Paper plates to stay: Project H2O not washed up yet

When car washes were ordered to close back in September, restaurant owners shook in their shoes; after all, if such harsh punishment could come down on one industry, what would prevent a similar fate from befalling another?

Desperate to protect their livelihoods, they formed Project H2O, a collective of environment-oriented restaurateurs determined to police themselves. They agreed to serve only bottled water, to supply hand sanitizer in customer bathrooms, to use disposable plates, and to not offer refills on fountain drinks. As grass browned and shriveled and the ground cracked, such restrictions seemed sensible.

But several heavy rains and the reduction of public water consumption by 50 percent since July have replenished reservoirs from a low of near 50 percent up to 80 percent. In fact, as of Halloween, car washes were permitted to resume conducting business using public water (see News story on page seven). So what will restaurants do now?

The majority of the 40-strong coalition plan to hang in with the drought relief plan, at least until a meeting later this month, says Alice Kim, co-owner of Oxo restaurant on Water Street, and a co-founder of the Project.

"By us staying for a little while longer, we're an educational tool," explains Kim. "We don't want to give a false sense of security."

Kim says the recent rains have made some customers wonder how long restrictions will last. She has heard some comments concerning the use of plastic plates and Oxo's sale of $5 bottles of Evian and $4 bottles of San Pellegrino. But she denies charges of profiteering like the one made in this week's letter section on page five.

"We're spending a lot of money to help the water situation," Kim says. Using a special kind of plastic plates that cost approximately 50 cents each results in an expense of $3-4 per person. "It's not even balancing it out," she says.

Despite the high price of her plastic, Kim says that for now Oxo and other Project H2O members will continue to absorb the cost. The city and county will lift water restrictions from both private residents and businesses when reservoir levels reach 85 percent and hold that level for seven days. Kim says Project H2O will seriously consider changing their policy at that time and the issue will be raised at the November 26 meeting at 4pm in the Mudhouse's Smart Room– but there are those who believe they should take it a step further.

"Some think we should stay with the city," she says. "Others think we should make a point," Kim says, by keeping the changes in place even after the city lifts its restrictions.


Royal buffet?

 The former Wood Grill Buffet spot has sat empty for many months now, with nothing but a teasing sign promising a "Super Buffet" coming soon out front. Dish couldn't get any information out of the leasing agent, Hal Brownfield, who said the new occupant didn't want his or her identity revealed, but a little roadblock never stopped Dish.

A few well placed calls, and we had our answer: It seems the force behind China King Buffet, the gi-normous Mongolian grill and Asian buffet in the former Katie's Country Club space, will play a part in the new Super Buffet.

Gui Chen, whose family owns the China King as well as several other regional restaurants, says he and an unnamed partner hope to open in the former Wood Grill space in the near future. No opening date has been set, but Chen says details of the new space will be forthcoming in a few weeks.