sustainability.: In Convo with Bobby Roshan, a Year of Eliminating Cafe Waste

row your boat


When coffee shops do cool things, I get interested in their cool. This year, as I was deciding to bring more attention to our lifestyle of coffee culture and how sustainable the practice of drinking coffee and making it was, I discovered that Café Demitasse was devoting a year to decreasing its environmental footprint by tackling waste reduction. How perfect was that!

So, this year we partnered together, so that I could help bring attention to their efforts which have included tackling filters,straws, batch brewers.

For the last quarter of 2019, Bobby Roshan, its founder compost their coffee grounds with Sustainable Little Tokyo’s Cycle of Food Committee as well as maintaining their bins, donating pastries and baked goods to Food Finders and switching all of its café lights to LED as part of the long stretch at minimizing electric waste and achieving their Green Business license.

As I’ve read, watched and been a customer participating on the receiving end of these changes, it’s been inspiring to see how small change can really make big cents. After all, all revolutions start that way and then one day, what was once unseen by the masses becomes mainstream.

boat, dec. 30, 3019

“If we’re going to do something, we’ll try to do it right.”

c.: Did you have an aha moment during this year of focus to increasing your sustainable footprint. If so, when did it come and how did it reshape your business?

BOBBY ROSHAN.: Yes. The founder of Design by Freedom, (Freedom Gupta-Fonne) – an invention company on a mission to make trash history – came to LA and spent a day with me going from cafe to cafe to figure out how to better position her sleeves. As we drove around, she hit me with an insane amount of knowledge around not only issues concerning waste, but also around recycling and how recycling isn’t the silver bullet we all think it is. By the end of that day with her, I decided that we should do what little we could and hopefully move the needle a little bit.

c.: Along this journey you discussed challenges to become a more sustainable operation which also included looking for additional ways to become sustainable.

How did you balance the desire to make moves for the sake of sticking to your monthly goals versus change that made real sense?

BOBBY ROSHAN.: It definitely started to become tricky to find new ways to eliminate waste as time went on. I’m not sure we made moves for the sake of sticking to goals as much as we had to start looking at waste a little bit more expansively (ie not just paper and plastic waste, but food waste, electric waste). Sometimes, instead of just doing something for the sake of doing something, we’d extend something we’d done at one cafe to the others. I’ve never been one to blow smoke up people’s a*&. If we’re going to do something, we’ll try to do it right.

c.: Sustainability is a big topic. There’s a lot of smoke and whistles within it from recycling – what it is and how it can be done in the state of California; there’s talk about renewable energy for cafe setups and how sustainable is the design that accompany air and there are the incentivized measures that coffee shops can implement like their he bring your own mug programs to get customers on board.

What have you found that customers really want – if anything, besides their cup of coffee – and how have you met their needs?

“Start with small things that you can control that make absolutely no sense.”

BOBBY ROSHAN.: I’m very cynical about a lot of these things. Green washing is definitely a problem. The word sustainability doesn’t really have a real meaning. Something Freedom would point out to me was how stupid that word was – our system right now is a disaster that’s creating mountains of trash. Why would we want to sustain that? But I digress…

I’m honestly not sure customers ever demanded anything of us (other than Oatly oatmilk). Sometimes making a switch to something meant getting a ton of complaints (i.e. from plastic to paper to bamboo straws) or when we eliminated sugar packets. But when we did make some changes, I think it tuned in customers to their own habits and I would occasionally get an email from someone giving us kudos for taking steps to eliminate waste.

c.: As this year comes to an end, what has been a reward of making the effort to document the journey through a blog of maybe less than a dozen readers – joke – while also seeing your stores change its visual process and visual design?

BOBBY ROSHAN.: Folks who gave a s&%! enough to read in more detail. Honestly I think it was more for me to get things off my chest and explain to the ether why we were doing what we were doing and it seemed like a good enough place to keep a record of it. Honestly, the reward for me is when I get an odd email from a different cafe in some random city asking me where we got our bags from or from a customer asking me how they could reduce their waste footprint as a coffee consumer. 

c.: For other small business owners – how would you recommend they start making small change that makes real sense?

Start with small things that you can control that make absolutely no sense. For example, 99% of the time, people will use a wooden stir stick before they leave the cafe and throw it away. It’s not something taken with them. And it’s very cheap to replace with any number of items (I’ve seen pasta used).

A good starting point is to look at your typical “for here” drink and see how many different bits of that are creating waste and how you can eliminate that.

c.: And on that note, its the ethos to walk into a new decade. Eliminate. Sustain. Recreate. Reader: Where have you started? When will you start? Change is big cents.