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How one restaurant helps many become more sustainable

At the Buttered Tin, a beloved eatery in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ecolab's products and equipment are put to the test, so that they can help restaurants around the world work more safely and sustainably. 

October 01, 2019
The Buttered Tin bakery

The Buttered Tin, an eatery located in an up-and-coming part of St. Paul’s revitalizing downtown, is a stones’ throw from Ecolab’s headquarters. Owner Alicia Hinze was one of the first to open her doors here when the revival began, and she is elated to see her hometown’s urban core come roaring back.

If the name Alicia Hinze rings a bell, that might be because she’s a former winner of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. But the kitchen wasn’t her first calling. After two years of working in human resources for a big retail chain, she decided corporate life wasn’t for her. “I have a ton of energy,” Hinze said. “I’m a very physical person. I just can’t do office work.”

After an internship as a wedding cake decorator, Hinze knew she was a natural. She later graduated from the renowned Le Cordon Bleu Cooking school and opened The Buttered Tin in 2013. One of the first things she did when she started the restaurant, was call Ecolab.

“Every place I had ever worked at had Ecolab products and dishmachines,” she recounts. “I knew that Ecolab knows what it’s doing. And now the Ecolab people are here several times a week. We’ve become real partners. They’re part of the family.”

That feeling is mutual, says Max Date, the Ecolab sales manager who services The Buttered Tin on a regular basis. “To us, The Buttered Tin is part of the family, too. It’s great to work so closely with a customer, solve challenges they may face and help them make their business better. And we like to stay for lunch whenever we can, because Alicia’s pastries are so awesome.”

Less water, less energy

In 2015, The Buttered Tin became part of Ecolab’s dishmachine testing program. Within the program, Hinze’s business is a prime example of the changing restaurant sector. Because of consumers’ evolving preferences – led by millennials – independent restaurants like The Buttered Tin and regional chains are steadily gaining market share, with almost 250,000 independent restaurants in the U.S. alone.

While the large chains have dedicated supply chain, sustainability and food safety teams, independent restaurateurs often have to work things out for themselves. That’s where Ecolab can help.

Testing Ecolab’s high-temperature under-counter dishmachine in the real world, Hinze is helping the company determine how the equipment can be optimized to use less water, energy and chemistry. The lessons learned at small restaurants like this, will ultimately help the whole sector operate more efficiently and sustainably.

For Ecolab, the world’s largest supplier of leased commercial dishmachines, field test locations like The Buttered Tin are indispensable, said Alyssa Hantzsch. Hantzsch is a field-testing engineer within Ecolab’s Institutional division, which serves restaurants and hotels, and talks with Hinze and her team at least once a week.

“These machines do the same thing your home dishwasher does, but in 90 seconds instead of 90 minutes. At the Buttered Tin, the machine runs more than 120 times a day. We strive to work with locations like that, because you can’t replicate an actual restaurant setting in a lab. This is how we can see if our machines are maintaining the performance and durability that we expect.”

Keeping people safe

One of the main jobs for a professional dishmachine is to help ensure food safety. If it doesn’t function right, food residue can be left on plates and silverware, and end up in people’s mouths – the last thing anyone wants.

At the Buttered Tin, Hinze insists on the best food safety practices. She hires mainly restaurant veterans for her kitchen, all managers must have National Restaurant Association ServSafe certification as well as the State of Minnesota’s own food safety certificate, and new employees are put through the restaurant’s own comprehensive training program.

“It’s on my mind all the time,” she said.  “And Ecolab is helping us keep everything sanitized: floors, tables and prep areas. I check the dishes constantly. You always have to make sure your employees and managers are on top of it.”

But for a small restaurant, optimizing chemistries and equipment isn’t just a matter of sustainability and food safety – it’s also a cost-saver. At The Buttered Tin, cleaning products, detergents and sanitizers are a significant weekly expense, so Ecolab’s highly efficient products not only save water and energy, but also time and money.  

Expansion plans

With the original Buttered Tin location firmly established as a local favorite, Hinze is working on expansion plans. Just like the first time around, sustainability is at the top of her priority list. While she’s already composting and recycling as much as possible at the existing Buttered Tin, she strives for zero waste at the new locations she’s prospecting.

For Hinze, Ecolab has become a one-stop shop for expertise on sustainability, food safety and the little things that help a restaurant run smoothly. When she eventually opens new locations, it won’t be any different, she explains.

“It starts with the floor plan. Where do we put the Ecolab dishwasher and the products? Or even just the floor itself: Ecolab tells us which products to use and how to clean it. How do you minimize energy and water usage? It’s really important to get that right, because you can save products and time.”

While on the hunt for the perfect new property, Hinze knows one thing for sure: When she signs the lease, her Ecolab reps will be among the first people to go through the door.

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