Sustainable Restaurants: Mixt Greens

Mixt Greens debuted in downtown San Francisco in 2005 and was an instant hit with the financial district lunch crowds, prompting lines out the door that continue to this day.

The concept behind Mixt Greens is simple and compelling. Mixt is dedicated to serving up gourmet salads, tossed fresh on the spot. Diners can order an option off the set menu or they can customize their own creation, then watch as it’s prepared right before their eyes. The menu offers four kinds of greens, 14 salad dressings and dozens of add-ons—from bacon and anchovies to macadamia nuts, papaya and roasted beets. Chicken, two kinds of tuna, pork or steak can be added, and there are seasonal salad offerings as well.

Chef Andrew Swallow and his sister, sustainability expert Leslie Silverglide, crafted the vision behind Mixt Greens’ success. Silverglide’s husband David, a business veteran, became the third co-owner for the new venture.

Salad still bears the stigma of being a health food for the calorie conscious, rather than a delicious meal in its own right. Swallow’s recipes blow away that particular stereotype. There’s a salad for everyone on the menu, from “The Bachelor,” featuring seared steak, blue cheese, roast potatoes and balsamic vinaigrette, to “The Slam,” an Asian-inspired salad chock full of papaya, mango, cucumber, spicy peanuts and a lemongrass-based dressing. You’ll also find expert renditions of classics such as the Cobb and the Caesar salad. The restaurant also offers a smattering of sandwiches. In 2010 Swallow published Mixt Salads, a cookbook full of recipes in the Mixt Greens style.

Mixt Greens tries to source most of its ingredients locally, but its commitment to ecologically friendly practices is threaded through every level of the chain’s operation—not just on the menu. The restaurant pioneered the use of biodegradable corn-based plastics—known as PLA—for its takeout containers. Biodegradeable food containers were still relatively new to the food market when Mixt Greens opened its doors in 2005. Mixt nonetheless made a firm commitment that all of its takeout packaging would be biodegradable, from lids to bags to straws and utensils. In-store, the restaurant relies on reusable china and silverware to minimize waste, despite its casual lunch niche. It also offers free flavored waters to discourage bottled water use.

The restaurant locations themselves are built according to green principles, utilizing recycled paint and formaldehyde-free plywood, compact fluorescent lighting along with natural lighting, and energy-efficient appliances. Mixt composts 90% of its kitchen waste and purchases power from sustainable sources. The company supports groups such as Slow Food USA, The Business Council on Climate Change, and The Community Alliance With Family Farmers. Some locations even feature an “edible wall” of hydroponically grown salad greens and herbs ready for daily harvest.

Mixt Greens quickly began garnering accolades. Nation’s Restaurant News named Mixt Greens a 2011 Hot Concept winner. Citysearch proclaimed it “Best Lunch Spot,” “Best Salad” and “Best Healthy Food.” Local culture magazine 7×7 named the restaurant one of the “Very Best of San Francisco.”

Mixt currently has locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This puts Mixt at the forefront of a new trend—eco-conscious chain restaurants. With casual lunch joints like Mixt embracing sustainable practices, green dining is no longer confined to upscale establishments. Now even weekly takeout lunches in bustling business districts can be both eco-friendly and delicious.

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