This PGF story was written by Laura Bonds.
At age 13 Sarah Cai moved from Memphis to China when her family relocated due to her father’s job. For six years she and her family traveled around Southeast Asia experiencing cultures and learning about the food of different countries. For Sarah, this was the first time she tried many of these cuisines. She fell in love with food and cooking because of these travels and knew she wanted to go into the culinary business eventually. After college, she worked at several restaurants and began developing her expertise in sustainable restaurant programs until she found her way to opening Good Fortune Co., South Main’s newest restaurant.
The dream of owning her own restaurant and sharing her love of Asian cuisine became reality for Sarah in late August when Good Fortune Co. opened its doors. When asked how to describe her business in a few words, Sarah was quick to respond, “handmade noodles and dumplings.” But the swanky new eatery in Memphis’ South Main district is more than just trendy décor and good food. Good Fortune Co. is mindful of its impact on the environment as it produces food from the heart.
Sarah’s experience traveling and working in the culinary scene prepared her for the adventure of opening Good Fortune Co. Her roots of curbing environmental impact date back to her first jobs in restaurants where she implemented composting practices and encouraged colleagues to become conscious of their environmental impact. Sarah believes everyone should play a role, and “minimizing food waste goes hand in hand with being a chef.” She learned valuable lessons from implementing composting systems at multiple restaurants, which prepared her to open Good Fortune Co. with confidence.
Before opening, Sarah knew she wanted Good Fortune Co. to be conscious of food waste and searched online for the best way to do that in her new space. Project Green Fork came up in her searches and when they reached out, her minimum waste and composting plans were seamlessly integrated into Good Fortune Co. from the beginning. “When I heard about the whole program, I was so excited to become a part of it,” Sarah said of joining the Project Green Fork network of certified restaurants. She’s inspired that Project Green Fork exists to hold businesses accountable, and “to celebrate them when they do make achievements.” When the restaurant opened its doors on August 25, it immediately began operating as a limited food waste restaurant, a testament to Sarah’s passion for environmentally-friendly protocol in her restaurant and Project Green Fork’s partnership.
When the building Good Fortune Co. now occupies was put on the market, Sarah inquired about the space. She developed a good relationship with the landlord and felt the South Main Memphis space would be the perfect place to bring Good Fortune Co. to life. During the renovation, she and her partner reused what they could, including repurposing wood from the bar, redoing the host stand and refurbishing the tables and chairs left by their predecessor, South of Beale. The mindset of using what they have and limiting waste carries through to the restaurant’s food waste practices.
From the get-go, Good Fortune Co. had a big demand from customers wanting to try out the new restaurant. A good problem to have, Sarah says the demand also poses a challenge to Good Fortune Co.’s sustainable efforts. Because the restaurant is so busy, it can be tough to keep up with the amount of food composted. However, Sarah explained, “one of the things I’ve always been passionate about is composting,” and the Good Fortune Co. staff is incredibly receptive to it, understands its importance and makes it a priority in the kitchen. Currently, Good Fortune Co. fills two large containers of compost each week, but could easily double that; Sarah says it’s a matter of getting that much compost picked up, but she is confident she will find a way to solve that.
Composting and minimizing food waste are Sarah’s priorities as she leads a sustainably-minded business, but she’s got big goals for the future too. Eventually, Sarah would like to recycle, and plans to work with Project Green Fork to make that a reality. The restaurant uses paper and wheat straws and would like to get into no single-use plastics. But given the fledgling restaurant is so new, Sarah is pleased with its progress. “I’m pretty happy with where we are in terms of food waste. I’m happy to be diverting a lot from landfills as it is, but I just know we’re capable of more.”
Thanks to Project Green Fork and restaurant leaders like Sarah, good fortune is sure to come Memphis’ way.