines different from the sleek, white ones we see on those tall poles with the three rotating blades?

Mr. DeRosa: Our turbines aren’t the ones most people think of. The ones with the tall poles are called horizontal axis. We make vertical axis turbines. What we tried to do is solve the problem of putting a turbine on the rooftop of a building where you run into birds flying into the equipment and vibration degrading the quality of the building. Our turbine sits flat on the roof of a building the same way that an HVAC system would be installed up there. About 90% of turbines on top of buildings are installed on top of poles that are fixed to the buildings.

Constructing a turbine blade at the plant.

Crain’sWhy do you believe your wind turbines are better suited for buildings in an urban environment compared to the super tall ones we see along the highway driving through downstate Illinois or up in Wisconsin?

Mr. DeRosa: Ours are more efficient because we’re designed for a city environment. Putting a turbine (on a pole) in a city can have functional problems. As an example, the wind will bend around a nearby building that’s blocking the wind flow and create turbulence, which doesn’t allow the turbine to perform well. A traditional turbine on moderate wind days, which is what we usually get in Chicago, has difficulty determining which way to face with the wind coming from multiple directions. Our turbine can accept wind from these multiple directions because it doesn’t have to turn to face the wind. We’re still very pro horizontal axis wind turbines, but they function better further out in an agricultural community where there’s more space to put the turbine on top of a pole and for the air to encounter the turbine.

Crain’s: Wind turbines are expensive and many building owners are strapped for cash even if they want to buy them. Can you compete on price compared to the large-scale (utility) wind farms and what financing options are available?

Mr. DeRosa: We’re able to build a high quality turbine cheaply and affordably. We hope to reach parity (equal price) with utility wind farms in five years. We think we’ll be able to bring the price of our wind below $2 per kilowatt hour by then. Our 10 kW wind turbine today is priced at $35,000 installed. Our goal is to get that below $20,000 in five to seven years.

The state of Illinois through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has a 30% rebate that companies can apply to receive. They just gave out about $210,000 for installed wind turbines this year and they’ll have another round available in 2011. Corporations also get federal tax credits at 30%.

Also, we’re going to begin offering financing on our 5 kW turbines. We set aside some of our own internal capital for corporate building clients that qualify under the credit. 

Crain’sYour product is part of the green economy, but do you incorporate sustainable practices in manufacturing your turbines?

Mr. DeRosa: Yes, we’ve got a really green product and we try to buy our parts locally as much as possible. The equipment comes from a supplier in Arlington Heights. The glass fiber we use for the composite cover comes from suppliers in Chicago and Countryside. We source outside the state to Rhode Island sometimes to get an earth-friendly epoxy made from cashew-nut oil, but it’s much better than the petroleum-based ones. And the footings of the turbine ares made by a Chicago company that crushes old used tires to reformulate the footings for us.

Once we get our City of Chicago permit and variance, we’ll install our own wind turbines on our building and draw all of our energy from that source. We plan on having a big ribbon-cutting ceremony, hopefully in October, and we’ll invite Gov. Pat Quinn and Rep. Mark Kirk. It’s election season so we’re hoping they’ll come.

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In other green news:

— The Department of Energy awarded $1.05 million to a new Chicago non-profit headed by prominent local business leaders that aims to boost clean-energy businesses spun off from research at the region’s universities and labs, Crain’s Chicago Business reported Thursday. The Clean Energy Trust will use the grant and local matching funds to provide seed money, business training and other support. The group is co-chaired by Nicholas Pritzker, chairman and CEO of Hyatt Development Corp., and Michael Polsky, CEO of Invenergy LLC, a Chicago-based wind power development firm. Other founders include Paula Crown of Henry Crown & Co.; Richard Sandor of the Chicago Climate Exchange; Tim Schwertfeger, former CEO of Nuveen Investments Inc.; Antonio Gracias of Valor Equity Partners, and Keith Crandell of Arch Ventures.

— A new report out this week shows that the U.S. business community is lagging behind China and other nations by more than $11 billion in creating clean-energy investments since the U.S. Senate failed to pass clean energy legislation in July. The analysis was a joint effort of the Small Business Majority, Main Street Alliance, American Businesses for Clean Energy and We Can Lead. The full report can be found here.– A city panel on Tuesday unanimously approved subsidies to lure a big tenant to the Green Exchange, an eco-friendly real estate development in Logan Square. Crain’s Real Estate Daily brings you the full story.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Reclaiming wood from the urban forest

Bruce Horigan and his wife, Erika, have been expanding their family-owned tree-recycling business by supplying the growing demand of eco-minded people looking to furnish their homes and businesses — and even hospitals — with reclaimed wood.

The North Shore couple are trained arborists and lifelong tree lovers who have been working for close to two decades on a long-term business plan: They take trees that have to come down in the city and use their sawmill to transform them into artfully crafted furniture or flooring and doors for local construction.

They started Horigan Urban Forest Products Inc. in 2003 by investing $500,000 of their own capital derived from the sale of their previous tree-care business. The Horigans now own a sawmill and kiln in North Chicago and store the milled wood in a 4,000-square-foot temperature-controlled warehouse behind their Skokie office.

A white oak countertop by Green Sawn Design, made from wood reclaimed by Horigan Urban Forest Products.

Demand for their products has grown steadily, and business has recently taken off despite the sluggish economy. Revenues have risen 47% so far this year compared with 2009. And the company may soon add more workers to its staff of four, which includes the Horigans’ son, Justin, another co-owner, who oversees production.

Crain’s recently talked to Mr. Horigan about how he hooked up with the green-building crowd. He also described some high-profile local projects that include wood from special trees that passed through their sawmill.

Crain’s: How is your tree-recycling company different from a standard lumber business that sells wood to make some of the same products?

Mr. Horigan: We recycle the urban forest, which are trees that grow in populous areas like backyards or public parks. We take trees that are coming down anyway and not being chopped down just for lumber. They get taken down because of disease, storm damage, or they’re in the way of new construction. Normally, those trees get hauled off for firewood and mulch, which is recycling, but for a low-end use. When we get a tree, we mill it out to make flooring or furniture and take the log to its highest possible use. We’re making a bad situation better.

Several salvaged trees await milling in Lincolnshire. 

Crain’s: Where does wood used for construction and furniture building around Chicago come from? Are there enough trees taken down in the city to supply builders and craftsmen who might want more locally sourced product?

Mr. Horigan: If you’re building a house in Chicago, a builder might call a logger in the Wisconsin woods and tell them to cut down a perfectly good tree and ship it here. Then we take a tree from right here and throw it away because it had to come down. What’s the logic of that? We’ve got really cool stuff right here, so why not use it?

Fifty years ago, we used what was right around us to build houses, and we’ve gotten away from that. Now people ship things from all over the world to build their houses here. We’re only scratching the surface of the number of trees that are coming down every day in the Chicago area. We’re only able to preserve a small portion of them.

Crain’s: You say about a third of your business comes from carpenters and designers looking for sustainable materials for their clients. How did you get involved in the green crowd?

Mr. Horigan: People looking for sustainable wood didn’t know about us when we first started out. Initially, our first clients were people who were losing trees. They were emotional and wanted to keep the trees that fell down on their property, so they turned them into furniture for their house.

A few years ago, we began going to Green Drinks gatherings (sponsored by the Foresight Sustainable Business Alliance), and that got us connected to the green space. At those networking events we met architects, builders and interior designers who were interested in working with green products.

One guy in particular, Rocky Levy, works with lots of companies that are looking for green, sustainable office furniture made from reclaimed wood. We got together a couple years ago, and he is pitching what we have to lots of his clients. We also do a lot of business now with Icon Modern (well-known for sustainable furniture). Word-of-mouth is the best advertising there is.

Crain’s: Tell us about some of the more visible projects in Chicago that incorporate wood from city trees that passed through your sawmill.

Mr. Horigan: Some trees have a history to them. The white oak tree in the Smart Home (at the Museum of Science and Industry), which we helped make into furniture, most likely was planted in that same area by Frederick Law Olmsted for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Part of that tree is in the coffee table in the living room, the dining table and bench in the dining room, and the headboard in the bedroom. The sitting room has a few rounds of the tree there, too.

Inside the Smart Home

The new Children’s Memorial Hospital is under construction and we’re working with Mikyoung Kim Design (based in Boston), which is building an enclosed sky garden for children who probably aren’t going to go home from the hospital. They picked a bunch of wood from us that will end up as live edge flooring and then will go up a wall so it looks like a tree that is there indoors. The kids connection is that we got those logs from mulberry and silver maple trees that the Chicago Park District gave us last summer when they were renovating the South Pond at the Lincoln Park Zoo. That was a really special match.

Crain’s: Do you anticipate that much more of your future business will come from the green sector?

Mr. Horigan: It’s hard to predict, but the trees we source are among the greenest, most sustainable materials out there. We’re hoping that down the road people will reclaim flooring and doors and panels from houses made of trees that we supplied that didn’t come down originally for lumber. It may take a generation to get to that point, but that would be the second greening of what we’re doing now.

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This week’s Green Scene column in Crain’s Chicago Business: Greening the neighborhood deli

City Provisions’ new deli location (Chicagoist photo).

By Judith Nemes

City Provisions, a catering company that emphasizes food from local farms and small-batch artisans, is extending its brand to a new sustainably minded delicatessen set to open its doors Friday in Ravenswood.

Cleetus Friedman, City Provisions’ owner, started his catering business with three employees in early 2008 during some of the darkest days of the battered economy. His philosophy of showcasing seasonal, mostly organic food from farms and producers within a 250-mile radius has earned him accolades. Wedding bookings have tripled this year compared with 2009 and his staff size has mushroomed to 40, including his new deli crew and about 20 temporary servers for events. He also runs a monthly farm dinner series. 

Cleetus Friedman (GapersBlock photo)

Mr. Friedman, 39, is known for pushing the envelope on putting green, sustainable practices to work in the daily operation of his business and in his catered events. The new deli features shelving reclaimed from a burned-down Chicago home and sandwiches wrapped in soy-based wax paper instead of petroleum-based.

There’s been lots of buzz about City Provisions’ upcoming deli. Mr. Friedman tells Crain’s how his locally sourced green business stands apart from your typical catering outfit and delicatessen, and why he’s betting people will pay more for what’s in his deli case. 

Crain’s: Why was it important to you to have a catering company and now a deli that focuses on local and organic food producers?

Mr. Friedman: My model was simple: local, sustainable, organic. My attitude towards food is the closer it is to home, the fresher it’s going to be and the better it’s going to taste. I also believe in the local food economy and supporting local businesses and local farms. I think it’s a smart way to live and it keeps our carbon footprint down. Besides, when there’s a big scare with an egg recall, I have nothing to worry about. I’ve been to all these farms, I know the animals.

Crain’s: Why did you decide to expand beyond catering and open a storefront deli?

Mr. Friedman: My 10-year plan was to start with a catering company, open up a deli, then a bakery. The delicatessen is a response to the local food movement. I didn’t plan on opening a deli for another couple years, but people are ready now. I want to be ahead of the curve. If I wait two years, someone’s going to do it before me.

The deli is simply a brick-and-mortar extension of our catering business and a little extension into grocery. There’s a fantastic synergy between catering and the deli operation because items like shrimp salad and quinoa are being made on a daily basis anyway, so why not have a place to sell it out the front door?

Crain’s: How is your new storefront different from a run-of-the-mill deli?

Mr. Friedman: This is not your Katz’s Deli or Second Street Deli in New York. This is my East Coast influence mixed with a local-sustainable-connect-you-with-your-food type of deli. We have all these great deli meats, but they’re all made from local ingredients. Everything in the deli has a story about the farmer or local artisan that brought it to us.

Crain’s: City Provisions has a reputation for being a highly sustainable company. Can you give an example that shows how committed you are to being green?

Mr. Friedman: I don’t want to hang a green flag out here, but we’re a really green company.

We do something called skip composting. Every person in our kitchen has a bucket at their station. Throughout the day they save all of their organic waste and at end of the day that goes into a big trash can. Twice a week we see our pig farmers. They pick up that waste and feed it to their hogs. On Wednesday half a hog was put on our table and we fed that hog with our food. You talk about a closed circle in sustainability — it doesn’t get crazier than that.

We’re the guinea pig for a guy who’s taking our fryer oil and trying to create a generator to run our fryer using that oil. If we can get off the grid by 20% in two years, it would be a beautiful thing. I’m also constantly challenging my Sysco (Corp.) rep to find me better eco-friendly products for our disposables. Styrofoam isn’t allowed in the building, and I don’t want foil because that just recycles. I need something better.

Crain’s: Can you be both green and profitable in the food-service business?

Mr. Friedman: Yes, because I think people are willing to pay for it. The $9 sandwich that you’re buying from us is more than just the sandwich. You’re paying for the story about helping specific local farmers. There’s been a disconnect with many shoppers and Whole Foods. You can spend $100 there, but you’re not really sure where that money’s going. You might spend $100 here, but you’ll know who’s being helped with that money. This idea of local and understanding where your food is coming from is not a trend, it’s a movement.

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