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A Spirit of Sustainability: Q+A with Park Distillery

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A SPIRIT OF SUSTAINABILITY:
Q+A WITH PARK DISTILLERY

By Meghan J. Ward
In partnership with Park Distillery

Creating an experience that best represents Banff National Park means distilling a culture that cares about our natural world. What does that look like for a bustling Banff Avenue restaurant?


Photo courtesy Park Distillery.

Walking into Park Distillery, you’ll notice a few things straight away. You’ll notice how good you feel. You’ll notice the flannel-covered booths inviting you to slide in and take a seat. You’ll notice the enticing smells wafting from the open kitchen on the second level. And, in the middle of it all, you’ll notice the impressive still, shimmering gold, reaching floor-to-ceiling behind glass walls.

But then there are the things you may not notice: the conscious efforts being made, behind-the-scenes, to run the business as sustainably as possible. Because, at Park, running a restaurant in a national park means doing business differently.

Our Editor-in-Chief sat down with Yannis Karlos (co-founder + business development at Park), Jen Ruszczak (Collective Chef for the BHC*), and Katie Tuff (co-founder of Park and BHC Chief of Operations and Development), to get the inside story on the spirit of sustainability at Park Distillery.

*Banff Hospitality Collective

Meghan J. Ward/ What is your personal connection to Banff National Park?

Yannis Karlos/  I was born here, so this is my home. I’m very attached to this place. It’s where I learned to do everything, from walking to running to skiing to biking – everything, every aspect of my life I learned to do here. So, I’m very invested in this place. And it’s where Katie [Tuff] and I have chosen to raise our kids.

Jen Ruszczak/ I have the classic Banff story: I came to Banff [from Ontario] with the intention of staying two years and moving on and fell absolutely in love with everything about it. I love that Park to me is everything that Banff is: a group of people that got together – a bunch of misfit people that aren’t family, but became a family.

Katie Tuff/ Well, I would consider myself an import. I’m also from Ontario, but I was actually living in Europe for a long time. And I actually met Yannis in Europe, at a ski resort.

I’ve been living in ski resorts on purpose since I was 18. I really relate to mountain environments, I seek them out. And Banff to me just fits that bill. I love that it is protected. For me, I just love this contrast that you can have this vibrant, urban town and just nothing around it. I spent a lot of time living in Europe, for the better part of 10 years, and you just don’t have that same sense of solitude.

Yannis Karlos (toft left), Jen Ruszczak (bottom left), Katie Tuff (right).

MW/ How did the idea of “Park Distillery” develop?

KT/ We named the project pretty early on. And the idea behind Park was a celebration of everything that this place is. We really wanted to give people a sense of place. You know, Banff is really interesting, it’s a really cool, urban setting. And you can very quickly find yourself on the outside of this very bustling urban center. We just wanted to build a backcountry hut in the middle of Banff Avenue.

YK/ All of our restaurants were generally pretty passionate about showcasing the best of what our region has to offer. Alberta is one of the breadbaskets of North America, if not the world. And, with the distillery, we had this idea years ago where it’d be really cool to showcase Alberta grains, in terms of producing spirits out of them. Unfortunately, at that time, it wasn’t something that was feasible under the regulatory framework, but as we were developing Park, it became something that we could do.

MW/ Why is it important for you to be building sustainable practices into the culture and operations of Park Distillery?

YK/ Because we have a responsibility to be stewards for the national park. Obviously, this is one of the premier protected areas in the world. And we believe in the Parks Canada mandate – we want to preserve this place for future generations. And the best way to achieve that is by adapting our business practices to become as sustainable as possible, whether that’s through super robust recycling programs and waste diversion. Or, attempting to become more energy efficient and where we can’t be, we have been working with Bullfrog Power to source our electricity from sustainable production.

So, I guess what it really comes down to is that we have the honour of doing business in the national park and that gives us the obligation to become stewards for it.

“…we want to preserve this place
for future generations.
And the best way to achieve that

is by adapting
our business practices to become as
sustainable as possible.”

MW/ What do you do to help create that culture of sustainability within your staff?

JR/ I think that’s why Park works so well, and why we have the power to really push in this direction. We genuinely care; we genuinely want to have the most sustainable business we can. Because we push that so much, it bleeds through all aspects of the staff, not just on a management level. So, any educational pieces we can bring in, we do – like having our garbage audited. They went through and told us how well we were doing on our garbage.

Photo by Anna Robi.

MW/ How’d that go?

JR/ We were doing exceptionally well, apparently.

KT/ [The culture] is really ingrained. And it definitely permeates through everybody we’ve activated. Jen and the Park management team have been really active with the town. We won an award back in June 2019, the first of its kind for the Town of Banff, called the Zero Waste Hospitality Hero Award.

So, Town of Banff representatives have been showing up at our weekly meetings and telling us what “better” looks like and the entire chef team, the entire team, front and back-of-house, is really engaged.

I think vulnerability has to be a really big word when you talk about sustainability. I think it’s the propensity to want to tick that box and say, “we’re sustainable.” Being sustainable, actually, is being really transparent and vulnerable about what isn’t going well for you. And I think Park did such a great job of communicating with the Town of Banff, specifically, about what was logistically challenging in terms of working together with them to be as green as possible.

I think vulnerability has to be
a really big word when you
talk about sustainability.

Photo courtesy Park Distillery.

MW/ Do you feel like you’re ahead of the curve here? Is this going to eventually be a standard in the industry?

KT/ Interestingly, I think they’re going to mandate a standard. I actually believe this will soon be the law. I think a lot of the practices that we put into place presumptuously and on purpose – like trying to be super strong for organics recycling; trying to use industrial garburators, where appropriate; trying to work with suppliers to have them be green; trying to be smart about our supply chain smart – I think the Town of Banff is going to demand it. That they’re doing this to get ahead of legislation.

According to the Rocky Mountain Outlook, “A waste characterization study of Banff’s garbage found that 65 per cent of what get sent to landfills comes from non-residential sources – or in other words – businesses in the community.
Of that, 50 per cent is food waste.”

In October 2019, the Town of Banff officially launched a commercial organic diversion program as part of the town’s goal to eliminate all waste going to landfills by 2050.

YK/ We can’t overlook the fact that we’re extremely fortunate to have a partner like the Town of Banff. They’ve been not only wonderful to work with, but if you look at the grand scheme of communities and destinations around the world, I’d say that the Town of Banff has been a leader in creating programs that are accessible to commercial enterprises.

To have the organics diversion program and composting facility in the town was huge. By weight, that’s around 80-90 % of the weight, or the volume of waste, that we produce. And then all the other waste streams that we can divert, either through the town or through the private sector, it’s just wonderful that we have that opportunity here. It’s relatively easy to do it, it takes some change on a cultural level for us, but the opportunity is being handed to us.

To have the organics diversion program
and composting facility in the town
was huge. By weight, that’s
around 80-90 % of the weight,
or the volume of waste,
that we produce.

Photo by Anna Robi.

MW/ What else have you done in the areas of sustainability that people may not know because they can’t see it?

YK/ If you looked at our recycling area in the back, most people’s heads would spin because there’s so many different streams of diversion that we’re doing now: organics, plastics, ceramics, paper, cardboard… all of our kegs. There’s just so many things going on back there. We’re achieving, I’d say, a fairly high level of waste diversion.

JR/ I think we’ve scaled down to one single garbage bin, two composts, and five recycling containers.

On the food side, we’re decent at translating where our product comes from and what we’re proud about. And we’re getting all this from a couple hours away – not from, you know, California and Peru, and all the other places – and making sure that menu dictates that as well. If I can only get asparagus in Peru, then maybe I shouldn’t have asparagus on the menu.

If I can only get asparagus in Peru,
then maybe I shouldn’t have
asparagus on the menu.

KT/ On a staff front, the Community Clean-Up is an easy way. It’s an easy engagement point for the new employee who might not have been here long enough to be getting down to the root of all of this. I think it makes people start thinking about garbage, about where they live. And you just feel wonderful coming out the other end of a clean-up. You feel so good about yourself because you’ve contributed and it starts a conversation within your brain. 

Photo courtesy Park Distillery.

MW/ What’s the end goal? And which areas are you still working on?

YK/ On the distillery side, there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s been a really eye-opening experience, seeing what actually goes into consumer packaged goods and then learning about the supply chain for all your own materials. We do our best to source as locally as possible, but in terms of packaging, we have a long way to go.

I’d love to see our bottles become more of a circular economy piece, where we start recollecting them, cleaning them, and filling them back up instead of bringing in containers from various suppliers. You know, really limiting our carbon footprint with our supply chain.

JR/ I think we should just keep moving the goal up and up and up. I know Town of Banff would love to be waste-free by 2050. And I think that it would be great if we could hit that goal beforehand. We should continue to try to be leaders and push the envelope on it.

Photo by Anna Robi.

YK/ And become more creative in terms of energies. I do have the stretch goal of becoming a net-zero emitter, and that’s really, really tough to do in a place that cooks food and grain and is extremely busy. But, there are creative ways that we can recapture the heat that we’re producing and repurpose it for other uses within our facilities

KT/ As an organization, we definitely look at all of this. I think there’s a lot of lenses you can look at it through.  I just think keeping up a multi-faceted approach to sustainability is important. And celebrating the little wins, like really celebrating the tiny things.

And I think if I were to outline the risk to this it would be that someone can say, “Oh, great. They’re sustainable. So should they be.” And so should we be. But there’s a lot to be proud of because you actually don’t have to be today. And that’s a little bit scary, right? And so being really proud, even if you’ve taken the smallest step. Learn from it and outline your next small step.

And I think if I were to outline the risk to this
it would be that someone can say,
“Oh, great. They’re sustainable.
So should they be.” And so should we be.”

MW/ What is your hope for the future of companies doing business in a national park?

KT/ I really like what the Town of Banff is doing right now, with having really dedicated people to liaise directly with businesses, and building out a framework so that we can work with them.

This is all pretty new, but I think they can take this framework to a newly-opening business and say, “Okay, here’s your foundation. This is what you should open with, and we know you can do it because here are four places who are doing it.” Because retrofitting is not easy.

It’d be my hope that a business opening in Banff, as a part of being granted a business license, would have to comply with some framework – built-out, achievable framework.

YK/ And more than just complying, I would hope that everybody, including us, feels obligated to strive to be the best we can possibly be in terms of sustainability. Legislated solutions are great and necessary, but beyond that everybody should feel responsibility and obligation to achieve that.


Writer, adventurer, outdoorsy mama and summit cartwheeler, Meghan J. Ward is the editor and co-founder at Crowfoot Media and lives for backcountry getaways.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on CrowfootMedia.com are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.

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