June 21, 2007 issue

Green Canyons

Canyons of the Blue Ridge Owner Bart Conway Goes Green

In an effort to reduce waste and protect the environment, Bart Conway, owner of Canyons of the Blue Ridge, now uses to go boxes made from potato residue and to go cups made from corn residue. Both products are 100 percent compostable. “That means it doesn’t stay on the earth for 5,000 years,” said Conway. Photo by Sam CalhounStory by Sam Calhoun

The canyons of Blowing Rock just got a little greener.

No, it’s not that the Globe Project has been abandoned or new additions to the greenway, it’s actually taking place inside at Canyons of the Blue Ridge.

In the past year, Bart Conway, owner of Canyons of the Blue Ridge, has implemented three environmentally friendly practices within his famous restaurant that overlooks the canyons below Blowing Rock. An initiative that started with a switch to fluorescent light bulbs snowballed over the last year and now Conway is using 100 percent compostable materials for his to go boxes and cups, as well as running his restaurant’s heating system off used fryer oil.

“I feel like I didn’t know I was green until I just fell into it and now I’m hooked,” said Conway. “It’s not just for the environment, it’s also a wonderful marketing tool. But it’s also the right thing to do.”

Less than a year ago, Conway threw out all of his regular light bulbs and replaced them with fluorescents. He estimates that the switch is saving him 50 to 60 percent—or around $1,000—on his monthly power bill.

“When I have to light 5,000 to 6,000 square feet, it saves a fortune,” said Conway. “It was a matter of survival. I originally wanted a windmill, but that didn’t happen.”

The water and air at Canyons of the Blue Ridge are heated using a 50/50 mix of used fryer oil and regular fuel oil. Conway hired a local man to customize his furnace to run on the renewable energy. “I know nothing,” said Conway. “[The guy who installed the furnace] did everything.” In lieu of the windmill, Conway expanded his green practices beyond lighting.

Conway decided he wanted to recycle his used fryer oil, so he commissioned a local man to customize his furnace to use the oil to heat the restaurant’s air and water. Subsisting on the fryer oil from Canyons’ kitchen and a reserve of regular fuel oil, Conway’s new system burns a 50/50 mix of fuel oil and the used fryer oil. The change not only recycles the oil that Conway would have had to pay to dispose of but also saves him roughly 50 percent on his heating bill and reduces the amount of pollutants emitted through operation by 50 percent. He claims that he only had to fill up his regular fuel oil tank twice last winter and he still boasts a 400-gallon reserve of used fryer oil in his basement.

Conway’s fryer oil is also healthier to begin with. Conway uses Canadian fry oil that utilizes hybrid seeds that have no trans-fats, thus it doesn’t congeal and clog people’s arteries. As an added bonus, the oil also doesn’t congeal and clog his furnace.   

Taking his green thinking a step further, Conway recently introduced 100 percent compostable to go cups and boxes, creating a dramatic reduction in his restaurant’s Styrofoam consumption.

Noticing that his employees regularly used and threw away roughly 50 Styrofoam cups every day and feeling guilty about the number of Styrofoam to go boxes passed out to customers, Conway found a company called Excellent Packaging in California that offered to go cups made from corn residue and to go boxes made from potato residue. Both products are 100 percent compostable as well as fully functional.

Conway made a stamp for the boxes that alerts customers that they can place them in a compost bin after they are done using them.

“Customers used to look at me funny when I told them it was compostable,” said Conway. “I tell them, ‘That means it doesn’t stay on the earth for 5,000 years.”

The new boxes and cups are good for the environment but not for Conway’s checkbook—both are double the price compared to their Styrofoam equivalents. Once more restaurants in the area start using the products, Conway hopes he can spilt the shipping cost of getting the products, thus reducing the price.         

Canyons of the Blue Ridge is located at 8960 Valley Boulevard in Blowing Rock.