This article was written by Laura Bonds. 

Where to find the best Memphis BBQ is a much-debated topic. What’s easy to agree on though, is the positive impact of Central BBQ’s efforts to run an environmentally-friendly operation. Central BBQ is a beloved Memphis staple that has been serving Memphians and out-of-towners for nearly two decades. “Best Memphis BBQ” is how Elizabeth Blondis describes Central BBQ. Elizabeth’s husband, Craig, together with business partner Roger Sapp, founded Central in 2002. Elizabeth served on the board of Project Green Fork for several years and leads Central’s environmental efforts. Central has undergone an evolution of sustainable practices and has been Project Green Fork certified for more than half of its time in business.

First and foremost, Central is committed to leading by example through its employees. “Being mindful is a big portion of this,” Elizabeth said. Central trains its staff on how to operate the business environmentally. The staff family, as she referred to the workers, is often unfamiliar with the Project Green Fork certification program, and Elizabeth is working to improve education on creating sustainable impact. By providing education and making an effort toward sustainable business practices, Central shapes the future of the restaurant industry one person and one project at a time.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again seems to be the motto for the barbecue joint’s sustainable practices. Through trial and error, Central honed its environmental strategies with Project Green Fork offering guidance along the way. Central attempted composting, recycling, and encouraging patrons to re-use their familiar Central BBQ cups. Eventually, they landed on a combination of composting and using eco-friendly products in their restaurants.

Due to their high-volume restaurant model, Central produces one of the largest amounts of waste of any Project Green Fork partner. The two businesses learned a lot in the early years of partnership. “Composting wasn’t it in the beginning,” Elizabeth explained. A good idea in theory, the amount of waste they produced was hard to maintain, and for a time, they abandoned composting. “It’s come a really, really long way,” said Elizabeth. Central now pilots a program with Atlas Organics, formerly Compost Fairy, to compost meat and bones, something that hadn’t been attempted before.

She encourages other businesses to commit to environmentally-friendly packaging for to-go orders, knowing the more businesses that get on board, the more the price of these items will go down, benefitting all. Central has long used reusable cups, an iconic element of its dining experience and a souvenir many Memphians collect in their homes. Recycling has brought its own set of unique challenges for Central, but the team is committed to finding a way for their business to make an impact in this area of sustainability in the future. Starting somewhere is better than nowhere, and Central has learned what works for its operations. 

Through its commitment to be sustainable, and in partnership with Project Green Fork, Central has unraveled some of the biggest challenges for high-volume businesses looking to be conscious of their environmental impact. Central identified problems and found solutions for challenges that don’t plague smaller restaurant operations as deeply. Project Green Fork and Central learned together about supporting a fast-paced restaurant business, helping strengthen Project Green Fork’s support for similar quick-turn restaurants. Elizabeth proudly stated, “Project Green Fork is instrumental in bringing awareness and knowledge to Memphis.” By creating a space for more businesses to adopt the high-volume sustainability model Central outlines, Central encourages other restaurant owners to be mindful of their practices and shows how it can be done.

Through her years of experience, Elizabeth learned running a business with the environment in mind is challenging, but running a high-volume business with the environment in mind is an entirely new hurdle. In partnership with Project Green Fork, Elizabeth and Central were able to make progress in their green practices, understanding roadblocks and building systems that support their restaurant. When you step up to the counter to order the famed Central BBQ nachos or a pulled pork sandwich, you can know that the meal will be served to you by a team with sustainability in mind.