Berkeley restaurants

Restaurant owners eye electric kitchens as gas restrictions increase

As more municipalities, particularly in California, place restrictions on the use of gas-powered appliances in new construction, some restaurants may need to consider converting their operations to electric equipment.

Los Angeles was the latest city to introduce legislation banning the use of gas appliances in newly constructed buildings, following dozens of other California municipalities that have implemented or proposed such restrictions, citing the health and environmental impacts of using natural gas as an energy source. .

The California Restaurant Association (CRA) has filed a lawsuit against Berkeley, filed three years ago when that city became the first in the nation to impose restrictions on gasoline, alleging energy regulations fall under the responsibility of the federal government. The case has reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the CRA expects a decision this fall, said Jot Condie, CRA president and CEO.

“Obviously our hope was to get a faster resolution to the dispute and prevent other cities from doing the same,” he told NRN.

Instead, each municipality that followed in Berkeley’s footsteps adopted its own version of gas restrictions, Condie explained, creating a patchwork of different restrictions around the state.

“It underlines for us why this is a very sloppy and irresponsible way of doing energy policy, city by city, city by city,” he said.

It seems many cities have taken a “me too” approach, he said, without analyzing the impact of the restrictions or the actual environmental benefits. He noted that some cities have given exemptions to restaurants, but that could also cause problems if it ends up driving up gas prices for the few remaining users.

“Our hope is that the court will rule in our favor, and if it doesn’t, we’ll look at our options and maybe appeal and pursue this,” Condie said. “If we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court, we can.”

Proponents of gas restrictions point to research showing that gas stoves emit toxic gases, which they say can harm the health of workers, and they also cite carbon emissions released into the atmosphere via the burning of fossil fuels.

The American Gas Association (AGA), which like the ARC opposes restrictions on the use of gas appliances, said the direct use of natural gas in homes and businesses “represents only ‘between 4% and 6% of a State’s total emissions’. and that in fact natural gas can be part of the energy efficiency solution.

“NOTNatural gas, natural gas utilities and delivery infrastructure are critical to meeting our country’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals,” said Dan Lapato, general manager of state affairs at AGM.

Many restaurants that operate in California appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach as the CRA litigation plays out in court.

“To date, gas stove policies have not impacted PF Chang’s,” said Brad Hill, chief financial officer of PF Chang’s, which is based in Phoenix but has more than two dozen locations in California. “However, we are closely monitoring the matter to ensure compliance with regulations in the markets we serve.”

A “period of transition”

Richard Young, director of education at the Food Service Technology Center, which offers energy efficiency testing and guidance to foodservice operators, said the restaurant industry is in a “period of transition” during which many operators will take a closer look at their power supply. and equip their restaurants. He pointed out that non-commercial foodservice operators on the cutting edge of sustainability, such as high-end corporate offices and some college and university campuses, have been considering all-electric kitchens for some time. A handful of restaurant chains, such as Chick-fil-A, have also operated all-electric kitchens, he said.

Chick-fil-A, which operates restaurants nationwide, including in California, did not respond to an email request for comment.

“When we start talking about the local Thai restaurant or a family-run Italian restaurant, that’s when I see things get a little sticky,” Young said. “They’re just trying to stay alive day to day, and for them this technology shift will be more of a challenge.”

The added burden of retrofitting kitchens with electrical equipment could be crippling for many operators, he said, especially given the difficult recovery the industry has faced following the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young noted, however, that operators can find similarly priced electric equivalents for most of their gas appliances, though they’ll likely cost more to run. Induction cooking equipment, which is powered by electricity but generates heat through its magnetic connection with metal cookware, has higher initial costs, but running costs are expected to remain low. about the same as gas due to better efficiency, he said.

Restaurants go electric

Photo: Proponents of gas restrictions cite research showing gas stoves emit toxic gases.

Michael Godlewski, chef/owner of EYV Hospitality in Pittsburgh, said the veggie restaurant he plans to open this fall (EYV stands for Eat Your Veggies) will feature all-electric appliances in the kitchen, including hotplates. induction cooking. The decision was not imposed by government regulation, but by his own choice after working in other electric kitchens.

“It’s just more efficient than gas,” Godlewski said. “And we are looking at how to improve the lives of workers. We have a relatively small space, so having gas stoves on all day creates a very hot environment. »

Another benefit of induction cooking, he said, is more efficient use of space. The restaurant will be able to place induction cooktops on top of a cooling unit and can also use them off-site for catering events.

“Almost anything you can do on a gas stove or in a gas oven can be done with an induction oven, combi oven or electric equipment,” Godlewski said.

Justin Lee, chef/owner of Fat Choy in New York, has been able to do just about anything he wishes he could in his all-electric kitchen, thanks in large part to his induction cooktop.

“It’s a workhorse for the kitchen,” he said. “I love induction — it’s much faster, easier to clean, and there’s a lot more control over temperatures. It really is a great way to cook.

Lee said that in some ways he would prefer to use gas at Fat Choy, but the location already had electrical hookups when he moved in. The biggest challenge has been using a small electric countertop fryer, which he hopes to one day replace with a larger gas-powered one.

He said he sees how it could be a challenge for some restaurants, such as those that rely on wok cooking, to transition to electric, especially if they are forced to do so by government regulations without compensation for their efforts. He also said there could be an industry-wide domino effect if operators in certain markets suddenly start buying up all the electrical equipment available.

“If I want to buy an electric fryer, am I now going to be competing with everyone in LA because they’re all going electric?” Lee asked.

Rethink the kitchen

Christopher Galarza, a culinary sustainability consultant at Forward Dining Solutions, was the chef at Chatham University’s Eden Hall, which he described as the nation’s first all-electric campus dining operation. He said the industry needed to rethink its operations behind the scenes.

“The whole kitchen needs to be redesigned, and since the days of Escoffier there hasn’t really been a holistic look at how a kitchen works,” he said, referring to the “kitchen brigade” system created by Georges Auguste Escoffier in the late 1800s.

Galarza, an induction cooking enthusiast, noted that induction cooking offers several advantages over gas, including the fact that it releases less heat in the kitchen.

“The idea that you can’t produce quality without gas just isn’t true,” he said. “Gas was originally needed to move away from coal, but it’s been 100 years now.”

Alexander Poulos, president of Southern California-based Jade Range and Beech Ovens, said he has yet to see a change in demand in California due to new regulations. His company, however, worked with Microsoft to develop a new induction wok cooking system for the tech giant’s corporate campus in Redmond, Wash.

“It has other applications in industry, but that’s where our launch point was,” said Poulos, who said other products are being developed that he can’t yet. discuss.

“Most of our energies have been invested in gas equipment, but now we are putting our energies into electricity,” he said. “We are only at the beginning here.”