PITTSBURGH—Natural glass and quartz countertops made from 85% recycled bottles and bamboo walls are just a few of the features of the new PNC Eco Bistro, located in the Allegheny Center Mall. Serving a PNC Bank population of more than 600, as well as customers from surrounding businesses such as West Penn Allegheny Health Center and Equitable Gas, the new café was designed with LEED certification standards in mind. Stephanie Knaus, director of dining services, for Parkhurst Dining Services at PNC, said the design helped created a warm and inviting atmosphere.
“The facilities themselves have warranted a lot of attention,” Knaus said. “The design is very warm and it has a very nice feel. It’s nice to be in an environment that shows it’s ‘green.’ There was always interest in how it was designed. We have a display that shows all the different materials and gives information on where everything came from. I’ve seen people looking at the countertops and the display.”
The eco-friendly design features of the café include bamboo walls, which are more sustainable than wood because bamboo releases 35% more oxygen into the air; green glass tile, which are made from recycled 100% pre- and post-consumer waste; natural quartz and glass countertops, which are made from 85% recycled bottles; and floors made from linoleum, which contain organic materials such as solidified linseed oil, pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour and mineral fillers. The employees even wear uniforms made from recycled polyester. The café’s operations enhance the green design with biodegradable serviceware, napkins made from recycled materials and a pre- and-post-consumer composting program. The café also launched a reusable to-go container program where customers can purchase a container to use, return it to be washed and receive a clean one.
“The reusable to-go containers are doing well,” Knaus said. “It’s something that we constantly need to be promoting to the guests. We try to really push the employees to ask if customers would like to purchase a container. Once customers are in the program, they use it all the time. If they choose not to buy a reusable container, we still offer compostable containers.”
The café features a soup station, which offers made-from-scratch chili and two daily soups; a deli with made-to-order sandwiches on artisan bread; a pizza station, which features made-from-scratch pizza dough, Tuscan flatbreads, calzones, strombolis and pepperoni rolls; a grill with hand-pressed burgers and hot dogs; and a Whole Body station that features healthier choice entrées. There is also a grab-and-go area with prepackaged salads, sandwiches, sides, desserts and puddings.
Knaus said the department has plans to expand retail offerings to include home-meal replacements packaged in microwavable containers. Other plans include going 100% compostable and both an indoor and outdoor garden where chefs can grow produce and herbs to use in the café.
“We have the go-ahead from the gentleman who owns the facilities to plant some gardens,” Knaus said. “We have a garage door-type area that we keep open and we have some seating out there so we thought it would be nice to plant some items in that space. It’s the off-season now, but our chef is sourcing some plants from local farmers so we can start doing that. We hope we can start planting some herbs in the next few weeks—being that it’s indoors, we can get started. In the spring we are going to take advantage of outdoor space for a garden as well.”
There also are plans in the works for a weekly community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which will allow guests to prepurchase boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. Knaus said one of the biggest challenges the new facility presented was learning to work in such a confined space.
“It’s a small footprint, so it’s a little hectic,” Knaus said. “It’s been tough to get a good foot pattern going. It’s getting better, and I think a lot of it is the customers are learning when the best times are to come. It’s very interactive, almost like a market with vendors yelling out what we have and getting the guests comfortable with not being so shy about yelling what they want. We also launched a street foods concept to help with crowds. It’s something a little more authentic to either a certain culture or a local product, and it’s fast. That’s been successful with trying to get the folks moving.”