At a neighbourhood diner in Vancouver, everything must go at the end of the day. Starting at 5 o’clock, anyone can walk in for a complimentary meal at Lupii Café.
“You can eat so I don’t have to put any of the food that I’ve made fresh for today into the landfill,” says restaurant owner Lisa Papania.
Lupii Café opened almost a year ago in Champlain Heights, on the southeast side of the city, as a zero-waste restaurant focused on serving the neighbourhood.
The environment and community are important for Papania. These are concepts she talks about as a lecturer on marketing and entrepreneurship at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.
“There’s no real importance for people to take care of the Earth if they don’t really care about the people who are living on the Earth,” she said.
According to Papania, protecting the environment and creating vibrant and healthy communities should go together.
In its daily operations, Lupii Café embodies the fusion of environmen-tal and social sustainability at the grassroots level. On the community side, the establishment prepares food at a price that many can afford.
Throughout the day, it offers a buffet of vegetarian dishes and dessert, plus coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, all for $5 per guest.
When the Georgia Straight visited the diner at 7743 Champlain Crescent on April 14, there was a pot of peanut curry with chickpeas. Another had cauliflower with jalapeño. A third crock had lentils and pasta. There was a big bowl of eggs with cheese. Also available were two kinds of yogurt, bread, cookies, smoothies, hot drinks, and fresh fruit.
Papania said that she made enough food for a hundred people. “We never know how many people are going to be coming through the café at any point in time,” she said, “and because my mandate is to not have any waste, at the end of the day, I want people in this neighbourhood to be able to eat.”
Earlier in the morning, one of the café’s employees, Carrie Cassidy, hosted her regular Thursday neighbourhood drop-in for moms with young kids. And every Wednesday, Alan Wong, former manager of Champlain Video, which used to operate at the café’s current spot, does his homework club to help kids with their school lessons.
Since the restaurant opened last May, Lupii Café has been hosting free monthly community dinners.
For its coffee and chocolate, the restaurant buys from East Van Roasters, a social enterprise. The supplier employs residents of the Rainier Hotel, a Vancouver Downtown Eastside housing facility that supports women recovering from alcohol and drug addictions.
Papania and her husband, Daniel, do not take compensation from the café revenues. Daniel teaches management-information systems at UBC and is working on his doctoral degree. They employ local people at above-average wages.
Through food and community events, Lupii Café aims to connect people. According to Papania, if people know each other they will likely take more responsibility for the things they do.
“One of the things that I’ve always found is that people go, ‘It’s just me. It’s just me throwing my piece of garbage away,’ ” she said, using recycling as an example. “And if everyone is ‘just me’, and if you’ve got a billion people acting the same way, it’s destructive.”
As an academic, Papania teaches her SFU students about the value of reducing waste. She takes them to the landfill to recover wood and other materials that they use to make new objects.
At Lupii Café, nothing goes to waste. There are no disposable cups, cutlery, or napkins. Clients can take out coffee in mason jars with a returnable deposit of $2. The food counter, tables, and chairs are made of reclaimed wood.
Fruit and vegetable scraps are taken to a nearby farm in Burnaby and fed to animals. Coffee grounds and other byproducts are composted.
“The things that I teach and the things that I have been researching have always been about how we start to make better things, [and] how we make better choices,” Papania said.
The SFU lecturer noted that, generally, changing people’s behaviour is not easy.
“We have so many cultural habits around taking more food than we need, buying more food than we need, [and] buying food that we don’t need and wasting it,” she said.
Papania, her husband, and their young daughter are long-time residents in Champlain Heights. She said that opening Lupii Café has made them closer to their neighbours. According to her, many community members have embraced the model of sustainability embodied by the café, and this has given her faith in the capacity of humankind to take care of its people and the planet.
“If we do this more,” Papania said, “I think there is an opportunity to change the way we live.”