Garlic Herb Buttered doughballs. Served at the Old Market Assemblies
A conversation with Anna Blightman from the Assemblies family of restaurants
by Aimee Rigby/5th-April-2021
So, thank you for joining us on Zero Waste code. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and the sustainable restaurant family, The Assemblies?
Yeah, sure. So, my name is Anna, I am the marketing manager across the three sites.
We’re based in Bristol. And we have three venues, the oldest one of which is The Canteen. And that started in 2009. Then Number 1 Harborside, opened in 2011, with the last one, the Old Market Assembly opening in 2015.
And across all the sites, sustainability is right at our core, and has been ever since we opened with just making sure that we adhere to sustainable practices as much as we possibly can. We’re proud to be three-star members of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which sort of holds us in check yearly to go through a checklist to make sure that we can maintain that rating, and we’re doing everything that we can and also be able to set ourselves new targets for the for the following year as well.
Fantastic. So, what sort of sustainable practices do you employ across your three venues?
So, like I mentioned, with the Sustainable Restaurant Association, they have a 10 point checklist and we make sure we adhere to those.
Firstly, we use as much as possible local and seasonal, both suppliers and produce. And we work closely with some small farmers, as well as bigger operations. But we are particularly proud of; there’s one guy called Humphrey who runs a little farm called Edible Futures, which is based in Bristol. And he comes and brings his produce to us on his bicycle. And it’s really lovely.
And then we also look at the sort of whole project of sustainability, making sure that we waste no food in our kitchens, to all the recycling that we do to the energy that we use, it’s really across the board. And then we make sure that each of the restaurants is working with each other as well. So, they’re sharing tips and advice as to what they can do.
Fantastic. So, you mentioned it briefly there, could you tell us a bit more about your Waste No Food policy?
Yes, sure. So, we’ve been quite conscious of wasting with food waste, and everything. And it’s been a huge movement.
Over the last few years, there’s lots of ways people can get involved with it. And we regularly update our Waste No Food or food waste policy, we particularly look at making sure that we have smaller portions available on request for people so that that’s an immediate start to, to being able to make sure that we don’t have people ordering too much.
And then we also adopt a ‘use every part of the animal’ or plant that we can.
And that entails all sorts of stuff from using the bones to make soups or sauces or broths at the at the end of the day.
And then the peelings from vegetables that we use, we make sure that they’re sort of chopped up and we had this wonderful peelings pakoras on the menu for a while, which was so tasty and so rich, full of nutrients.
And we also make sure that any excess prep is always frozen down.
Excess food will be, if there’s any leftover at the end of the day, we do tend to start to give that away a bit to our customers late into the day. We offer 100% recyclable, biodegradable takeout, if people can’t finish what they’ve got on their plate to make sure that we’re not just throwing away, and they get a chance to enjoy it again.
Our Operations Manager also takes quite a lot of our coffee waste over to his allotment, which is a really lovely thing.
And we are enrolled in sort of quite a few waste schemes, particularly with our bins suppliers, Waste Source; they help us to send out weekly reports so that we can really monitor what waste we’re using, and how and where we can reduce it.
And throughout the pandemic we just started- so we’re open just on the weekends at the moment as a takeaway. And then on a Monday, our head chef comes in and prepares meals for a local charitable initiative called Cheers Drive, where any veg or excess stuff that has been left over will go into that dish that he makes, he’s making like a bulk order of dishes that can be frozen and then delivered out to homeless people, or people suffering from the effects of what’s happened in the pandemic, in terms of not being able to access food.
Yeah, that’s really lovely. So, you’ve obviously got, you know, a clear focus on sustainability as a family. Are there any ways you try and engage your customers with sustainability? Obviously, if they’re choosing to eat your restaurants, they’re going to be faced with sustainability. Is there any way you can try and engage them?
Yeah, we’re always trying to make them aware of what our practices are. So, we do do a lot on our menus, we will talk about what we’re doing when in terms of our waste and our sustainable practices.
We also last Christmas, not last Christmas, the Christmas before, we’ve been living in a weird world of Christmases. We, rather than giving sort of plastic crackers, we tried to eliminate all that waste on the table for diners that come in. But we still would like to be able to give them a gift away; it’s Christmas, everybody likes to get something different at Christmas. So, it would have been Christmas 2019. We, rather than put crackers on the table, we gave everyone that dined with us for Christmas meal, a packet of seeds that we then encouraged them to go away and plant; they were chard seeds, we encouraged them to go away and plant so that they could then benefit from the use of the seeds and make themselves, grow themselves some chard. And we also planted some of these seeds. And were telling the journey of what happened with the seeds. And the idea was that we were going to, we probably wouldn’t have ever got quite enough to be able to put it totally on the menu. But the idea was that we would encourage them and start to develop recipes and suggestions of what they could do with the chard. But that all got a little bit put on hold due to the crisis.
Yeah. So yeah, speaking of the pandemic, you mentioned that you’re doing sort of takeaways, is that the only way that you’re sort of restaurants have been operating throughout the pandemic?
Yes, it is. I mean, we opened briefly in the summer, when we could and at that point, we sort of scaled back the menus quite a lot because we needed to streamline the business quite heavily. But yeah, we have been operating on a weekend take away, two of the sites have been open for that. And I mean, it’s, you know, we went from three busy sites down to one, three-night week, pizza delivery, we’re lucky that we were set up for that, and that we’ve got the great pizza ovens that we use in one of our venues. So, we’ve been able to use those for more than one site to be able to get delivery out. But yeah, it’s been a long, strange road, particularly at the end of last year where we could open for a bit and then close again, and then open for a bit. And so yeah, at the moment we’re sticking with our, with our pizza delivery on the weekend.
Above images: One of the lovely meals able to be served when they re-open and the delivery pizza they do now!
The three sites part of the Assemblies Group –
NUMBER 1 HARBOUR SIDE
THE CANTEEN BRISTOL
OLD MARKET ASSEMBLY
So, do you think the sort of ethos and focus on sustainability in hospitality has been affected by the pandemic in any way? Obviously, people started to focus more on it. And then this, you know, world changing thing happened, do you think it’s taken any focus away from it?
I think that, unfortunately, hospitality, all businesses have been having to rethink what they’re doing because the fact that there’s basically no money coming in.
And I do feel that there may have been a few questions around the affordability of it, because there’s always been, it’s well known that it can, it can be a bit more expensive to bring in the produce in the first place.
But I do think that this has been a real opportunity for all business, all hospitality businesses across the board, to really, really focus in and look on what it is that they’re doing, what it is that they’re spending, what it is that they’re wasting. It’s almost like we’ve had a chance to hit a sort of reset button whilst trying to continue to fly the plane and build the plane and all sorts of things.
But it‘s been a real opportunity because there has been for myself, I’m a part time furlough at the moment. So, I do have some time that I wouldn’t necessarily have in order to look a bit deeper into a few more of the practices and we have, this lockdown three, so as of the beginning of this year, we have made a point of ensuring that we do training with all our team once a week.
On a number of things, but sustainability has been something that we have focused on quite a lot for them to really just reignite the passion and the understanding of why we do it, why we want things to be sustainable.
It’s not, it’s not just a badge for us, we really want to do it. And we really believe in it. And we have noticed that where we may be wanted to encourage our team more, so they fully understand it.
So, we’ve had guest speakers come in. And we’ve done a bit of work with the SRA, and we’ve been doing quizzes with our team afterwards, and really sort of trying to get them involved so that they have a full understanding so that when we do open, we can open and everyone can be on the same page, and we can be stronger for it. Because we really don’t want to sacrifice any of the sustainable methods or practices or the food waste policies or our sourcing policy or any of that. It’s really important to us to continue to have that at the forefront of everything we do. And I do think that also, from a customer point of view, everybody has had a chance to have a look at what they do, what they think, where they get their food from.
I know that there’s been a big upsurge in people ordering locally and buying, buying more of their stuff locally, and a slight move away from ‘let’s just get it all and get it all quick’ and get it all in and people have really started to open up their eyes a little bit to it. And again, I think to use an overused word over the last few months, an unprecedented time, and I do you think it’s been a really great time for this reset button, and to really focus in on why you do what you do.
Definitely. So, finally, where can our listeners find out more about your venues?
Yeah, so we are all based in Bristol, like I mentioned, each of the venues has a website which we update regularly with our policies and things that we’re doing. The canteen is www.canteenbristol.co.uk , Number 1 harborside is www.no1harbourside.co.uk and Old Market Assembly is www.oldmarketassembly.co.uk. We’re also across the social platforms. We put out quite a lot of stuff on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and they are all as the website’s addresses. All the handles are on there.
Fantastic Well, thank you so much for your time and for coming on the podcast. That’s great.
That’s alright. You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.