Zuni Cafe, the groundbreaking Californian restaurant on Market Street, is switching out their takeout containers, and is moving to reusable packages, only. According to Zuni, they’re first restaurant in San Francisco to completely commit to reusable packaging, serving every order of their iconic roast chicken or bread salad in a stainless steel box or bowl.
Chef Nate Norris took the swap on as a pint-sized passion project, despite a tumultuous year with the pandemic. “I felt like there’s not much we can do right now, but at least we can do this, and contribute to progress in some small corner,” he tells Eater SF, arranging a partnership with a startup called Dispatch Goods, which we started hearing about over the summer, as it launched smaller-scale efforts with Mixt, Square Pie Guys, Voodoo Love, Greens, and the Morris.
How it works: When you place an order at a participating restaurant, there might be an option to tick a box for reusable packaging, adding a fee of one or two bucks. At Zuni, however, it’s not optional, and it won’t be broken out as a separate fee, it’s simply rolled into the bill. Dispatch Goods provides the restaurant with the containers, which are stainless steel boxes and bowls with fitted silicone lids. Customers are responsible for returning those containers, either to the restaurant, a Dispatch Goods bin (which are dotted around town), or by contacting the company to arrange a curbside pickup. Dispatch Goods then cleans and returns them to the restaurant.
“Garbage is convenient,” Norris concedes. “I keep telling my team, this is going to be inconvenient, relative to garbage.” He compares it to Straus Creamery’s glass bottles, which grocery shoppers to return to stores, and looking further back to the long-ago tradition of leaving bottles at the curb for the milkman.
That sounds quaint, but Norris fully acknowledges that this is San Francisco, and that after a particularly brutal wildfire season, climate change is top of mind for many diners. “We’re asking people to take on more responsibility here. But everyone is familiar with the issue with landfills and plastics. We want to show what’s possible, that this can be good for us, and good for the customer. Not only that we can do this, that we should do this.”