The DoubleTree alongside the Animas River in Durango, Colorado

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Trailblazing Hotel First in Durango to Embrace Sustainable Food Waste Solutions

Life for Katie Bogacz was like a high-flying dirigible when she first came to Durango. She was floating along on high hopes and big dreams. But then the big balloon crash-landed. A relationship shattered. Dreams crumbled. Plans collapsed.

Luckily, the scrappy, creative chef had a talent for making the extraordinary from practically nothing. Bogacz quickly cooked up a new life that exceeds her former expectations and simultaneously places her at the forefront of food waste mitigation in Durango’s hospitality sector.

family dinner scene“What I really like to do at home is Iron Chef it! What’s in the pantry? Let’s go!” says Bogacz, former Executive Chef at the Animas River Grille and Lounge in Durango’s DoubleTree hotel. Newly installed as the Food and Beverage Director, Bogacz recounts how on a recent evening, her Iron Chef approach to family dinner resulted in a braised pork butt with cannellini beans, crushed tomatoes in a red wine base, all topped with parmesan.

Cooking came into Bogacz’s life early on. As she recalls, “My grandparents are the ones who drove my cooking hobby. They’re big foodies. They always took us to nice restaurants. My grandfather had a membership at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Every summer, I’d go down there and they’d take me in the back kitchen and show me how to cook. And there I am, the same height as the prep table so I always remember doing things like that.”

She worked at a pizza parlor as a teen and then studied at a culinary school before taking on full-time work in the hospitality industry. Working for hotels allowed Bogacz to travel. She basked in exotic locations and luxurious surroundings. She moved to Durango to pursue a romantic relationship that ultimately fizzled.

The life she’d envisioned disappeared. Bogacz drew on her Iron Chef instincts and deviated from the scripted recipe. She cleverly utilized the resources she had on hand and wound up with a life that felt much more like a feast.

First, she found work as a sous chef at the DoubleTree’s Animas River Grille and Lounge. In addition to a job, she found other delightful surprises. She notes, “That’s where I met my husband. And now we’re married and have kids—fairytale story!”

Eco on the Go

Professionally, Bogacz has also deviated from the old recipes that historically made hotels some of the world’s largest contributors to the waste streams that intensify human-driving climate disruptions. Due to their immense size and 24-hour operation cycle, hotels are major emitters of carbon dioxide and other waste streams.

Globally, the different sectors of the tourism and hospitality sectors have made tremendous strides to reduce waste, pollution, and habitat destruction in recent decades. Compared to their global peers, U.S. hotels use the least water and electricity per occupied room.

Hotels and motels must play a role in shrinking their environmental footprints or else they risk hoisting themselves on their own petards. Severe weather disasters resulting from climate change hamper travel. Failing to adopt authentic green action diminishes their stature within the local communities where they operate. Furthermore, ignoring sustainability could put a hotel out of business. Survey data from 2022 revealed that 78% of travelers now seek eco-friendly lodgings. At present, green-tourism, or sustainable travel, is a $181 billion market.

Hilton Hotels, which is DoubleTree’s parent company, is on the short-list of major chains that champion genuine, data-driven sustainability efforts. The chain ultimately wants to be the greenest of all hotel chains and has set aggressive 2030 benchmarks to cut various waste streams by half or more.

Reducing or eliminating food waste is the newest target to land on the industry’s radar. Food waste costs hotels $1 trillion annually. Kitchen scraps, spoiled stockpiles, and expired buffet items rank among the largest causes of hospitality food waste. Globally, all hotels contribute roughly 1%, or 36.3 billion tons, CO2 to the atmosphere. That’s about as much as 46 million family households.

Pictured above (from left): 1.) The DoubleTree’s signage acts as a beacon in a snowstorm; 2.) Toasty fires and warm drinks adorn the outdoor beer garden at the Animas River Grille & Lounge; 3.) the frosty river trail runs right through the DoubleTree’s “backyard.” All pictures courtesy of the DoubleTree.

Trail-braising

To do its part in the crusade against polluting landfills with food waste, the DoubleTree signed on for food scrap pickup service with Table to Farm Compost (T2F).

“I’m excited about composting! I’m grateful to have an opportunity to do what’s right!” Bogacz says.

At present, kitchen scraps from the Animas River Grill and Lounge go into a 64-gallong roll-away tote. During the typical winter lull in local tourism, it takes week or so to fill the tote. Bogacz estimates the kitchen will likely fill the tote daily when the hotel hits its seasonal spring, summer, and fall strides. That estimate would sideline over 62,800 pounds of food from the landfill—or the equivalent of two blue whales!

Long before DoubleTree signed up for compost pickup service, the back-of-house crew was already diverting a lot of its food waste. A member of the kitchen staff would fill up various bulk containers with scraps and cart them home to the family’s compost pile. By reusing empty 5-gallon mayonnaise jars, the kitchen diverted 15-20 gallons of food from the waste stream every day.

Bogacz notes that the DoubleTree had a solid recycling culture already in place. She notes, “We have glass recycling and cardboard recycling and paper recycling already. We’ve been doing that forever.”

According to Bogacz, DoubleTree plans to expand the composting from the kitchen to the front of house services and then into the employee cafeteria, as well. “I’d like to grow it as much as we can,” she attests.

Currently, leftovers on plates are not scraped into the compost tote. That process is going to require some training on how to sort what can and cannot go to T2F. Moving section by section, they hope to be totally free of food waste in the near future.

The curbside pickup not only reduces waste from the city’s overall waste streams, but it also trims financial waste from the hotel’s budget. “It’s going to be taking away our costs for trash,” Bogacz explains.

Be Our Guest

Having an eco-friendly hotel is not just a bonus for tourists; it’s a boon to locals, too. As Bogacz explains, “A lot of people think the restaurant in the hotel is for hotel guests and it is not! We’re open all the time. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We have our bar that’s open every night from 3-11pm. We’re a great spot to watch games. We’ve got TVs. We’re the only place in town with a restaurant right on the river!”

scenic riverfront views from the beer garden patio

Business meetings. Lunch meetings. Even a knitting club will feel at home meeting at the restaurant. The back dining room is available for holiday parties, teacher groups, and get-togethers. And because the DoubleTree sports the largest venue in town for group events, it is an ideal place to book a banquet, weddings, sweet-sixteen, or memorial. Even the scenic beer garden can be booked for a private party, May through October.

Visitors to the beer garden in 2024 can expect to see bigger blooms and brighter colors across its lush flowerbeds and hanging planters as the hotel’s landscaping will be nourished by T2F’s high-quality, nutrient-dense compost. The Table to Farm model is a cyclical exchange, meaning that household and commercial clients receive a free dividend of the compost that their food scraps helped to create.

“Composting is something that everybody should be doing. I’m surprised it’s not mandated throughout the city because why wouldn’t we? It’s a benefit for you, me, and everyone else,” Bogacz points out. Even more miraculous than making something out of nothing, composting turns trash into treasure.

To learn more about the Animas Grille and Lounge, stop by the DoubleTree at 501 Camino del Rio. To learn more about commercial composting services, contact Grady Turner at 970-601-3113 or info@tabletofarmcompost.com.