Sustainable Salaam

Alexis Eichelberger / Staff Writer

Sustainable Salaam

Alexis Eichelberger / Staff Writer

Hilarie Burhans and her husband joke that they spent their whole lives trying not to have a restaurant.

Burhans grew up all over the world, cultivating a passion for food. As a child, she spent time in Pakistan and Ethiopia. When she lived in New Mexico, she worked in small restaurants and as a private chef in Washington, D.C. She even spent several years teaching culinary arts at Hocking College.

When her son opened a hookah cafe in Athens, she made the 11 by 15 foot kitchen her own, cooking lunches of hummus and baba ganoush on a countertop convection oven. But when the statewide ban against smoking in indoor places passed in 2006, Burhans had to make a business decision: food or tobacco.

Food was the easy choice. So about 10 years ago, Burhans moved her operation to a bigger and better location at 21 W. Washington St. and opened Restaurant Salaam. The eatery serves“Mediterranean dishes with a global twist” and prioritizes sustainability in as many business practices as possible, making it this year’s Post Pick for Most Sustainable Business.

“I make a million small decisions, and I try to make them in a sustainable direction,” Burhans said.

Burhans has kept sustainability in mind since the beginning stages of running her restaurant. As Salaam has increased its business, it has implemented more sustainable practices. That included replacing plastic to-go containers with recyclable foil and swapping soup and coffee cups for compostable alternatives. Most recently, Salaam replaced every light bulb in its well-lit, thoughtfully decorated establishment with LED bulbs.

“All of those things cost a little more, but I think they’re important,” Burhans said.

“Restaurants, especially in this town, we have to kind of stick together.”– Hilarie Burhans

Salaam works hard to put sustainable dishes on customers’ plates, too. Burhans said the restaurant purchases much of its produce from local grower Green Edge Gardens, the Athens Farmers Market and the Chesterhill Produce Auction during the growing season. Its dairy products come from Snowville Creamery, and eggs are locally sourced as well. Burhans herself carefully tracks the quality of seafood she purchases on a mobile app, ensuring it follows the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guide for sustainable seafood.

“You don’t even have a choice to know as a consumer where that fish is coming from,” Burhans said. “But someone who’s purchasing wholesale, I can make my fish buyers tell me. I can find out.”

Burhans said Salaam’s next step toward sustainability is to begin a composting program. Logistically, composting can be difficult in a busy kitchen where fruit flies are attracted to food scraps, but Burhans hopes to work out the kinks and begin composting soon.

“It’s crazy not to,” she said.

Burhans praised other Athens businesses, particularly Casa Nueva, for its continued efforts to operate in sustainable ways. In some ways, she said, there are other businesses doing an even better job at working toward sustainability than Salaam.

But she doesn’t think sustainability should be a contest among small businesses. Restaurants should work together to be more environmentally friendly in any way they can, whether it be through recycling or using locally sourced food.

“Restaurants, especially in this town, we have to kind of stick together,” Burhans said. “We help each other and that certainly includes any information sharing that we can do.”

Zoe Graham, a server at Salaam, has worked at the restaurant for more than three years and appreciates its use of local food in the many delectable dishes it serves.

“It’s a really delicious home-cooked meal that you know where the ingredients are from,” she said.

Although there is always more to be done, Graham said Salaam’s implementation of sustainable practices on an everyday level is not only important, but a good example of how individuals can act and eat sustainably in their own lives.

“We’re all part of this community,” she said. “We’re all trying to live long and to show too that if a business can do it, you can do it.”

Photo by: Hannah Ruhoff / Staff Photographer

Development by: Taylor Johnston / Digital Production Editor

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