The Paradise Valley Hotel in Victoria’s Dandenong region first started life as a general store with a wine license in the 1900s. In 2019, Mark Protheroe, Joe Durrant and Steven Nelson, took over the establishment and set out to improve the venue and quality of the offering, starting with the kitchen. 

At that time, Mark described Paradise Valley Hotel as a classic country pub, serving the town of Clematis and neighbouring townships that consider it their local. For Mark, the support of these communities is vital to the establishment's success, which has informed the focus on high-quality food, local supplier relationships and sustainable business practices.

The Paradise Valley Hotel is intent on reducing the food and general waste the business produces. This has spurred various initiatives, from sustainable sourcing of stock to donating unused food and recycling programs.

“While we don't regularly use the term circular economy, what we’re doing fits into its philosophy,” Mark says. “We see supporting the local economy as part of doing business and strive to positively impact the community, which includes our staff and patrons,” Mark says.

Mark explains that patrons aren’t always aware of all these programs, but they matter to the venue’s key stakeholders – its people. Mark says sharing sustainability goals with employees is vital to get them on board and behind these initiatives.

Support for and from the community

During the COVID lockdown, the Paradise Valley team launched the Idle Hands initiative, donating meals to vulnerable people in the local community. Mark says it helped community members in need and generated goodwill in the process.

The program provided free ready-to-eat meals delivered in recyclable packaging. People could nominate themselves or someone they know, with their permission.

"When COVID hit, we wanted to do something for people struggling financially or had challenges feeding themselves,” Mark says. “Most people in the program were living alone or were in poor health.”

Keeping it fresh and local

According to Mark, the Hotel’s reputation is grounded in its food and beverage offering, and sustainable food sourcing and preparation keep quality at the forefront.

While sustainable practices aren’t new to the food world, with farm-to-plate initiatives around for decades, the venue is focused on “sourcing locally to drive flavour and quality, which is a spin-off of that," Mark says.

"The chicken we use for our award-winning parma is bought whole from our local butcher," says Mark. "We bring it to the kitchen, chop it ourselves, and then use the tenderloins for another dish. For our sauce, we use Australian produce where we can, and our cheese blend is prepared on-site."

Tackling waste streams

As well as sourcing locally, Mark says that working closely with suppliers to minimise waste is vital. From the Hotel’s perspective, having an ordering system ensures the venue procures only what it needs to avoid over-ordering and surplus production.

"We use our ordering system to trim our waste as much as possible," Mark says. "We look at our daily requirements and order enough fruit, vegetables and meat only for the day, so we don't have anything left over."

Mark and his team also collaborate with suppliers to reduce waste in other areas of the business. “Our house gin is from a small local distillery, and we’ve recently changed how we order with them”.

“Instead of buying individual 700ml bottles, we asked to receive the gin in 40-litre containers. That way, we can refill the bottles instead of wasting glass.”

"We also work with the local fish mongers, returning the styrofoam boxes the seafood arrives in, and the same with the non-recyclable wax-lined boxes used by our fruit and vegetable supplier. Even our milk bottles are picked up and used again.”

Mark explains that these initiatives are designed to minimise the business's environmental impact and build alignment among suppliers. It’s also important for our staff to know that we take sustainability issues seriously.”

Much more to be done

Mark says that while the hospitality industry is making strides to implement sustainable and circular practices, operators are still early in the journey. He has many initiatives in the pipeline that will help deliver a more positive impact.

"We currently don't have any suppliers that use freight companies with electric vehicle fleets, but that is something we are interested in," says Mark.

Mark and the team are in the market to find an energy supplier, and renewable options are at the forefront. The team would also consider solar generation once roofing issues were fixed.

Outside of energy, Mark says his team also want to get its kitchen garden up and running in the next six months, saying it could help with herbs, in particular, saving money and reducing travel costs.

Mark reiterates that one of the most important parts of advancing these initiatives is communicating openly with the team, who come from nearby towns and are strong advocates for the business and the local economy.

“We make sure to engage staff around our goals and philosophies. As a result, our staff turnover rate is the lowest it’s ever been and having enough staff to serve patrons is crucial to customer service and our reputation,” Mark adds.

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