TEXT BY Joshua D. Givens
PHOTO BY Mike Brantley, al.com
What do mouthwatering seafood, solar water heaters and a 55-foot tall wind turbine have in common? Answer: absolutely nothing unless, of course, you're dining at the Original Oyster House in Spanish Fort. Since opening their doors on the Causeway in 1985, the Original Oyster House management and staff have taken pride in serving up only the best seafood "in a casual atmosphere with genuine southern hospitality." Now, they want to give back to a loyal community that has supported them for over 20 years.
Last December, the famous Causeway restaurant known for its homemade gumbo and "Joe and Dave's favorite oysters" erected a towering $55,000 turbine with the goal of using the coastal breeze to power the restaurant's lighting needs. Original Oyster House president Joe Roszkowski says the decision to "jump on the green bandwagon" has been a long time coming.
"It all started about two years ago. Gas was expensive and there was no natural gas available at our end of the Causeway. We wanted to start making our own diesel fuel, so we set up a Bio Diesel plant in Fairhope."
Now, the restaurant's leftover cooking oil is converted into fuel for the company's trucks and other vehicles. After realizing the cost saving advantages of going green, the company decided to plow ahead with more innovative and environmentally friendly technology. The new wind turbine, visible from the Causeway, stands as a result of their efforts. Roszkowski says it is hurricane wind resistant and will produce more than enough power for the restaurant.
"The turbine will generate enough power for 3,000 watts, which is equivalent to about 50 to 60 lightbulbs. The power goes into our system as a whole. If we generate more power than we need or any additional power during hours we are not open, that power will go back into the grid. We will be able to monitor this through our computers."
The turbine will operate 24 hours per day as long as wind speeds exceed eight miles per hour. The rapid spinning of the turbine's blades has attracted photographers on the Causeway and the turbine itself has been the source of much media fanfare and coverage. In fact, Roszkowski has already spoken with local WKRG News 5, NBC15 and WALA FOX10 News.
In addition to the wind turbine, the company has also decided to install solar water heaters at both the Causeway and Gulf Shores locations. After all, who wants to dine at a seafood restaurant that can't broil seafood? The new heaters will use natural elements to reach temperatures up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Right now we have two 80-gallon hot water heaters," says Roszkowski. "The new solar panels will only be used for heating water. The water will enter the hot water heater and go through the solar panel by means of a copper panel. It will then loop back around into the hot water tank where it will be preheated."
Along with the decision to implement green technology came the question of how to best promote the restaurant's new direction to its customers and the community. In the same spirit of "giving back" that prompted their environmentally friendly policies, the company is partnering with the Gulf Coast Exploreum in an effort to educate children on the advantages of Green Energy through the STEAM movement. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) Roszkowski says he has received positive feedback from the community and that he will be coordinating with local elementary schools soon.
"We're going to encourage field trips and involve as many schools as we can. McGill-Toolen has a Green Club and they came out to support the raising of the turbine. We want to make more people aware of the technology. I've seen several posts on Facebook from people saying we're doing a great thing."
So what's on the horizon? Roszkowski says he sees more green technology in the company's future.
"We're looking at [eventually] getting away from Styrofoam. We want to find some green friendly paper products. Unfortunately, these products are more expensive, but we're working with a paper company right now. We may also look at the possibility of adding another turbine."
Reprinted from February 2013 issue of Sense magazine