Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz — the couple behind popular Bay Area eateries Mission Chinese Food and Lt. Waffle — have made giving back their business since they first got started in the food industry in 2008. Over their tenure as restaurateurs, they've raised more than a million dollars for local food banks.
"After our daughter was born in 2012, we started to think about how we could improve our operations to make the businesses better for the environment," Leibowitz wrote in an email to mbg. "It didn't feel sufficient to use compostable containers and so forth — we wanted to see how far we could go."
Pretty darn far, it turns out. Along with head chef Chris Kiyuna, they've spent the last two years creating a space that showcases environmental innovation on and off its plates.
Opened on January 20, The Perennial's kitchen uses leftover scraps from its veggie-heavy dishes as compost for an off-site aquaponics greenhouse. There, the compost is fed to fish that fertilize the tank's water and various plants, which are eventually sent back to the restaurant to be served up. This close-looped, zero-waste system harnesses natural processes to make food waste edible again.
Chef Kiyuna complements these recycled veggies with small servings of grass-fed, ethically-raised cattle and lamb sourced from a nearby family ranch.
The sustainably-sourced produce and meat appears alongside bread made from Kernza — a new grain variety bred by The Land Institute. A perennial plant, Kernza harnesses soil nutrients year-round and uses them to extract excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The Perennial is the first restaurant to turn the eco-friendly grain into bread.
The creativity of the restaurant's sustainable fare is rivaled only by the space in which it's served. The Perennial's interior, designed by Zen Buddhist priest and architect Paul Discoe, is fashioned out of reclaimed California redwood and recycled tile and glass.
The open, industrial dining room is covered in rugs made from recycled fishing nets, and a "living pantry" of veggies, herbs and microgreens adorns the walls. Even the craft cocktail bar comes with its own green accolades: It's stocked with spirits from distilleries that incorporate production waste into its bottle labels.