Mind, Body & Spirits: A Green Brew Pub
With a goal to build the first fully sustainable restaurant in America in downtown Rochester, Mike Plesz could be considered highly positive or positively nutty. Whatever the case, heís doing something damn good for his community and for southeast Michiganís dawdling green movement.
Plesz, who has built three local breweries including Rochester Mills Beer Company, says this project is less about financial profits than pursuing an idea he just canít shake. The idea? To build a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, alternative-powered, eco-conscious restaurant serving only local and organic food and beverages.
"I could go out and build more breweries and make a ton of money, but am I doing the right thing?" asks Plesz, who will sink $2.6 million into this project to make sure it makes a minimal imprint on the earth. "Restaurants are energy hogs. There are so many things that need to get changed from equipment to how theyíre constructed."
Mind, Body & Spirits, set to open this fall on Main St., is under serious construction this summer. The century-old building is undergoing renovation of its existing two-story space, construction of a 2000-foot addition, and the installation of all sorts of amazing technology to power, heat and cool the restaurant in an eco-friendly manner. Architects for the project come from Archiopolis, an Ann Arbor sustainable architecture firm.
According to Plesz, the restaurant will also have the largest bank of solar power panels in Michigan and will use solar energy to heat water. And this week, 20 geothermal wells, each 200-feet deep, are being drilled. Geothermal energy will heat and cool the building, exchanging the earthís temperature with air temperature. Plesz says that the practice is so new to the building trades that the well drilling was stalled because of issues at the county and state level; basically, there is no established code yet.
"Itís pretty progressive," says Plesz of building a sustainable restaurant. "Nothingís been done like this in the country." He says he could have undertaken the project anywhere, but chose Rochester because itís home. "Rochester is a great place to live and raise a family. And we have all these historic buildings." Ten years ago, Plesz restored a gigantic old mill east of Main St. into the now-popular Rochester Mills Beer Company. "I love restoring old buildings."
But restoring buildings with LEED-EB (Existing Building) standards isnít easy, as evidenced by the three giant holding bins on the construction site for masonry, wood and metal waste Ė all of which will be reused, recycled or disposed of in an environmentally conscious way. Bricks from walls being removed for construction of a stairwell are stacked neatly to be re-used in different parts of the building.
Beyond changes to the core of the building and the HVAC system, other green measures will be followed as the restaurant moves closer to completion. "You canít just build an organic restaurant and not have it be eco-friendly," says Plesz. And the eco-friendly features are many. Construction of a greenhouse to provide fresh herbs and produce for the kitchen, for example, will also beautify the sidewalk along Third St. Use of VOC-free paint, bamboo flooring, and sustainable furnishings are also part of the mix.
Once open, Mind, Body & Spirits will send less food and paper waste to the landfill by using a food waste digester to break down food and other waste, turning it into fertilizer for the greenhouse plants. Plesz will follow an extensive recycling program and use eco-friendly cleaners.
Green eggs and ham
He sees the restaurant as a place for both health-conscious eating and learning about green practices. "When itís open, it will be a classroom. In the hallway walking to restrooms, people will see the herb garden, the [geothermal] well caps on the floor, and the solar panels on roof. Finally, people will be able to see it all in one place."
The end result will be a funky place for people to gather together in the name of a greener world, while feeling useful and guilt-free for indulging. Along with the main, street-level restaurant area will be a second floor lounge space with easy chairs for people to sip on organic teas, coffee, wine or beer or nibble on snacks and desserts. The rooftop patio will also be a draw.
While Mind, Body & Spirits will have vegan and vegetarian cuisine, it will also have dishes made with locally raised chickens and sustainable fish, which Plesz says now number only two: wild salmon and Kona blue. Produce will be local whenever possible, coming from places like Maple Creek Farm in Yale.
Organic pastries will be part of the mix as will organic sodas. ďWeíll be making our own sodas,Ē says Plesz. "Weíll have all natural sodas, rather than the stuff you get out of the can, and cool seltzers. These will be a healthier version of soda, sweetened with organic cane sugar or agave syrups."
Since Plesz made his mark in the brewpub industry, itís no surprise that his brewers are developing two new organic beers, a light lager and an amber, that will be served at the restaurant along with the organic WIT already on tap at Rochester Mills.
Mind, Body & Spirits will also sell organic soaps, and other organic products. "Weíll also have bookshelves filled with books that Iíve read for people to purchase or to read," Plesz says.
Lead by example
Not one to keep his ideas secret, Plesz hopes that the restaurant will become a benchmark for others wanting to do the same. "I hope that they copy me," says Plesz. "Weíll have less of an impact on environment that way."
As local consumers begin to accept green practices and pay more attention to the environment and what theyíre eating, Plesz is likely onto something with his newest endeavor. In fact, the project has already caught the attention of Tom Costello and MSNBC.
"I figure itís either going to be packed every night, or Iíll be talking about why it didnít work," says Plesz. Based on his shear drive and passion to offer health-conscious food in a sustainable atmosphere, the former is much more likely to be the result.
Melinda Clynes is a Detroit-area freelancer. Her last article for Metromode was Going Hollywood: How To Make Your Community Film Friendly.
Restauranteur, Mike Plesz
Digging geothermal wells at Mind, Body & Spirits - Downtown Rochester
Rendering of Mind, Body & Spirits illustrate rooftop seating and greenhouse - Downtown Rochester
Rochester Mills Beer Company brew kettles - Downtown RochesterPhotographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.