In the Upper Midwest, you can't call your restaurant a supper club without conjuring certain associations. ¶ Meat and potatoes on the menu, dark wood paneling on the walls and a folksy atmosphere in the dining room are all hallmarks of a type of eating establishment common for decades in the rural environs of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. ¶ With her Red Stag Supper Club, restaurateur Kim Bartmann recycled these concepts with a modern twist — but that's not all she recycled.
The Red Stag, which opened late last year, is one of only a few restaurants in the country on its way to achieving the U.S. Green Building Council's nationally recognized standard for environmentally friendly design. It was designed and built to use about half the gas and electricity and 30 percent of the water of a typical restaurant its size.
In addition, major elements of its interior were made from existing materials. Tables came from doors that were discarded from a nearby condo project, and the bar is made of Italian marble salvaged from a local hotel.
Bartmann is hoping the certification, known as LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is good both for the environment and her bottom line. The energy and water efficiencies cost more up front, but Bartmann said she'll recoup that quickly in lower monthly costs.
And she said she saved so much by using salvage materials that her startup costs were about half the typical $1-million for a restaurant of similar size.
"You hear more and more people in the sustainability community shifting their conversations from the moral imperative to the business argument," Bartmann said. "It's kind of obvious that a 'It's just good business' argument is going to push things along a lot more rapidly than a moral imperative."
Restaurants generally consume the most energy of any type of retail business, and while many commercial and residential structures are now being built to LEED standards, restaurateurs have been slow to follow suit. Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council, said the agency has certified only seven restaurants so far.
"We'd like to see that grow," Katz said. "If you're operating a restaurant, you're using a lot of energy. Thirty to 50 percent energy savings, 30 percent of water usage — these are things you can really take to the bank."
Of course, a successful restaurant's main job is to attract hungry crowds. And in updating the supper club, Bartmann thinks she has found a winning formula.
Bartmann spent parts of her childhood in northern Wisconsin's lake country, where both locals and weekend visitors would gather at local supper clubs.
"The White Stag, Pitlik and Wick, Birch Bar — on Sunday they delivered a pot roast with canned green beans and mashed potatoes for $9.95, you know," Bartmann said. "You took your whole family, and you could stay for hours and feel comfortable and welcome."
Bartmann hired Bill Baskin, a local chef who interned at England's renowned Fat Duck, and they conceived a menu that's inspired by supper club fare, with plenty of meats and fried food — but aimed at a more sophisticated palate, and with entree prices a bit north of $9.95.
Bartmann said she liked the contrast between the "rural, almost redneck" reputation of the supper club and "the assumption that sustainability or green stuff is the work of crazy hippies."