Creative Conversations: Restaurant Nolla

Carlos Henriques, Luka Balac and Albert Franch are bringing their zero-waste ideology to New York City’s annual design festival NYCxDESIGN in May to the pop-up Zero Waste Bistro. We discussed the importance of refusing, reducing and reusing waste with Luka Balac.

You opened Nolla, the first zero-waste restaurant in the Nordic Region, in Helsinki three months ago. Where did you get the idea?

The idea came from frustration. We had all cooked in various Michelin star establishments in Helsinki and beyond and seen the amount of waste and neglect in restaurant business. It was Albert who approached Carlos and me with this idea after seeing a documentary about a designer and engineer Joost Baker who built a zero-waste building. We collaborate with designers, engineers, and architects to rethink trash, water and energy efficiency. Our philosophy on waste is simple: “Refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resource, recycle”.

What do you do differently than an average restaurant?

We don’t accept any produce that comes in a single-use package. We use everything from head to tail. There is no trash bin in the kitchen. We have our composter that composts 28 kilos overnight. The composted bio-waste goes back to the farms so we can keep the cycle going. There are no menus; we play with what we get from local producers. We are very local and seasonal – there are no exotic fruits like avocados or citrus fruits on our menu. At the moment, only wine comes from abroad. We don’t print anything – the menus are written on chalkboards. But the main point is to be a restaurant, a place where people come to eat, drink and have fun. Nolla combines past and future. In some ways we went back and some other ways we are ahead of others.

How much waste are you able to avoid doing things this way?

According to a research made by the European Union an average restaurant produces 70 000 kg (over 150 000 pounds) of food and package waste in a year. Most of it is unnecessary.


What was the most challenging part of launching a new restaurant concept like this?

We had to do a lot of research and make hundreds of phone calls. One hard part is that we need to keep asking people to do a bit more than what they are used to. The positive thing is that 98 % are willing to do it. Sustainability is not just a trend; instead many companies are changing the way their do business into a more sustainable model. That gives confidence.

And now, by the invitation of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, you are doing a pop-up in New York, the city of disposables, plastic bags and takeout food.

It is a huge honor to participate in a big event like NYCxDesign and to represent Finland. During our 5-day pop-up we will do our best to make people see that a zero waste restaurant can be a business, not just a charity. We are going to cook and talk and hope that someone has time to listen.

What are you going to serve?

Like in Helsinki, we are going to use only local, seasonal ingredients. The food will be thought through up to the smallest details, but with easy-going service and environment. The food will be personal; it will have a touch of Scandinavian and Southern European influences.

How to stay true to the zero waste ideology when you only run for five days?

We are going to have a composter too. There is only one nine-meter-long communal table made out of Durat composite which contains recycled post-industrial plastics and is 100% recyclable. The walls are also made of recycled post-industrial material, namely tetrapak cartons. The space is furnished with sustainable Finnish design icons from Finnish Design Shop, Iittala, and Artek. And we certainly won’t have any styrofoam takeaway boxes. We will cook in the spirit the ideology of the producers; it is unimaginable to waste a product for which you have used so much energy and time.

What are your goals for this project?

We want to show that ecological can be a viable business model. When the change comes, it usually happens pretty fast. The change happens if enough people are asking for it. If enough people keep asking cucumbers without a plastic wrap, the stores will start to listen eventually. If many restaurants keep asking for reusable packages, the wholesalers will listen. We want to give an example to other restaurants and together strive towards a sustainable future with a circular economy business model.

Interview by Liisa Jokinen


Zero Waste Bistro
Four days of food and design
WantedDesign Manhattan
May 18-22, 2018