FOOD- THE DISH- Leftovers: City, Mall restaurants talk trash

Behind Bizou on the Downtown Mall, GreenerOil's Tripper Christie sucks used restaurant cooking oil, which will be used to create biodiesel fuel, from one of the company's 200-gallon bins.

Recently, downtown restaurateurs met with city planners to discuss some proposed changes to the Mall following the $7.5 million brick replacement project, which is scheduled to begin in January. Some of those changes address the greasy, trashy underbelly of the downtown restaurant scene, where the backsides of buildings have become the seamy depositories for food, waste and trash.

As such, the City has proposed using 20 feet of current parking space on each intersection along Water and Market Streets as designated areas for trash containers and recycling bins, which the City would supply to businesses free of charge. The idea, explained chief city planner Jim Tolbert, is to get trash off the Mall and make it faster and easier to pick up.

The City also proposed reducing the amount of time that trash would be allowed to linger on the Downtown Mall, from 10pm to 8am only.

However, restaurateurs explained that no employees came in before 8am, and that it put an undue burden on their few late night employees. They also wondered about Sundays when many places aren't open. Shopkeepers pointed out that many of them didn't open until 10am and closed well before 10pm. After a show of hands, most preferred changing the time from 10pm to 10am.

 "None of this is written in stone," said public works director Judy Mueller. "We want to make it easy for you."

As for all that cooking grease and oil? Tolbert called that "a more difficult animal" and said the city may be working with cooking oil removal companies to address the issue. 

Currently, restaurants must haul their waste oil to designated bins, some of which are far away from their restaurants. However, companies like GreenerOil, a new Richmond-based company that sweeps in with their little tanker trucks to slurp away waste fryer oil from their spiffy 200-gallon tanks, which they provide to restaurants free of charge, are making it easier to get rid of the greasy stuff, and to feel better about doing it, as the oil is then recycled and used in the production of biodiesel fuel. 

As the Hook reported last week [Take-out: Mall renovation could shrink cafés, November 20, 2008 ], new proposals for trash and grease pick up weren't the only changes. Restaurant folks at the meeting were confounded to learn that the City doesn't want outdoor cafés spaces opening until after the Mall project is finished, around May 8, Tolbert said. In addition, café spaces would be moved away from the fountains, and all of them would be reduced to 700 square feet.

Under the proposed plan, Miller's, Rapture, Zocolo, Blue Light Grill, and Sal's would all see much of their outdoor seating capacity disappear. The plan was particularly disturbing to the folks at Miller's, who've "owned" their space so long it's become one of the iconic features of the Mall. 

"It would be strange to see an icon like that disappear," said Miller's manager Anna Harris. Prior to the meeting with City planners, Harris said she had collected 954 signatures on a petition asking the City to leave Miller's alone.

Help save the world with fondue? Don't mind if I do!

If the story of every ingredient in a chocolate bar were told, the sweet snack would be full of bitter tales.

Chocolate can come at a cost– not just to our waistlines but to global health. On Saturday, December 6, a small group of activists and friends hope to raise local awareness of human trafficking in the cocoa industry and fair trade products through the World's Largest Chocolate Fondue Party.

 "I love chocolate, and there's no reason to stop eating it! We just have to channel our purchasing power to sources that don't take advantage of, hurt, or abuse the lives of others," says Elisabeth Barahona, the event's co-organizer with her sister in-law, Anita Oliver. As she grew up in Ivory Coast in West Africa, one of the world's leading producers of cocoa, Barahona feels especially compelled to the cause.

 Charlottesville's satellite event is one among many around the world sponsored by Stop the Traffik, an organization that monitors slavery, but it's the only such event happening in Virginia. The party starts at 7:30pm at Rapture on the Downtown Mall. Tickets are only $5, and fair trade products will be available for sale, too.

 "We heard about Stop the Traffik's fondue party, and we wanted to take part," Oliver explains. "At first we were just going to do a home party with a few friends, but that didn't feel like enough, so here we are trying to put together a huge event– hopefully to get more people on board to help change the world one chocolate bar at a time."

 Questions? Email or call 434-242-4982.

Allen wishes Winky well

It appears that former Virginia governor and U.S. Senator George Allen (R) reads The Dish, as he had a post on his blog last week wishing Juanita "Winky" Hunt, who recently revived Big Jim's by opening Winky's in the same building on Angus Road, some good fortune. 

"Good luck to Winky as she starts her new business venture," wrote Allen, "keeping alive my favorite restaurant in Charlottesville."

In a 2002 Hook "HotSeat" story, Allen cited Big Jim's as his favorite Charlottesville restaurant.